He should be done. It’s a game for the young uns these days and his thoughts should be turning to the comfort of the studio and Sue Barker’s unique brand of beigey warmth. He’s well into his 30s at this stage so shouldn’t he be focusing his attentions more on playing amusing exhibition matches with Henri Leconte sprinkled with some mock-outrage from John McEnroe?
But Roger Federer has never been subject to the arbitrary rules that suggest certain achievements are impossible. The most successful player in men’s tennis history has consistently defied the odds throughout his career to rack up stats, a trophy collection and prize money that rarely seemed feasible.
His 34th birthday isn’t yet imminent, but with that amount of candles, it doesn’t need to be to especially close for you to feel the heat. Yet he begins the 18th season of his professional career, he finds himself an intriguing 11/2 second favourite to win the Australian Open – what would be his 18th Grand Slam title. The huge waves of goodwill towards the Swiss superstar mean that a victory in Melbourne would be very welcome, but does he have a chance judged more by our heads than our hearts. The Paddy Power Blog has crunched the numbers and found some data that looks good for Federer.
#1 Age is just a number
Pretending that age isn’t a factor is as deluded as thinking you’re going to make the most out that gym membership by going at least four times a week. It is relevant and the stats Federer is looking to defy are overwhelming. Should he win in Melbourne, he’ll become the sixth oldest winner of a major of all time, slipping in ahead of the 32 and 3/4 year old Andre Agassi who won the Aussie Open of 2003. In fact, we’ve to go back 43 years and 174 Grand Slam events to find a winner older than the Fed Express currently is now, namely Andres Gimeno at the French Open of 1972. Yikes.
On the flipside, what is age exactly? Generally it’s associated with a drop in speed, fitness and stamina. The Fed Express’s game has never been overly reliant on speed so unless he strolls onto court with the aid of a Zimmer frame, don’t worry about it. Fitness and stamina is the main area of concern and it really shouldn’t be. Last season, Roger played more singles matches than anyone else on the ATP Tour with 85 (16, 26 and 6 more than Djokovic, Nadal and Murray respectively).
That figure isn’t just because he turned up at most tournaments for the sake of a hefty appearance fee, it’s because he was winning. He also won the most matches on tour in 2014 with 73, a comfortable 12 ahead of next best Djokovic, giving him a win rate of 86% for the year. Roger’s canny management of his schedule over the years should mean he’s in better shape than most in his 34th year. The rule should mean that now is the time he starts to wane as a force, but we know Federer has always been an exception.
#2 He’s still winning matches. A lot
The common narrative is that Roger is still a fine player, but is on the decline. It’s hard to argue to forcefully against the inevitability of time catching up on all of us and at some point forcing us into the admission ‘Hmmm … Felicity Kendal is still looking fairly foxy, I probably would’. Obviously you’ll have substitute her name with one more appropriate for your generation and/or sexual orientation.
Roger’s decline isn’t really backed up by the stats. In 2013 he did have his worst year since his ascension to the top of the sport with a ‘lowly’ win rate of 73%. That was his poorest since the 2002 season when he took the step of winning his first ATP Tour Masters title. But in 2014, that win rate rocketed back up to 86%, an annual rate surpassed only by his 2004-2007 purple patch where he claimed 11 of the 16 Grand Slam tournaments on offer, only failing to make at least a semi-final once those tournaments.
Further enhancing the apparent decline and renaissance, in 2013 he managed just four wins over other players in the world’s Top 10. In 2014, that figure was back up to 17. Despite the impressive win rate, Grand Slam titles are what the greats are measured on and the lack of them in during the last year seemed to punctuate the sense of a career winding down. But ultimately, old man Fed reached one Grand Slam final and two semi-finals, his only major flop coming on the clay in Paris. He is still a force.
#3 His amazing Aussie Open consistency
Unless he suddenly reveals he’s actually a reptilian alien who has been sent to earth to win our adoration and trust to facilitate our eventual conquest by the Xmorrian race, Federer’s exploits at Wimbledon will be what he is most associated with. But his incredible record at the Aussie Open is worth a mention.
In his last 11 visits to Melbourne, he hasn’t failed to reach at least a semi-final, winning four times and coming second once. Over that period, Fed’s win rate of 90% is slightly behind Djokovic’s 93%, but the Swiss legend tends to get further into the tournament, averaging 6.4 matches per tournament to Nole’s 6.1. Considering the energy sapping heat, the potential for early season rustiness and the competitiveness of hard court events, Federer’s record Down Under is incredible and worth huge respect.
#4 These pesky youngsters aren’t really that young
2014 was hailed as a ground-breaking year for tennis because two of the four Grand Slams escaped the iron grip of the Fedjokonadal triumvirate. You can’t argue with that because well, facts, but hailing it as the dawn of a new generation that have come to dethrone the established superstars is a stretch. Firstly, the younger generation aren’t that young. Stan Wawrinka is 29 while Marin Cilic is 26. At 25, Kei Nishikori may still just about have the majority of his career ahead of him but as yet, he hasn’t popped his Grand Slam cherry, despite some promising displays in Masters events. They’re good players capable of upsetting the very best, but they’re some way off from consistently hitting the heights of the game’s superstars.
By being so utterly brilliant, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have forced the others to raise their game. That’s happening gradually, but it takes time. 37 of the last 44 Grand Slam titles have gone to Federer, Djokokic or Nadal – the chances are they’ll get a few more under their collective belts before they call an end to all their excessive grunting. Don’t be surprised if Roger muscles in at least once.