"It’s crazy, I can’t believe it. Once again, it shows that the break I had was important and really helped me. My entourage and I made the right decisions during the difficult months that I had last summer, and now that’s paying off. It’s fabulous." From Melbourne via Indian Wells to Miami, the words and the images are the same as Roger Federer alternates between delight and sheer incredulity at what he is managing to achieve. At the age of 35 years, and after the most serious injury of his career, his comeback is exceeding his wildest dreams.
Federer: "You want to enjoy yourself, and that’s the case with me at the moment"
An 18th Grand Slam in Australia followed by his 25th and 26th ATP Masters 1000 crowns in the USA… The last and indeed only previous time that Federer got a season off to a flyer like this was over a decade ago, back in 2006. Roger is truly turning back the clock. In the space of just three months, the Basle-born 35-year-old legend has firmly re-established himself in the upper echelons of the world tennis hierarchy. The Australian Open was a chance for him to reap the rewards of the time spent re-thinking his game during the second half of 2016, aware from the public eye as he spent six months tending to his injured knee. Indian Wells confirmed that Melbourne was not just a one-off, the Swiss maestro cruising to victory without dropping a single set throughout one of the biggest tournaments on the calendar.
Read more: Federer continues fairytale return
Miami was another thing altogether. Federer was forced to dig deep – very deep – as matches wore on and fatigue built up. He also displayed a renewed sense of confidence, in his ability to play one tough match after another… and to keep winning them. "I was obviously really lucky to get through," he said after defeating Tomas Berdych in a quarter-final which saw him save two match points, at 6-4 in the final-set tie-breaker (6-2, 3-6, 7-6). "It could have gone either way, but that’s just how it is. I fought hard and found a way to come through it. I struck a balance between taking calculated risks and playing the percentages. It’s a fine line." Again, Federer trod that line in the semis, when he squeezed through 7-6(9), 6-7(11), 7-6(5) against Nick Kyrgios.
Roland-Garros in his sights
On Sunday, Federer bagged his third trophy in as many tournaments in 2017, defeating Rafael Nadal for the fourth time in a row – the longest winning streak he has enjoyed against his bête noire, who nevertheless still leads their head-to-head 23-14 after 37 matches. "The final was hard-fought. It was tough, and it was really hot. A lot of the games early on were very tight, and they could easily have gone Rafa’s way," said Roger after the match, which was indeed in the balance for a good hour. "I had plenty of chances to win the first set, but I played better in the second, even though I had fewer opportunities – I was there when it counted. I think on the big points today I was just a little bit better."
"It’s crazy, I don’t know how to explain it. I hadn’t even made the final in Miami for 11 years and I end up winning the tournament just like that", Federer added, once again acknowledging how unbelievable his current situation is. "I hadn’t won Indian Wells since 2012, and I won it just like that. I’d been trying for another win at the AO since 2010, and I won it just like that."
"I can play with confidence, and that’s how you want to finish your career, on a high"
It is certainly not "just like that", and his mental and physical freshness certainly have a lot to do with it. To this end, he has announced that he will most likely not play any tournaments in the run-up to Roland-Garros. "The idea behind it is to give my body time to heal a little. These first three months have really tired me out. I’ve played a lot more than I thought I would, and I’m not 24 anymore. Now I can take a break, because the body needs a break, the mind needs a break, the family needs me again. I want to be there. Yeah, looking forward to that now, so that when I come back, I’ve got the same desire. I can play with confidence, and that’s how you want to finish your career, on a high. You want to enjoy yourself, and that’s the case with me at the moment." Roger wants to finish on a high…but as late as possible! See you in Paris.