Roger Federer continues to surprise not only us, but also himself.
The Swiss legend on Sunday won his fifth Indian Wells crown with a commanding victory over world No.3 Stan Wawrinka. And it happened in a portion of the season – everything up until April – that Federer designated as his comeback period.
This is the period following his six-month absence from tennis; after going down in the semifinals of Wimbledon in July 2016, Federer did not appear on a tennis court until January. It’s the longest stint he’s spent on the sidelines throughout his entire professional career.
Yet since returning, he’s produced a level of form harkening back to his halcyon days – in just three months, he’s won the two biggest titles of the season so far.
“In November, December, when I realised things were going well (preparing for my return), and we had a meeting about what are the goals for the season in terms of rankings … the goal was to be top eight by after Wimbledon,” Federer revealed.
“If I would have lost early in Australia, I would have dropped to 35 in the world.
“It was a good approach, I thought because it gave me time to get there. So I’m there much, much faster. Like you say, I don’t want to say it’s a problem at all. You definitely have to reassess your goals maybe now and see, Where do you go from here
“Because this was not part of the plan, to win Australia and Indian Wells, I can tell you that. The goals are clearly changing after this dream start.”
Federer has rarely looked sharper, and it showed in his play against Wawrinka.
Revealing before the final that he would look to be relentless offensive and seek to rush his compatriot, Federer did just that, playing on the baseline – occasionally half-volleying shots and taking most on the rise so as not to cede court position – and producing 23 winners to just 15 unforced errors. He also attacked the net frequently, winning a sparkling 15 of 17 points when he did so.
Many have pointed to his bigger racquet as a reason why he’s recording such impressive match statistics and hitting over his backhand so crisply. This factor could be overstated, given Federer adopted the larger frame more than three years ago.
Yet there’s no doubt the six-month break from the game allowed Federer to freshen up both physically and mentally.
That, coupled with an intelligent approach to schedule management, have ensured he’s peaking at precisely the right moments.
“My biggest weakness was (once) to be able to focus every single week and have the same drive for the 25, 30 tournaments I used to play. I’ve gotten to learn how to just block that out and just enjoy every week that I play now. I also play less, which helps. So when I do play, I’m very excited,” he said.
“The time away from the tournaments, as well, may that be vacation or may that be training; I understand why I do it. Because every time I do come out of it, I feel the benefit of it, at least for a while, at least.
“I can be very thankful to the team that I have had around me for so many years now that have sort of guided me in the right direction.
“When I came here (to Indian Wells), what I promised myself was I was going to play with the right energy. And it’s not always Grand Slam finals. It always starts at zero. You have to get yourself up for the first rounds.
“And then I got here, and I felt right away good about how I played in that first round. Excitement, the energy, everything was clicking.”
Federer has said he won’t make too many decisions about his schedule – especially for the claycourt season – until after Miami, where he is scheduled to play next week. His main priority is to rest and to assess his motivation levels beyond that.
So it’s likely that the next time we see Roger Federer on a tennis court, it will be when he’s fit, fresh and ready.
In that physical state and headspace, the Swiss champion could surprise both us, and himself, even more as season 2017 unfolds.
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