Roger Federer’s 2017 Australian Open Title Sets up Intriguing ATP Season
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Roger Federer captured Grand Slam #18 at the age of 35 this past weekend with his five set victory over long time rival Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3. Federer turned back the clock for two weeks in Melbourne, after missing of half of 2016 due to a back injury. The swiss legend took advantage of the quick surface in Melbourne to gain key advantages against Rafa in the three sets he won. Nadal was broken early in the three sets he lost, and in the fifth set, he was up a break, but lost it, going on to surrender the match. When Federer slipped into more passive play, Nadal took advantage with his topspin forehand, but from the start of the second week, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray defeated, the tournament looked to be Federer’s to lose.
Federer had not won a title since 2015, and hadn’t won a slam since 2012, many thought he had at most a couple years left on tour. He still may have a couple of years left, but those years are all the sudden looking a lot more promising. The injury layoff gave Federer time to rest and recuperate, and in the right conditions, his ability to play masterful attack tennis is still good enough to beat almost every ATP player on tour.
Federer also showed renewed stamina, outside of his three set victory over Mischa Zverev, who served and volleyed his way into the quarterfinals, ending Andy Murray’s bid for a first AO title, the two other Federer victories to reach the final in week 2 were in five sets. Semifinalist Stan Wawrinka couldn’t keep up sustained pressure after coming back from 2 sets to 1 down. Kei Nishikori also forced a fifth set against Federer, but his serving wasn’t strong enough to take the 5th in their round of 16 match.
Nadal was an underdog all tournament, having not won a hard court title since early 2014. The 30 year old Spaniard was pushed to his limits against Grigor Dimitrov, in his second five set contest of the tournament, but in the end, Nadal’s experience and poise was too much for the less accomplished Dimitrov, who has been playing great tennis in 2017. Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils were Nadal’s two other victims, despite being top 10 players, they were no match for Rafa’s movement, and forehand pace.
Federer’s victory and Nadal’s finals appearance sets up an intriguing 2017 season. Djokovic and Murray remain the overall top 2 players, and should compete as co-favorites for the remaining three Grand Slam titles this season. At Wimbledon and the French Open however, Federer and Nadal will have key roles to play. A renewed Federer is dangerous on a fast grass court, especially if he continues to hit the ball as flat as he did against Nadal. A healthy Nadal remains the king of clay, and has a fantastic shot at winning yet another title in Paris.
Dimitrov has shown signs that he could solidify a spot in the top 10, after an excellent start to 2017. His performance at the eight Masters 1000 tournaments this season will go a long way towards determing his fate however. Dimitrov has historically failed to live up to expectations in clutch moments.
Wawrinka also showed he’s not going to drop from the top 5 anytime soon, having his Swiss countryman back playing at a top level should push Wawrinka to up his game as well. Wawrinka and Dimitrov were both masterful in their quarterfinal matches, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Goffin respectively.
Players on the second tier of the ATP tour in terms of accomplishment, such as Monfils, Raonic, Nishikori, and Marin Cilic are going to have to play much better if they are going to threaten the tour’s core of Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, and once again Federer and Nadal. They benefited from Federer and Nadal’s relative absence, especially on hard courts, but the competition level of the ATP tour just rose. Young guns such as Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem are also fast improving too.
Henri Kontinen and John Peers took home the doubles title, defeating the legendary Bryan Brothers in straight sets. The Finnish/Aussie duo rose to prominence in 2016, and brought joy to home fans already in 2017.