In February 2020, Roger Federer underwent keyhole surgery on his right knee. A few months later, he decided to undergo a second surgery after experiencing a setback in his rehabilitation. This final procedure prompted Federer to sit out the remainder of the season. He was hoping to “take the necessary time to be 100% ready to play at [his] highest level.” With the 2020 ATP tour finished and the 20-time Grand Slam champion set to return at the 2021 Australian Open, fans will be speculating upon Federer’s form fervently. They will have many questions but there is only one they truly want to know the answer too; can Federer win another Grand Slam?
The modern era of Roger Federer
After recovering from surgery on his left knee for the second half of the 2016 season, Federer returned revitalized at the Australian Open. He utilized his 97 square inch racket face to full effect–he was more aggressive on his groundstrokes, particularly on his one-handed backhand, which he was able to direct down the line spectacularly. Federer went on an outstanding title run in which he defeated four Top 10 players and won three deciding fifth sets.
Federer had proved he was still capable of winning slams at 36 years old after almost five years without a title. He went on to win three out of the next five Slams. Given his significant change in tactics and results, it could be argued 2017 was the beginning of the modern era of Roger Federer. Federer’s current chances of winning a Grand Slam can be evaluated from his Major form from 2017 onwards.
Health and Fitness
For Roger Federer, age truly is just a number. Age may increase his chances of injury, but in and of itself, it is irrelevant to his potential. It is important to note that Federer is still playing at 39 years old because he believes he has a chance. This is good news for fans that shiver at the mere mention his age; so long as he can avoid injury and play at close to his highest level, he will always have a chance.
Unfortunately, Federer has not always been able to avoid injury in recent times. Since 2017, in three out of his eight losses at Grand Slam level, Federer has cited an injury.
- US Open 2018 fourth round: John Millman defeated Federer 3-6 7-5 7-6 (7) 7-6 (3). Federer suffered from a hand injury sustained during the grass-court season.
- US Open 2019 quarterfinal: Grigor Dimitrov defeated Federer 3-6 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2. Federer needed treatment on his upper back and neck during the match.
- Australian Open 2020 semifinal: Novak Djokovic defeated Federer 7-6 (1) 6-4 6-3. Federer went into the match with a sustained groin injury. He lost in straight sets.
This is not to say had he avoided these injuries he would definitively have won these matches. At the very least however, he would likely have upped his chances of winning.
To reduce his chances of injury in 2021, it may be important for Federer to ensure he is on the court for the least time possible.
- Before 2017, Federer averaged approximately two hours and four minutes on court for every Grand Slam match played.
- From 2017 to the present, Federer averaged approximately two hours and thirteen minutes on court for every Grand Slam match played.
These numbers indicate that were Federer to reach the final of any given Slam now compared to pre-2017, he would have spent an extra hour on court. He will need as much stamina as he can to defeat the game’s best in the late stages of tournaments – avoiding the drawn-out matches that have caused this average to increase is essential to the Swiss’ success.
Converting crucial points
When Federer has been relatively fit and healthy, he has narrowly missed out on opportunities in most of his defeats. Since 2017, in four out of the other five losses at Grand Slam level where he was not injured, Federer has missed set or match points.
- US Open 2017 quarterfinal: Juan Martin Del Potro defeated Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6 (8) 6-4. Federer held four set points in the third set. Converting any of these would have given him a 2-1 set lead.
- Wimbledon 2018 quarterfinal: Kevin Anderson defeated Federer 2-6 6-7 (5) 7-5 6-4 13-11. Federer held a match point in third set, albeit on Anderson’s serve. From 2-0 up in sets, he went on to lose in the fifth.
- Australian Open 2019 fourth round: Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Federer 6-7 (11) 7-6 (3) 7-5 7-6 (5). Federer held four set points to take a 2-0 set lead but eventually lost in four tight sets. He also missed 12 break point opportunities throughout the match.
- Wimbledon 2019 final: Novak Djokovic defeated Federer 7-6 (5) 1-6 7-6 (4) 4-6 13-12 (3). Federer held two championship points in the fifth set at 8-7 on his own serve. Djokovic was able to save both and break back, eventually winning the match in Wimbledon’s first ever championship tiebreak.
It would be easy for naysayers to say Federer choked on these opportunities. The reality is however that he has incredible mental strength, displayed by his numerous records and accolades throughout the years. He will likely have committed to a play before the point–on these occasions, the chosen play did not pay off. If Federer continues to create chances for himself, he will likely find a way to clinch some of these crucial moments.
The Individual Slams
In order to determine his chances of winning another major, it is necessary to analyze his form at each of the slams individually.
French Open record from 2017-present: 5-1, 0 titles
From 2017 onwards, Federer has only played the 2019 edition of Roland Garros. He won his first five matches, including a respectable four set victory over Stan Wawrinka, but inevitably ran into Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, falling in straight sets. Whilst Nadal reigns in Paris, the French Open is highly unlikely to add to Federer’s tally.
US Open record from 2017-present: 11-3, 0 titles
Since his fifth consecutive victory at the US Open in 2008, Federer has not won in New York. He has carried an injury into his last couple of losses, so it is possible the Swiss struggles to stay injury-free for the final Slam of the year. The tournament has seen eight different victors in its last 13 editions, however, suggesting everyone is vulnerable at this tournament. Federer also still holds the most titles out of his peers. He may have as good a shot as anybody if he can remain unhampered by injury.
Australian Open record from 2017-present: 22-2, 2 titles
As his first tournament of 2021, the Australian Open should give Federer a chance to find his peak. After his extended break in 2016, Federer came through some mammoth matches to win the 2017 final in stunning fashion. Even better news for fans is that Federer could be in an even better position than 2017. Due to the revised rankings system, he will likely be seeded fifth at the tournament. Fans should not be too dismayed by last year’s semifinal against Djokovic. The Serbian may have an imperious record in Melbourne, but Federer stood little chance of competing due to injury. If he is as fit as he was in 2017 and can avoid sticky situations in the early rounds, Federer could give anyone a run for their money.
Wimbledon record from 2017-present: 17-2, 1 title
The speed of Centre Court at Wimbledon has always suited the eight-time champion’s lightning-fast game. The low impact courts and short rallies have also allowed Federer to stay fit and healthy throughout every edition of the tournament. It is in not taking advantage of the crucial moments that he has let himself down in recent years. Federer should be a real threat for the title this year–if he does lose, expect it to be by the skin of his teeth.
Predictions for Federer’s 2021
With Nadal’s stranglehold over the French Open, fans will not be holding out hope for victory in Paris. At the US Open, Federer’s recent losses suggest he may be more prone to injury later in the season than in his younger years. New York is therefore an unlikely location for victory.
His recent break will hopefully leave him as fresh as he was in 2017 at the Australian Open. If he can get through the early rounds without complications, he could be a danger to anyone, including Novak. Wimbledon will always be a happy hunting-ground for Federer. With near misses at his last two appearances, perhaps Federer has earned some good fortune.
Australian Open: Final
French Open: Absent
US Open: 4th Round
Main Photo from Getty.