Roger Federer admits he never expected his “fairytale” kick-off to 2017, especially coming off a six-month injury layoff, and that he must now reassess his goals after claiming a record-tying fifth Indian Wells title.
The Swiss is enjoying his best start to a season since 2006. He followed up his historic Australian Open triumph in January, with success in the California desert thanks to a smooth 6-4, 7-5 win over his third-seeded compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the final on Sunday.
At 35 years of age, Federer became the oldest man to win an ATP Masters 1000 singles title and the victory catapulted him to No6 in the world as he continues his remarkable comeback from knee and back injuries.
His title runs in Melbourne and Indian Wells have seen him defeat all six top-10 opponents he has faced – including multiple wins over Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal – and he has now opened up a 1,410-point lead at the top of the ATP Race to London year-to-date standings.
“The dream run continues. The fairytale of the comeback that I have already shown in Australia,” said an elated Federer after his win in California.
The 18-time grand slam champion had been out of action since last July entering this new season. His ranking had slipped to 17 in the world and his goals were modest compared to what he actually ended up achieving.
“The goal was to be top-eight by after Wimbledon. Because if I would have lost early in Australia, I would have dropped to 35 in the world,” revealed Federer.
“It was a good approach, I thought, because it gave me time to get there. So I’m there much, much faster.
“It’s great, but 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.”
While Federer is yet to decide which clay tournaments – if any – he plans on playing this spring, he is hoping he can recover in time for Miami, which commences this week.
The world’s top-two, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, are both out of the tournament nursing right elbow injuries and Federer will be seeded No4 behind Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.
“I think now it’s really important for me to rest up maximum. I hope I can play as late as possible going to Miami. Then I will make the plan for the remainder of the season after – especially for the clay after Miami, and then see also what the goals are, because the goals are clearly changing after this dream start.”
Federer entered the contest with Wawrinka on Sunday with a 14-0 winning record on hard courts against the world No3. Wawrinka’s three wins in 23 meetings with Federer have come exclusively on clay.
On Sunday, both Federer and Wawrinka were holding serve comfortably up until the latter slipped up in the 10th game. Wawrinka hit an ace that was ruled out and he didn’t challenge the call, instead just asking the umpire if he was “100 per cent sure”. The umpire said he was.
Wawrinka was broken and lost the set two games later. He broke for a 2-0 lead in the second – handing Federer his first service break of the tournament – but could not hold onto his advantage and surrendered the match in 80 minutes.
An emotional Wawrinka, who was looking to win just his second ATP Masters crown, was fighting back tears during the trophy ceremony.
“I’d like to congratulate Roger,” said Wawrinka, half-crying. “He’s laughing, he’s an a****** but it’s okay,” the 31-year-old added with a giggle, sending Federer and the stadium into laughter.
Asked during the press conference, why he felt so emotional after the defeat, Wawrinka said: “I don’t know. It’s a tough loss. Probably a bit of everything, you know, but some tough match.
“In a way, I’m really happy to make the final. It’s a great result on that, but you always want more. And to lose a final, it’s never easy. Had some really tough weeks, also, after Australian Open. I was injured (knee). It was really tough for me.
“Anyway, I’m really happy to be that quick at that level, but still lost the final. So it wasn’t easy.”
Federer explained later why he was laughing during Wawrinka’s speech.
“I was trying to actually cheer him up. He knows that. I was trying, when he looked at me, not to give him the sad face. I was looking at him, going, You’ll be fine, and gave him a laugh, say, maybe gets his mind off it. I guess I achieved that,” he said with a smile.
Wawrinka will be the top seed in Miami this week.