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.
It’s not been going great for Novak Djokovic as of late and just when you think he is due a break and his luck might change, news emerges that his right elbow injury has flared up again and he might miss out on defending his title in Miami this week.
The past eight months for Djokovic have been a real mystery and while the high-speed train he was impersonating was bound to slow down, it is the stark contrast between his demeanour up until last year’s Roland Garros final and now that is most alarming.
His negative body language throughout his straight-sets defeat to Nick Kyrgios last week in Indian Wells was quite telling.
After losing to Kyrgios earlier this month at Acapulco, you expected Djokovic to come out with guns blazing against the Aussie in California.
There’s no shame in losing to the uber-talented Kyrgios the first time you meet him, but the fact that Djokovic – arguably the greatest returner in the game – was unable to create a single break point against him in their second encounter this month is bizarre.
Djokovic simply couldn’t get a read on the Kyrgios serve, which granted, sounds like an impossible task sometimes, but for so long, the Serb has been the embodiment of his shoe sponsor adidas’ cliche of a slogan: “Impossible is Nothing”.
What has happened to the warrior-like Djokovic who crushed opponents’ spirit with his unwavering refusal to lose a single match? Where are those primal growls he typically lets out when he misses one single groundstroke?
That version of Djokovic briefly appeared in January in Doha, when he saved five match points against Fernando Verdasco before he beat Andy Murray in the final. It made cameos in his three-set tussles with Juan Martin del Potro. But he hasn’t been around much ever since.
Instead, we saw a Djokovic who looked helpless and frustrated against a power-hitting Kyrgios, walking from one side of the baseline to the other between points while the Aussie dictated with his serve.
Tennis is about many things. It’s about match-ups and surfaces, tactics and mental prowess, injuries and pain, on-court performance and off-court preparation…
This attitude change from Djokovic on court feels more mental than anything else.
It’s true that he has encountered some trouble with his elbow, but if he was playing with anti-inflammatories in Indian Wells as reports are suggesting, why was he playing doubles with Viktor Troicki (they won two doubles ties before losing their quarter-final)?
Wouldn’t it have been wiser to rest his ailing elbow in between his singles matches?
Perhaps playing doubles with a close friend was Djokovic’s attempt to bring back some fun to his life on court.
He had spoken to Serbian media about how the extreme competitive mode he was in and the constant state of pressure he was under started to get to him.
There have also been rumours about personal problems affecting him last season. The true reasons behind his decline have not been openly discussed, but one thing is evident – that Djokovic’s issues seem far more mental or psychological than anything else.
Until that hungry, insatiable beast that was on the prowl up until last summer reappears, Djokovic’s rivals will keep getting more and more confident every time they face him.
Having seen off Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic respectively, Federer and Kyrgios are set to do battle in the last eight of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.
However, for Federer, facing the talented Australian won’t recall good memories as the Canberra native won their only previously meeting in 2015.
Kyrgios edged the Swiss in a three-set epic, 6-7 (2) 7-6 (5) 7-6 (12) in the round of 32, on clay, at the Madrid Open event two years.
There was little to separate them that day and the match is remembered for a gruelling third set tie-breaker, which of course went the way of the Aussie.
So, can Federer level up their head-to-head or will Krygios take a 2-0 lead?
"Looking forward to it" Federer says of QF vs. Kyrgios. "He's a great player. Of course I'd like to get it back" (from Madrid loss) #BNPPO17— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 16, 2017
Rising Kyrgios vs Still Rising Federer in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 16, 2017