As Roger Federer held his 6th Australian Open crown aloft on Sunday, the true state of the ATP Tour was laid bare for all to see.
Whilst there’s no doubting Federer’s status of the greatest of all time after he claimed his 20th Grand Slam title, the failings of his rivals and the next generation of stars have also contributed to the Swiss stars incredible revival. Still, Melbourne has certainly served up some tremendous entertainment during the last two weeks, while a couple of new starlets have also announced their arrival on the world stage.
In this post, we’ll look back at the tournament and consider the key takeaways and Federer cemented his place as the greatest player in the history of the sport.
Heralding the Dawn of a New British Star
Much of the pre-tournament talk was once again focused on Federer and the similarly evergreen Rafa Nadal; favourites with the likes of William Hill, as their younger rivals continued to suffer with form and fitness. Andy Murray failed to make the tournament at all after hip surgery, for example, while Stan Wawrinka and six-time champion Novak Djokovic made tentative returns after extended injury absences. Both of these players had exited by the time the quarter-finals were completed, while even Nadal himself succumbed to injury in the fifth set of his quarter-final with finalist Marin Cilic.
These absences and premature exits created new opportunities for the younger generation of players, of course, although the sudden rise of Britain’s Kyle Edmund caught even the most seasoned pundits by surprise. The British number two was superb in reaching his maiden Grand Slam semi-final, as he defeated former U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson and world number three Gregor Dimitrov in a thrilling run.
Edmund will now enter the world’s top 30, despite succumbing to Cilic in straight sets during the final four, and could well supersede Andy Murray when the new rankings are revealed next week.
Joining Edmund at the semi-final stage was the 21-year old, world number 58 Chung Hyeon, who showcased tremendous flair throughout and was responsible for ousting the returning Djokovic in the fourth round. Djokovic struggled with injury throughout their contest, while it was a debilitating blister that ultimately caused Chung Hyeon to retire during the second set of his semi-final against Federer.
Still, both of these young players have done themselves proud during the tournament, and will hope to achieve further success at Grand Slams during the months ahead.
The Next Generation Fail to Deliver
While these young starlets offer hope for the future, it’s fair to surmise that the more established members of the so-called ‘next generation’ flattered to deceive in Melbourne. Dimitrov was beaten by the aforementioned Edmund at the quarter final stage, for example, while the world number four Alexander Zverev was defeated in five sets by Chung in the 3rd round.
Austrian star Dominic Thiem made solid progress before losing to the world number 97 Tennys Sandgren in the fourth round, while the American Jack Sock was beaten by the 41st ranked player Yūichi Sugita in four sets in the very first round.
Even previous Slam contenders like Milos Raonic and 2009 U.S. Open winner Martin Del Potro failed to make inroads in the tournament, with the former losing in the first round to Slovakian Lukáš Lacko and the latter being thrashed in straight sets by the experienced Tomáš Berdych.
These failings highlight a prevalent issue in the men’s game at present, with a number of promising players failing to capitalise on the opportunities created by the extended absence of established Slam winners like Djokovic and Murray. With Federer and Nadal remaining largely dominant despite having a combined age of 67, it’s clear that the younger generation of male stars are struggling to realise their full potential on the Grand Slam stage.
Federer Continues to Defy Age and Time – How Does he do it?
Unlike last year’s Melbourne triumph, Federer’s progress to this years’ final was largely serene. In fact, he reached the final without dropping a single set, using his natural ball-striking ability and silky-smooth footwork to shorten rallies and ultimately overpower his opponents.
Sure, people will point to the early exits of Del Potro, Djokovic and Nadal as being influential in Federer’s untroubled route to the final, but there’s no doubt that the Swiss maestro has developed a refined game that leverages his incredible natural ability while negating any physical shortcomings that he may have.
The final against Cilic underlined Federer’s effectiveness on hard and grass courts. His accurate serve and pinpoint ball striking completely nullified an in-form Cilic in the first set, while the Croat was forced to hang on for dear life in the second before ruthlessly taking a tie-break. While Cilic enjoyed a purple patch in the fourth set that saw him take the game into a decider, the Swiss simply took over once again to punish his tiring opponent and take the decisive set 6-1.
So, despite playing superbly throughout and taking the challenge to Federer, Cilic could not match the Swiss legends’ consistency, guile and innate ability to control the tempo of the game. These factors, coupled with Federer’s natural aestheticism and flexibility, underline just why the Swiss has re-emerged as the dominant force on tour during the last 12 months.
The question that remains, of course, is how long can Federer continue this stupendous form? The answer can be debated at length, but there’s no doubt the Swiss’ current style of play is perfectly suited to shortening points and dominating matches on grass and the hard courts. This makes it hard to see anyone beating Federer from winning at Wimbledon this summer (where he will seek a ninth singles title after winning in 2017 without dropping a single set), while if he remains fit he could also be among the favourites for the U.S. Open in September.
For now, however, it should be enough to celebrate Federer’s incredible 20th Grand Slam title, as the Swiss legend continues to rewrite history on the grandest of stages