In defeating Stan Wawrinka at Indian Wells to add a 25th ATP Masters 1000 title to the Australian Open crown he won a few weeks ago, Roger Federer continued his remarkable return to the competitive arena.
Federer continues fairytale return
“It’s been just a fairytale week once again,” said Roger Federer, finding the right words after chalking up the 25th Masters 1000 title win of his career with a commanding 6/4 7/5 defeat of Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final at Indian Wells, a result that continued his perfect start to the 2017 season. In seeing off his compatriot, the Swiss once again proved that age and his recent injury troubles have not lessened his ability to score tournament wins.
Nineteen months on from securing his last Masters 1000 triumph at Cincinnati 2015, Federer showed he is well and truly back and that his surprise Australian Open victory is more than just a flash in the pan. Having been sidelined for six months with a knee injury, the Swiss star has shown that the comeback he made in January is very much a long-term venture, much to his delight, not least with his 36th birthday just around the corner. “I hope my body is going to allow me to keep on playing,” said the world No6 after Sunday’s final. “I have totally exceeded my expectations.”
"I could have been 35th in the world if things had gone badly in Australia, but here I am 6th"
While his Australian triumph came out of nowhere, namely a long injury absence, his Indian Wells victory provides compelling proof that Federer is in the kind of shape and playing the type of tennis needed to win major tournaments. Serving superbly and showing aggressive intent and wonderful touch throughout his stay in California, the 18-time Grand Slam champion claimed the first Masters 1000 of the season without losing a single set and dropped his serve just the once throughout the whole week (early in the second set in the final), further unmistakable proof of his return to the top.
Regardless of his utterly peerless form, however, “surprised” is the word that best sums up Federer’s feelings about start to the season. He has been using it liberally since his glorious run in Melbourne and it was in evidence again on Sunday evening: “I’m not as surprised as I was in Australia, but still this comes as a big, big surprise to me. I could have been 35th in the world if things had gone badly in Australia, but here I am sixth. It takes a lot of the pressure off me.”
Following his memorable win over Rafael Nadal in Australia, Federer said the reason for his astonishing level of play in the fifth and final set of that match lay in his determination to keep playing his shots: “You play the ball, you don’t play the opponent. Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it,” he commented at the time. “The brave will be rewarded here. I kept on fighting. I kept on believing, like I did all match long today, that there was a possibility I could win this match. I think that’s what made me play my best tennis at the very end, which surprised me a little.”
Prevailing in the first two big tournaments of the year has allowed Federer to climb the rankings and to make life a little easier for himself in future tournaments, where the draws will not be quite as demanding as the ones he faced in Melbourne and the USA. In Indian Wells, he found himself in the same deadly quarter of the draw as Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev. That said, the opportunity to meet and beat Top 10 players has allowed him to pick up confidence with every passing week, a fact reflected by a record of six wins and no defeats so far against such high-ranked opponents in 2017.
Federer opens a season with a 6-0 mark vs. the Top 10 for just the second time. Last was in 2004 when he went 18-0. THIRTEEN years ago.— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) 19 mars 2017
"Still a big, big surprise to me, nevertheless, to win here again and beating the players that I did and the way I did."
Aside from boosting his ranking, Federer also scored some telling victories at Indian Wells, not least against nine-time French Open champion Nadal, whom he smothered 6/2 6/3 in their last-16 meeting. Nothing has caused the Swiss greater consternation in his stunning start to the year than the manner in which he has been playing: “I’m not as surprised as I was in Australia, but still this comes as a big, big surprise to me, nevertheless, to win here again and beating the players that I did and the way I did. I mean, couldn’t be more happy.” There’s that word again: “surprise”.
Read more: Federer stretches winning run against Nadal
In California, Federer scored his first Australian Open/Indian Wells double since the 2006 season. After a few days’ rest – a key aspect of his comeback season – he will launch himself into the USA’s other Masters 1000, in Miami, with objectives that are every bit as low key as they were at the start of the year. “The main priority is rest,” he added. “I know how hard it is to win two tournaments in a row. I didn’t come here looking to win, even if everyone expected me to.” But that’s what happens when your name is Federer.