Is Fed the favourite?

 - Alix Ramsay

It is the curse of success: no sooner do you achieve one goal than the world expects you to achieve another.

Roger Federer fist pumping of joy during 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

So what that you’ve won a century of career titles? You’ve proved 100 times that you can win to a band playing so now go out and do it all over again at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. We expect no less. Welcome to Roger Federer’s world.

As the first of the Masters 1000 event if the year eases into life, Federer is the talk of the town. His win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Championships gave him membership to the most exclusive society in tennis: the 100 Club. The very crème de la crème of the sport, the club has just two members: Federer and Jimmy Connors who in October of 1989 won the Toulouse and Tel Aviv events back to back to notch of the last pair of his 109 career titles.

Now that Federer has turned up to keep Connors company, it is hard to imagine that anyone is going to gate crash their very private party. It is the sheer longevity of two living legends that defies belief. Connors was 44 when he finally hung up his racket; Federer will be 38 in August and has absolutely no plans to stop any time soon. That sort of staying power takes a very special sort of game, a very special sort of physique and a very special sort of mentality.

But no matter how great the achievement is for the Mighty Fed, that does not necessarily make him the favourite to win a record sixth Indian Wells trophy.

This time last year, the Swiss came to the Californian desert having not been beaten all year. And only when Juan Martin Del Potro beat him in the final was his 17-match winning streak beaten.

Coming back this year, Federer is in a very different position. He was ousted from the Australian Open in the fourth round by Tsitsipas and then when he got to Dubai, he struggled in the first couple of rounds against Philipp Kohlschreiber and then Fernando Verdasco. And yet, as only Federer can, he managed to flip the switch in his confidence and belief to power through the next three rounds and on to the trophy presentation without dropping a set. As for the boost to his confidence as he finally claimed that 100th title, that could prove to be priceless as he chases more silverware in the desert.

A big problem named Djokovic

The big problem for Federer comes in the form of a certain Mr Djokovic of Serbia. The way the world No.1 brushed aside Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final was as ruthless as it was swift. Even Djokovic was impressed with his evening’s work, describing it as a near perfect match. And it set him apart from the other greats of his generation – by winning his seventh Melbourne trophy (in itself a record), Djokovic is the only man in history to have won three consecutive Grand Slam titles three times in his career. And with his sights set on the record books, he seems all but unstoppable.

Meanwhile, Nadal is lurking in the shadows, waiting to make his move. His run to the Australian Open final was mightily impressive. He looked physically better and better with every round and he was playing an aggressive game.

That he ran into an inspired Djokovic in the final was simply his bad luck and as he left Melbourne Park, he vowed to work even harder to make himself better. Having not played for four months thanks to a string of injury problems, he knew there was plenty of room for improvement.

Nick Kyrgios beat Nadal in Acapulco, that is true, but no one could touch the mercurial Australian that week. Yes, Nadal was playing so far behind the baseline that he had almost set up camp in the car park but that was because Kyrgios was not allowing him to move so much as inch further forward. Even Djokovic would have struggled to control Kyrgios that day.

Welcome to Roger Federer's world

So is Federer that favourite for the Indian Wells trophy? No, not really. Yes, he can certainly win the title but what sets Djokovic apart from his old rival is that, these days, it is Djokovic who wins the big points as soon as they appear while Federer cannot capitalise on his chances in the way that he used to do.

In his pomp, Federer could spot a half chance from a mile away and pounce on it in a split second. Today that is not always the case. Against Tsitsipas in Melbourne, he had 12 break point chances and could not convert a single one.

As Djokovic thrashed Nadal, he dropped just 13 points on serve in all and broke the Spaniard five times. And that is what makes Novak Djokovic the favourite in Indian Wells and anywhere else he cares to play. Welcome to Roger Federer’s world.