x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Roger Federer in good form as he heads to his favourite patch at Wimbledon

The Swiss may not be as formidable, but victory at Halle sets him up nicely to defend his title at the All England Club, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Roger Federer geared up for the defence of his Wimbledon crown by winning the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, his first title of 2013 and 10 months after his last success in Cincinnati. Thomas Starke / Getty Images
Roger Federer geared up for the defence of his Wimbledon crown by winning the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, his first title of 2013 and 10 months after his last success in Cincinnati. Thomas Starke / Getty Images

"What do you mean he's not the same?" a peeved Mikhail Youzhny asked after losing to Roger Federer in the final of the Gerry Weber Open on Sunday. "He's the same good. I don't like when somebody starts to talk about he's not the same."

Youzhny's reaction is not surprising. The Russian has lost each of his 15 matches against Federer - four of them in Dubai including the 2007 final - and that is the most defeats any player has ever had against Federer without beating him once.

So Youzhny's admiration is understandable. But it is a fact: Federer is not the same player he was in 2012, and his results bear out that fact.

In the first six months of last year, the former world No 1 had played 10 tournaments and won Rotterdam, Dubai, Indian Wells and Madrid.

In 2013, he has played eight tournaments and reached the final twice - in Rome, where he lost to Rafael Nadal, and Halle. The victory over Youzhny on Sunday gave Federer his first title since his triumph at the Cincinnati Masters last August.

The gap between his 76th and 77th titles was 304 days, which is the longest dry spell in Federer's career since the time between his first and second titles - Milan (February, 2001) and Sydney (January, 2002).

In these last 10 months, Novak Djokovic has won six titles, including the Australian Open. In half that time (since his return from injury in February), Rafael Nadal has played nine tournaments, reached the final in each one of them and won seven. Andy Murray has won four titles, including the US Open, and reached two other finals since August, 2012.

So, Federer is certainly falling back in that pack called the Big Four. But then, he has played only one tournament on his favourite surface grass in those 10 months - at Halle - and won it. And that could just be the boost he needs as he goes to defend his Wimbledon crown.

"Winning solves everything really," said Federer, who now joins John McEnroe in third place on the ATP's all-time winners list with 77 singles titles, behind Jimmy Connors's 109 and Ivan Lendl's 94.

"So, for me it's great in terms of confidence. I feel like I know what I need to do. There's still things I believe I can improve on, but I think that will happen when the moment is there, when Wimbledon starts."

Federer fans will then waiting excitedly for the All England Championships to start on Monday, hoping the Swiss maestro can script another twist as the lights fade on a glorious career.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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