x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Roger Federer’s, Andy Murray’s aches are field’s gain

With two of tennis' Big Four outside the top 4 in rankings due to uneven 2013 seasons, challengers like David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka have more belief in themselves as draws have open up, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Roger Federer won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships over Tomas Berdych in the final on Saturday March 1, 2014. Saleh Salem / Reuters
Roger Federer won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships over Tomas Berdych in the final on Saturday March 1, 2014. Saleh Salem / Reuters

Last week, Roger Federer was asked to gaze into the crystal ball and make his predictions for men’s tennis in 2014. Interesting year, or strange?

“Not strange, but interesting, yeah, I think it’s the right word,” he said. “I think that was already the case midway through last year when I had physical issues, Andy [Murray] had back surgery, and things changed within the top four.”

Last August, Federer slipped out of the world’s top five for the first time since February, 2003, and is world No 8 now. Struggling with lower back pain in 2013, Murray is world No 6 as he makes a return to the tour following surgery. This is his lowest ranking since he moved into the top 5 in September, 2008.

Those rankings mean the Big Four – Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal being the other two – will be facing each other a bit earlier in the draws

Federer and Murray met in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, and the Swiss had to overcome Djokovic in the Dubai semis

“So it’s just not the regular four that we know are always going to be drawn two on each side,” Federer said. “Now it could be totally different, three on one side or one on the other. That opens up the draws. That’s where now a lot of guys will have an opportunity like [David] Ferrer, [Juan Martin] Del Potro, Stan [Stanislas Wawrinka], and all these guys. So it’s going to be interesting to see.”

If the first two months of the year are any indication, the “other guys” are already making use of their opportunities.

There have been four ATP 500 events so far and none of the defending champions have won. Tomas Berdych replaced Juan Martin Del Potro as the Rotterdam champ, Federer dethroned Djokovic in Dubai, Grigor Dimitrov won Acapulco in the absence of Rafael Nadal, while the world No 1 triumphed at the new Rio Open.

Djokovic had the Australian Open and the Dubai crown in his bag by this time last year, and he has lost both. Berdych is back on the winners’ list after a 16-month absence. He has also made the semis in Melbourne and the final in Dubai, and Federer believes the Czech is on the cusp of something big.

“Maybe finally the guys outside, away from the top 4 or the best 4, whatever you want to call them, believe a bit more, which I was always complaining about, that maybe they don’t really believe they can beat us,” Federer said. “It seems like it’s finally maybe pushing through at least for some guys.”

If the trend continues, a certain Stanislas Wawrinka could take some of the credit. His Australian Open triumph has given belief to the rest.