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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Timing of Roger Federer's comeback could help fuel strong US Open run

At 37, former world No 1 smart by playing just one warm-up tournament ahead of season's final major

Since retaining the Australian Open in January it has been harder going, with only two more titles coming Roger Federer's way in Rotterdam and Stuttgart. AFP
Since retaining the Australian Open in January it has been harder going, with only two more titles coming Roger Federer's way in Rotterdam and Stuttgart. AFP

In hindsight, Kevin Anderson helped save Roger Federer's tired body from punishment.

The 20-time major winner took his surprise loss at Wimbledon in the quarter-finals with good grace after a gruelling match that went past the four-hour mark.

But, Federer would probably have watched Anderson's marathon duel with John Isner in the semi-finals, which lasted six hours and 36 minutes as both men threw down big serve after big serve, and being partially relieved that he had not had to be a part of that.

If there is one doubt about the current incarnation of Federer it is whether his body can continue to cash the cheques that his mind demands of it for a sustained period.

The world No 2 turned 37 last Wednesday and he plays his first tournament since that Wimbledon loss this week at the Cincinnati Masters, which will also serve as a tune up for the US Open, which starts on August 27.

The Anderson loss was a reminder of where Federer is in the game. He can still be unstoppable at times and his backhand remains a thing of beauty.

But he is mortal and age is reminding us that even Federer is mortal on that front and that he is eminently beatable if the opponent brings their A game.

He bossed Anderson for the first two sets at Wimbledon, but once the South African had overcome his early funk and found his range life became tough for the Swiss player.

The final set became a shoot-out and it was Federer who blinked first with a tired service game to give Anderson the decisive break.

The year 2017 was a remarkable one for Federer as he defied age to recover from knee surgery and win seven of the 12 tournaments he entered, including winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Since retaining the Australian Open in January it has been harder going, with only two more titles coming his way in Rotterdam and Stuttgart.

A mixture of Federer's level dipping slightly and an improved standard of opposition are arguably behind the more modest rewards this time around.

Anderson was better then anything he faced in winning his eighth Wimbledon title in 2017 for instance. Juan Martin del Potro (Indian Wells) and Borna Coric (Halle) simply played the better tennis on the day when they played Federer in their respective finals.

There is no disgrace in that for Federer. At 37 it is remarkable he is still No 2 in the world and still such a competitive force, given so many of his peers were long since retired by the time they reached his age.

Kevin Anderson was better then anything Roger Federer faced in winning his eighth Wimbledon title in 2017 for instance. AP Photo
Kevin Anderson was better then anything Roger Federer faced in winning his eighth Wimbledon title in 2017 for instance. AP Photo

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Cincinnati in many ways is an idea prep for Federer for the US Open. Regardless of how he fares he will have at least one week's break after the tournament to prepare for New York.

It has been no coincidence that when Federer has played a number of tournaments close together he has looked to have run out of steam.

His second round loss in Miami to Thanasi Kokkinakis in April came just days after he had lost to Del Potro at Indian Wells, and the Wimbledon loss to Anderson came after he had played, and reached the finals, of both Stuttgart and Halle.

So, he will have a breather ahead of Flushing Meadows and the latest attempt to add a record sixth Open era title in New York having last won there in 2008.

Cincinnati has been a happy hunting ground for him in the past. He is a seven-time winner there. He has not lost there since 2013, having won in 2014 and 2015, before missing both 2016 and 2017 due to injury.

A good run at Cincinnati can rebuild the confidence lost from Wimbledon.

The 2015 success set up his best run in New York in recent years. He pushed Novak Djokovic, who was at the peak of his powers at the time, hard in losing in four sets.

Another successful week in Cincinnati could set up a similar challenge and remind the ATP Tour that while he is not getting any younger he remains a force to be reckoned with.

Only Ken Rosewall at the 1972 Australian Open won a grand slam title older than Federer will be when he competes at the US Open later this month.

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