2016 was one of the most hated years in recent history. Whether it were the political events occurring in a superpower nation or the deaths of many loved celebrities, last year had hardly any silver linings to remember. For the tennis world too, it wasn’t all that great, thanks to the two most adored players on tour- Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal who failed to leave a mark last year.
Roger Federer underwent a knee surgery, meaning he would miss his first French open in 17 years and Nadal too was constantly struggling with both mental and physical aspects of his game and both these champions had to cut their seasons short, in hopes to revive some of their lost glory in 2017. While Federer decided to return to Perth, after 14 years and 17 Grand Slam titles, Nadal made his way to Brisbane to get in shape for the first major of the year. With their comeback tournaments out of the way, their potential chances to challenge for the upcoming majors can be started to look upon.
Federer opened his first practice session to the public of Perth and almost 6000 fans poured in to witness the most loved champion of tennis history, highlighting what had been missing from the game for the past six months. After spending his longest exile away from the game, Federer looked both mentally and physically refreshed, with his knee problems now a thing of past. He then played three matches and three fast four mixed doubles matches with Belinda Bencic. He sailed to victories against Daniel Evans and Frenchman Richard Gasquet. But the highlight of the week was his three set match against the 19 year old Alexander Zverev, which he lost in three tight tiebreakers. Federer could however, see a win in that defeat and so did many experts of the game. He smashed 11 aces in his 57 minute win over Gasquet and looked good both on his backhand and forehand sides.
His week in Perth just went on to confirm that Federer can still hold his ground against majority of players out there. He moved and defended well and looked solid from the baseline against Zverev.
Federer’s main rival for majority of his career- Rafa Nadal, the 9-time French Open champion landed in Brisbane to fillip his 2017 campaign. In the last week of 2016, Nadal defeated Raonic, Berdych and Goffin on his way to the fourth title in Abu Dhabi, signalling strong prospects for the upcoming year. He advanced to the quarter finals in Brisbane, before losing to Raonic in three sets.
But more so than the on courts developments, a new addition to his team, Carlos Moya is the topic of discussion when it comes to exploring Nadal’s chances. Majority of the experts are of the opinion that Moya has the ability to make Rafa competitive again. Moya has already tasted success as a coach, helping Raonic reach world number three spot in rankings last year. Moya could help Nadal tremendously on his first and second serves and could also help to rejuvenate Rafa’s forehand.
Just like Federer’s chances at Wimbledon, people still believe Nadal’s most realistic chance to clinch another slam and surpass Sampras is at Roland Garros. He won’t offer much at the Wimbledon and with the likes of Murray and Novak around, the US Open looks a bit beyond reach as well. Federer, seeded 17 in Melbourne, is already in danger of facing either Murray or Novak in Round 3, while Rafa- the ninth seed- could face one amongst the top 4 in the last 16. The two are wise enough not to look beyond one match at the moment.
So how deep in the Australian Open can these two really go? For Federer, if he’s able to hit the mark he set in his semi-final run here last year, there aren’t many players on the tour who can stop the 35 year old Swiss- of course the danger of getting knocked out at the hands of a particular Serbian looms large. If Roger could tune his game in the opening two rounds- especially his first serve percentage and get going, we can expect to see more of him in the second week. As for Nadal, he should sail to the R16 and if he could get away with an easy draw, the Spaniard can make it to the semis. However, whether he has enough in the tank to take down Djokovic or Murray, remains a mystery.
Calling them title contenders right now would be a mockery of common sense and wisdom but writing them off would also be equally stupid. The comebacks of both Roger and Rafa makes the Australian Open one of the most exciting majors to cover in recent times. The world eagerly awaits too see them in full fledged action and to grace the tennis courts at majors yet again.
Oh, did we forget to tell you about a potential third round match up?
ROGER FEDERER vs RAFA NADAL ( Official draws will be out on Friday! )