In recent years we have talked about the Big Four in men’s tennis. But with the absence of Rafael Nadal from this year’s Australian Open, it is the die-hard Roger Federer’s fans who insist it is the Big Three despite the fact that the Swiss superstar will turn 32 in August this year.
Federer has stated that he will reduce the amount of tennis he will play as he concentrates mainly on the Grand Slams, and the Swiss legend should still be considered a favourite in Melbourne.
On a special one-off flying visit to Singapore last Friday with Credit Suisse, for whom he is its Global Ambassador, the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles looked fresh.
“I have just completed my first tour to South America where I played matches for charity, had some time to relax, spend Christmas with family and now I will get down to Melbourne and get some decent practice at the Rod Laver Arena. I chose not to play a warm-up tournament because that’s my strategy now, to practise more, and play fewer tournaments in my annual schedule,” he said.
So, Nadal is missing, and Federer says it is disappointing for him because he played only two matches against the Spaniard last year, and he enjoys his rivalry against the younger man.
Federer said, “We all want Rafa back but he must come back to tennis when he is hundred per cent fit, but what his absence does for the Australian Open is that it opens it up for 97% of the draw for the guys.”
So, of the Big Three, Novak Djokovic lost his warm-up tournament and Andy Murray won his. The short odds are with Djokovic to win his third consecutive Australian Open title and his fourth in total, and there is a growing clamour that Murray’s credentials are more realistic than Federer’s as the tournament’s second favourite for the title.
Proving a point
Federer proved he could still be a dominant player last year, winning six singles titles and rising to the world's No. 1 ranking for a time before ending the year at No. 2. He even added to his career Grand Slam singles record, taking out Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on his way to the 2012 Wimbledon title. It was Federer's seventh Wimbledon crown and his 17th career Grand Slam title.
“2012 was a great year for me and I achieved all my goals. I won my seventh Wimbledon, I won an Olympic medal for Switzerland — even though I would have preferred gold to silver! And I regained my position as World No.1, which made me very happy. It was a special year for me and for my family,” added the Swiss.
At 31, Federer is the oldest of the Big Four in men’s tennis but he still relishes the keen rivalry amongst them. He said, “I have always considered Andy Murray to be part of us (Big Four) because we kept on beating each other, despite Andy not having won a Grand Slam before last year’s U.S. Open, and we all bring something different to the table.
“Novak is a natural attacker. Rafa is incredibly competitive, he’s difficult because he is left-handed and because he gets such spin and angles to his shots. Andy has always been a great retriever, but he is now a great offensive player with great anticipation.
“I am the only player with a single backhand in the top 10 in the world, and I am still as fit as most of those guys, so I feel good about my game as we look forward to 2013.”
The question every Federer tennis fan wants to ask is about his future. How does he see it?
Federer said, “Well, the travelling is no problem, even though I am certainly going to cut down on a lot of it. But my wife is so important to me because she provides great support and the children travel with us everywhere, so we are ok with our busy lifestyle.
“I intend to spend more time in Switzerland and I am going to practise more, rather than play in all the tournaments, because
“I am preparing for the longevity aspect. I would like to play for as long as I can. I just don’t want to fizzle out. That’s not the goal here.
“I feel I have many years of great tennis left in me and I am still fit. Yes, it gets harder with each year, but I am prepared for the future and I am feeling great.”
Federer fans need not fret just yet. The Swiss maestro will be around for at least a couple more years and his bid for an 18th Grand Slam title begins in Melbourne next week.
No one should be surprised if Federer wins the Australian Open for a fifth time.
Alan Wilkins is a commentator with ESPN-STAR Sports