TENNIS

OPINION: Is Roger Federer better than ever, or is the next generation failing?

Since returning from a knee injury prior to the 2017 Australian Open, Roger Federer has won three Grand Slam titles and has picked up countless other accolades on the ATP Tour.

It was the popular opinion among analysts and ‘experts’ that Federer would never be able to return to his swashbuckling best – the kind of form that seen him pick up 17 Grand Slams and dominate the game for over a decade, striking fear into his opponents.

After all, he hadn’t won a Grand Slam in almost four years and had dropped out of the world’s top 10 for the first time in 14 years.

How wrong they were.

Now aged 36, the Swiss native has reclaimed his throne as world number one – a feat he first achieved in February 2004.

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If you look at the statistics, Federer is perhaps playing better and achieving better results than at any moment in his illustrious career.

Since the Australian Open success just over 12 months ago, his fifth crown at the tournament, he has gone on to win Masters titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai, and adding a record eighth Wimbledon trophy to his overflowing cabinet of awards.

Federer has also won tournaments in Halle, Basel and Rotterdam, while reaching the final in Montreal and the US Open semi-final.

Still undefeated in 2018, a run spanning 19 matches for the loss of only four sets, how has the 20-time Grand Slam champion managed to turn his career around so radically?

Well, while his dedication and attitude towards improving and developing even at the twilight stage of his career has to be applauded, he has perhaps achieved this success in the lowest quality of tennis seen on the ATP Tour in the last decade.

That can be shown by the ranking points collected by the top 10 compared to previous years.

Marin Cilic, ranked third in the world, currently has 4,905 points, which is the lowest, by a considerable margin, since 2010.

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Lucas Pouille will enter the top 10 in the new rankings published next week, with only 2.420 points, which is the lowest in quite some time.

Also, the next generation hasn’t pushed through quite as quickly as people may have expected.

Grigor Dimitrov, often referred to as ‘Baby Fed’, broke through in 2013 to win the Brisbane International, but since then has won only one major title, with that being the 2017 ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Alexander Zverev has shot into the top five in the space of 24 months, but when it comes to the big five-set matches, tends to fade away, as shown in his loss to Hyeon Chung at this years Australian Open.

Others like Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov and Chung are attempting to push through, but are all considered to be a distant speck in Federer’s rear-view mirror.

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It is a real struggle to see where the next competition for Federer comes from.

He has expressed such domination and left scar tissue on the past, current and next generations, that he could realistically play until he is 40.

Andy Murray hasn’t played since Wimbledon, while Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka have struggled to return from injuries that ravaged their 2017 seasons.

It is old foe Rafael Nadal that provides the main challenge to Federer, in what feels like a nostalgic throwback for tennis.

Federer will enter this years Wimbledon and US Open as favourite barring any injuries, while he has a big decision whether to play on clay this year after skipping the French Open in 2017.

While the competition has dwindled in recent years, Federer has definitely reached a new level. Never doubt the GOAT.

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