Roger is back!

By Jürgen Fritz, Sun 06 Jun 2021, Cover picture: Stan Sport Australia-Screenshot

Wow! I have to admit, I wouldn’t have thought the 39.8-year-old could do it. Federer actually survived the first three rounds at Roland Garros. In 3:35 hours the maestro defeated Dominik Koepfer 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 in round 3 of Roland Garros last night and is now in the last 16 of the French Open.

Federer keeps proving me wrong

In his first two comeback attempts after his two knee operations and the long break from the game of more than 13 months, when he competed in two smaller E tournaments in Doha in March and in Geneva in May, things didn’t look sooo good for Federer, especially in terms of competitive toughness. And to come back like that at that age, I didn’t think it was possible. But now Federer is back in time for the big tournaments. Somehow, the laws of nature seem to apply to him only to a limited extent.

In 3:35 hours the Maestro defeated Dominik Koepfer 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 in round 3 of Roland Garros (A) last night. Unfortunately, I was too tired to finish watching. These night sessions at the French Open are unacceptable! What’s the point of scheduling matches after 9 p.m. and then letting them play until 0:45 a.m. in front of empty seats because there’s a curfew in Paris after 9 p.m., just to be able to sell the whole thing to TV again? By the time the players get to bed and fall asleep after a press conference, a meal, a massage, and an inner downturn when the whole body is full of adrenaline, it will be at least 5 o’clock. That means that the next day, which is supposed to be a day off, is almost completely slept through and then the next match comes and the matches sometimes start at 11 or 12 o’clock.

But let’s stay with Federer. Over three and a half hours – at that age – after the long break from playing – and wins the thing. Unbelievable! You can’t put a high enough value on that performance. Again, I wouldn’t have thought he could do it and I have to learn once again: never write Federer off. I remember in 2013 a little boy sitting next to me at the tournament at Rothenbaum in Hamburg asked me if I thought Federer could win another Grand Slam tournament. He could probably see immediately in my face how sceptical I was at the time in view of the strength of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray and Federer’s crisis of form at the time, as well as his age. He was just under 32 at the time and you thought that was very old for a tennis player. Pete Sampras played his last match at 31 years and 27 days and Björn Borg won any tournament for the last time at 25 years and 3 months and never won another one after that, not even an E tournament.

But Federer already proved me wrong in 2017, 2018 when he suddenly came back in full force after four and a half years already with quite a few tournament wins in 2014 and 2015 (6 each year!) but without a Grand Slam win and then a long injury break in 2016 and won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017 and then the Australian Open again in 2018 at the age of 36, Grand Slam titles No. 18, 19 and 20. Four years ago, such numbers were thought to be impossible. Until Sampras and Federer came along, I even thought the Borg record (11 Grand Slam titles) was unrepeatable. But Federer, Nadal and Djokovic really do break almost every record and they do it over and over again. Even in their mid-30s, or in Federer’s case almost 40, they are still outstanding.

Do it again, Roger!

Slowly, even Federer’s Grand Slam title 21 in July at Wimbledon, 18 years after his first triumph there, 20 years after his victory over seven-time Wimbledon champion and then defending champion Pete Sampras, no longer seems impossible. I would have denied that a week ago, too. In Paris, the greatest of all time is only concerned with gaining match practice and finding his game again. We can already say that he has succeeded in doing so. The way he still moves at almost 40 years of age, with such light-footedness, is unbelievable. And the condition to play at the highest level for three to four hours and not collapse at the end seems to be there again.

The round of sixteen against the very strong Berrittini should be extremely difficult for Federer – if I’m not mistaken about him again – but he has already found his match practice and his game again, also the competitive toughness. In Halle (D tournament) and Wimbledon (A), he will have to be at his best on grass, his preferred surface. He himself said that he estimates that he needs about ten matches at competition level until he can reach his top form. For him, the clay tournament in Roland Garros is only a preparation for the grass season. But the way he plays this preparation is incredible. I really take my hat off to that and admit: I underestimated Federer once again.

It’s wonderful to have you back, Roger! And it is a privilege for every tennis fan to be able to experience the unique Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era. There is probably nothing comparable in the entire history of tennis and sport. And every year with these three is a gift. Please stay with us a little longer, Roger! And keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Keep proving me wrong. I love to be amazed in this way. Do it again, Roger!


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