Big Titles: 'Unpredictable' Start Helps Federer Pad Lead
What to call the beginning of Roger Federer's 20th year on the ATP World Tour?
In January, we would have used adjectives such as “hopeful” or “upbeat”. Federer, describing himself, picked “rejuvenated” and “refreshed”.
In what looks like prescient language now, three months on, the Swiss veteran said at the start of the year, “I do believe it could be very beneficial for the future of my tennis career that I've had this six-month layoff... I feel rejuvenated, refreshed. Maybe mentally I needed this rest more than I thought I would. Maybe also my body needed a rest more than I thought I would.”
But now, after Federer has rolled through the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Miami Open presented by Itau, his earlier adjectives no longer work.
Perhaps “unbelievable”? None of this was predicted – not by Federer, not by his coaches, not by tennis pundits and maybe not even by the millions of fans across the world who scream for the Swiss star. But whatever term you pick, there's no mistaking what Federer's start has added to his place among the best in the game.
By capturing the season's first three “Big Titles”, Federer has extended his “Big Titles” lead against long-time rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The Swiss right-hander now has 26 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns and 50 overall “Big Titles”. That puts Federer three “Big Titles” ahead of Djokovic and eight ahead of the left-handed Spaniard.
Current and Former Champions' Big Titles Won (Records Since 1990)
|Player||Grand Slams||ATP Finals
|Roger Federer||18/69||6/14||26/125||50/208 (4.2)|
|Novak Djokovic||12/49||5/10||30/95||47/154 (3.3)|
|Rafael Nadal||14/47||0/7||28/100||42/154 (3.7)|
|Pete Sampras||14/52||5/11||11/83||30/146 (4.9)|
|Andre Agassi||8/61||1/13||17/90||26/164 (6.3)|
|Andy Murray||3/44||1/8||14/93||18/143 (7.9)|
|Boris Becker*||2/26||2/6||5/51||9/83 (9.2)|
|Thomas Muster||1/29||0/4||8/53||9/86 (9.6)|
|Gustavo Kuerten||3/33||1/3||5/67||9/103 (11.4)|
|Jim Courier||4/38||0/4||5/71||9/113 (12.6)|
|Stefan Edberg**||3/28||0/4||1/24||4/56 (14)|
|Marcelo Rios||0/26||0/1||5/56||5/83 (16.6)|
|Michael Chang||1/50||0/6||7/86||8/142 (17.8)|
|Marat Safin||2/41||0/3||5/87||7/131 (18.7)|
|Andy Roddick||1/46||0/6||5/75||6/127 (21.2)|
|Lleyton Hewitt||2/66||2/4||2/75||6/145 (24.2)|
|Patrick Rafter||2/35||0/2||2/48||4/85 (21.3)|
|Sergi Bruguera||2/33||0/3||2/63||4/96 (24)|
|Juan Carlos Ferrero||1/45||0/3||4/84||5/132 (26.4)|
|Carlos Moya||1/47||0/5||3/76||4/128 (32)|
|Stan Wawrinka||3/48||0/4||1/93||4/145 (36.3)|
|Yevgeny Kafelnikov||2/38||0/7||0/77||2/122 (61)|
* Becker's four other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
** Edberg's three other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
“Once you win a big tournament like the Australian Open, or any big tournament for that matter, you can just bank usually on some confidence,” Federer said on Sunday after beating Nadal for his third Miami title. “That confidence gets you through a lot of the tough matches that nobody ever speaks about again.”
To earn that belief, in Melbourne, the 17th-seeded Federer had to beat Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Mischa Zverev, Stan Wawrinka and Nadal for his 18th Grand Slam.
In Indian Wells, Federer met Nadal, not in the final, but in the fourth round, and then faced rising American Jack Sock before again beating Wawrinka in the final.
The past two weeks in Miami, Federer had to overcome Juan Martin del Potro and Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the last eight. In the quarter-finals, Federer saved two match points against Berdych before outdoing Nick Kyrgios in an epic semi-final and again beating Nadal in the final.
Federer's stats from the three big tournaments: 18 wins, zero losses; a 7-0 record against the Top 10; a 10-2 record in tie-break sets, and the most important number: Three more “Big Titles”.
“I can't explain. I told Severin [Luthi], my coach, when I was warming up, if I would have just played the Miami finals, no Indian Wells, no Australian Open, we would still be very happy right now,” Federer said on Sunday. “But I have way more, so that's why I was trying to remind myself just to play without pressure. Just do it one more time and go out there and be brave on the big points. I think I was able to do that.”
“Be brave” – it's the same mantra Federer carried with him during the Australian Open final, the first time he surprised Nadal with his flat backhand, and likely the same advice he brought to the court in Indian Wells. “Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here,” Federer said in Melbourne.
His “Big Titles” lead is hardly secure, though, especially considering his announcement that he'll take an extended break and likely play only Roland Garros on the clay. Three Masters 1000 tournaments sit between now and the season's second Grand Slam, which starts 28 May, including the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome.
All three other members of the “Big Four” have brought home hardware from those clay-court Masters 1000 events. Djokovic and Nadal have won all three titles in their careers, and Andy Murray is missing only the Monte-Carlo crown.
Just last year, Nadal won his ninth Monte-Carlo title, Djokovic claimed his second Madrid trophy, and Murray celebrated his first Rome championship. Djokovic also still remains the all-time leader in Masters 1000 titles with 30.
"Unpredictable"? You could say that about Federer's first three months, and about the next few months of the ATP World Tour season.