Roger Federer’s summer campaign on the North American hard courts has been slightly delayed. Federer recently announced that he is withdrawing from the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Is this bad news for Federer? Well, not exactly. He isn’t injured so not playing this tournament is a strategic move on his part. The downside is that he will only have the one warm-up tournament in Cincinnati to prepare for the U.S. Open. The upside is that he will give his 33, soon to be 34, year old body some extra rest.
His decision to skip the Rogers Cup took me by surprise at first, but the more I thought about it the less surprising it was. Federer has skipped this tournament in the past. He did not play in 2012 or 2013, and the fact that he hasn’t won the tournament since 2006 probably played in the back of his mind.
I remember something Federer said a few weeks ago at Wimbledon. Most players were talking about how they felt better prepared to play on grass due to the extra week given in between the French Open and Wimbledon. Federer agreed, but also played devil’s advocate by saying they would have one less week to prepare for the summer hard courts. So, perhaps the decision to skip this tournament has been made for a while now. I also think he would much rather focus on Cincinnati where he has had much more success in recent years , and is the defending champion.
So, with only Cincinnati and the U.S. Open on his schedule this summer, what can we expect from the Swiss maestro?
Well, I think he will certainly be fresh. Last summer he played a lot of tennis, and in the end it may have caught up with him. He played both warm-up tournaments, and then escaped a quarterfinal match against Gael Monfils in New York. In his semifinal match against Marin Cilic, someone he had a perfect record against, he looked totally flat, and lost in straight sets. With Novak Djokovic beaten in the semifinals, Federer let a golden opportunity slip away. I don’t think he wants to make the same mistake this year.
So he’ll be fresh, but how will he play? I think he’ll play pretty well. I think he has a very good chance to win Cincinnati. He always serves exceptionally well there. One year, he didn’t lose his serve for the entire tournament. Djokovic will probably be his biggest threat in that tournament. Federer is comfortably the second best player in the world, so I’m guessing anything less than a finals appearance in Ohio will be disappointing.
The U.S. Open is a different ballgame for Roger. He has five titles there, but hasn’t won since 2008, and hasn’t made the final in his last five attempts. The U.S. Open requires a certain level of physicality, and I think that’s hurt Federer as he’s gotten older. I don’t think Roger’s defensive game has deteriorated that much, but the fact that players can get him on the defensive more easily than before is an issue. It takes physical strength to stand your ground, to not get pushed around.
Over the years Federer’s been bullied on Arthur Ashe stadium by players like Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych, and Marin Cilic. These are not good losses for Federer considering none of these players are apart of the “Big Four”. I would never expect Federer to lose to these players at Wimbledon. On the grass, his variety befuddles these opponents and he can beat them with skill, but on hard courts the game is played more from the baseline and brute force becomes more of a factor.
Having said all of this, I still expect Federer to go far at the Open. He’s been in the semis many times in recent years, and by skipping Montreal he has made it his main priority. It’s difficult for me to see Federer winning the Open, but I would be surprised if he suffered a loss to anyone outside the “Big Four”.