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Will Federer's gamble pay off at SW19?

Unpredictable. A simple adjective that was so true to describe Roger Federer in the early part of his career. A remarkable consistency, the like of which we had never seen before, made predictable more suitable for Federer in his glory days. Yet this year, we are back to feeling incapable of predicting what Federer will give us in the last leg of his extraordinary career. A truly astonishing achievement in Rod Laver Arena on that nostalgic Sunday night in January was followed by two stunning wins at Indian Wells and Miami. As soon as all the predictions of the Swiss returning to world number one were made, Federer made it clear that a 10 week break was imminent. The decision to skip the French Open was anticipated to say the least and the plan was clear. An full pronged attack at his favourite hunting ground, the hallowed grass of Wimbledon. An aberration at Stuttgart raises doubts about Federer’s lack of matches, but this is a man who came off a six month layoff to win the most important title of his career. Surely he could do it again or is that too predictable?

After his stunning victory in Melbourne, what should have been treated as a culminating victory to an incredible career was not seen in that manner. Immediately, focus shifted on how many more majors can Federer win before hanging up his racquet. Federer was revelling in his own success while newspapers and journalists across the world worked their hardest to predict how many he could win and immediately made him the favourite for Wimbledon this year. Throughout this year, Federer has maintained that expectations were very low or simply put, he had no expectations at all. The goal of making the top eight in the rankings by after Wimbledon had been obliterated after Indian Wells, but now he faces something he has not so far this year. Pressure. For an athlete as experienced as Federer, it would seem crazy to suggest that he would not know how pressure feels. But, people now expect him to win, rather than hope him to win. It almost seems as though if he does not win, it would be a massive disappointment. Rather than enjoying his presence and excellence on the grass for one of the last times in his career, Federer’s fans will be praying his every shot lands perfectly on the line. This pressure will be another fascinating challenge for Federer and as easy as it would be to say he will thrive on the pressure because of confidence gained in Australia, we simply have no answer. He could win, but he could also very easily lose early in the tournament.

Federer press conference

Added to the pressure, Federer has had a prolonged, planned break from the game. How can he possibly pick up his racquet where he left off in Miami? The lack of matches will surely have an impact on the fantastic form he showed at the beginning of the year. However great you are, even the greatest, you need confidence from matches leading up to a huge tournament in the city of London. A good run at Halle can give Federer that, but as he admits himself, “I am a practice world champion and that’s not who I want to be.” Furthermore, not playing very much may make him hesitant in the big moments in a Grand Slam. People will immediately point to Australia, where the situation was similar. But, in all honestly, a tournament such as that will likely never happen again. His less than impressive start to the tournament was easily forgotten as round after round, he defied the odds and that carried onto the final. But this is again six months ago. In more ways than some, Wimbledon may feel like Melbourne for Federer at least in his own mind. He may outwardly say his expectations are to do really well at SW19, but inside he must realise that he also is human. The shock defeats at other Grand Slams makes everyone wary and the players will know they have to be at their best from the beginning. While only the tournament will give us the answer of whether Federer will be at his best, we should not expect him to roll back the years immediately. It could be even more difficult and more thrilling than Australia.

Federer’s second comeback will be the dominating storyline at Wimbledon, but there are several other journeys that will threaten Federer’s happy ending. A certain Rafael Nadal has just enjoyed one of his most successful clay court seasons and will have gained huge confidence from his 15th major win. Grass has not been kind to him in the last five years, several shocking defeats and injury pullouts have hampered his chances to add to his two Wimbledon crowns. But one must not forget that before this barren spell, he made five consecutive finals at Wimbledon so he knows how to succeed at the most prestigious tournament in the world. The growing confidence of the new world number two will make him dangerous even with no warm up tournament. The self professed “outsider” Stan Wawrinka may have lost in the first round of Queen’s, but there can be no one better to deliver when least expected. He has had an outstanding season in the majors this year and the extra motivation for Wimbledon will be that if he could win here, the career Grand Slam will be complete. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have had indifferent years and for different reasons. Murray’s problems look more physically related whereas, Djokovic’s mind looks lost in the days of his glorious past. While one hopes that these two great champions will regain their form sooner rather than later, we have been saying this for the last six months. If this is even possible this year is maybe the real question we should be asking. The final story is one that we ask so often, can someone step up and win a major outside the Big 5? One quality win against a Top 5 player does not win you majors, you usually need to beat at least two, if not usually three of them. This is asking a lot from the youngsters and it has very little chance of happening here in London this time.

Federer Wimbledon 2016

As Federer embarks on his 19th Wimbledon Championships, all the talk will be of people expecting him to win a 19th major title. That pressure will get all the bigger as he progresses through the tournament but is it justified? Rather than be disappointed if he fails early, enjoy the moment he plays on the beautiful surface. It may be one of the last times we ever see him on the biggest stage.