As far as Roger Federer is concerned, the future is still on hold. No matter that the 35-year-old Swiss, less than three months into his comeback following a six-month lay-off, has just added the Indian Wells Masters to the Australian Open title he won in January.
Federer thinks this is still too early to assess where his game is at and will not map out his future goals or remaining schedule for this year until the end of the Miami Masters, which begins on Wednesday.
“The comeback will be complete by April,” he said. “That’s how I saw it in November and I will stick to that. Nothing has changed.”
He added: “At the end of last year I was just happy to be feeling healthy again. I set myself the goal to play through Miami and then see how I felt.”
Anyone who thought Federer’s victory in Australia – his first Grand Slam title for nearly five years – might just be a glorious one-off will surely be thinking again after his triumph on Sunday in Indian Wells.
Although Federer’s draw opened up in California with the early exits of Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios’ withdrawal with illness, he still had to beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round and Stan Wawrinka in the final.
Whatever Federer achieves in Miami, which for most players will be their last hard-court tournament before late summer, his stunning comeback is one of a number of factors that make the upcoming clay-court and grass-court seasons fascinating prospects.
Djokovic’s troubles since last year’s French Open show few signs of going away – he has won only one minor title since last summer – while Andy Murray’s form since he clinched the year-end world No 1 ranking by winning 24 matches in succession at the end of last season has been patchy.
Both men are missing Miami with elbow injuries but will hope to be return for the clay-court campaign, which begins in earnest in four weeks’ time with the Monte Carlo Masters.
Nadal, despite two defeats to Federer in the last two months as well as losses to Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey, has been happy with his start to the year following his own injury problems and will relish the return to clay. So too will Wawrinka, the champion at Roland Garros two years ago.
With the French Open less than 10 weeks away, most odds-makers currently see Djokovic as the marginal favourite just ahead of Nadal and Murray, with Wawrinka (8-1) fourth in most betting lists and Federer (25-1) fifth.
However, this week’s updated world rankings list is evidence of the rapidly shifting landscape at the top of the game. The rankings are based on a rolling 12-months total: today, for example, each player’s points earned in Indian Wells last year were taken off and replaced by the points from this year’s tournament.
The goal was to be in the top eight after Wimbledon. I’m there much, much faster.
Murray is now more than 3,000 points clear of second-placed Djokovic and will be more than 4,000 points ahead after Miami, where the Serb was champion last year. Federer, meanwhile, has shot up to No 6 despite having not played for six months after injuring his knee at Wimbledon last summer.
“In November or December, when I realised things were going well, we had a meeting about what the goals are for the season in terms of rankings,” Federer told the ATP’s official website.
“The goal was to be in the top eight after Wimbledon. I’m there much, much faster. It’s great, but you definitely have to reassess your goals and see: where do you go from here? Because this was not part of the plan, to win Australia and Indian Wells, I can tell you that.”
As for the long-awaited takeover at the top by a new generation of players, recent results suggest that they still have plenty of ground to make up and that it will be the old guard who continue to dominate.
While Murray, despite his fluctuating form, has strengthened his position as world No 1 in the last three months, the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments had been chances for him to push even further ahead. From now onwards his task will be more challenging. Of his current total of 12,005 ranking points, the Scot has 11,120 to defend between the start of the clay-court season and the end of the year.
Djokovic, in contrast, will have comparatively few points to defend once the clay-court season is over, while Nadal, currently world No 7, will be defending just 370 for the rest of the year after the French Open.
Federer, meanwhile, could make hay in the last six months of 2017, having not competed anywhere between last summer’s Wimbledon and this year’s Australian Open.
The Swiss says he would “love to be world No 1 again” but admits that would be a big ask given that he intends to play a lighter schedule this year.
When he began his return there was even speculation as to whether Federer would miss the entire clay-court season to give himself better chances on grass and on hard courts. That seems highly unlikely now, though there is every likelihood that he will still play a very limited schedule on clay this year.
Federer said the key to his schedule would be working out “how can I remain healthy and how can I keep the fire and the motivation for the tournaments that I will be playing.”
He added: “What I don’t want to do is overplay and just get tired of travelling and tired of just playing tournaments and just doing people a favour just to be there with no aspirations. That’s not why I’m playing.
“I want people to see the real me, to see a guy who is so excited that he’s there. That’s a promise I made to myself: that if I play tournaments that’s how my mindset has to be.”
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