The statistics show a steady but unmistakeable decline in Roger Federer’s fortunes, but do not try telling that to the 32-year-old Swiss. Federer will start his 60th successive Grand Slam tournament – the longest unbroken run by a male player in the Open era – believing that he can win a record eighth Wimbledon title.
“If things click I should be able to win the tournament,” Federer said here yesterday. “This year I feel all the options are there. Return, serve, serve-and-volley, come in, my backhand – everything is working to my liking.
“For that reason, I feel I’m a bit more relaxed mentally because I know it’s there. I clearly want to do better than last year, there’s no doubt about it.”
Last year’s Wimbledon brought the most stunning defeat of Federer’s career. His second-round loss to the world No 116, Sergiy Stakhovsky, who had never beaten a top-10 player in 21 previous attempts, ended his record run of 36 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam quarter-finals. It was also his earliest loss at the All England Club for 11 years.
Federer ran into Stakhovsky two days ago. “We always joke about the match and all that stuff, that we can only face each other in the final this year,” Federer said with a smile. “I’m totally at peace. I can accept these defeats, even though they were not fun in any way. They’re part of a tennis player’s life.”
Few players can put such reverses behind them as well as Federer is able to do. “That was done a week after Wimbledon,” he said. “After that, I didn’t need to think about it a whole lot more. It was just one of the big goals that I had set for myself. I failed. Back to work. Get yourself in shape.”
The former world No 1, who had back trouble for much of 2013, said he had not arrived here in good form 12 months ago. “I don’t know if my game was good enough to win the entire thing last year,” he said, adding that his victory in the grass-court tournament at Halle in the build-up to Wimbledon “maybe masked the problems I was playing with, the way I was playing”.
Federer’s problems continued through the summer and he said he had turned his fortunes around only after taking some important decisions. “I took a decision to change things around in terms of my exercises, my practice and my scheduling,” Federer said. “I’m happy nine months later that I am in a much better place than I was here last year.”
If this year has seen a marginal upturn in Federer’s results, with titles won in Dubai in February and at Halle last weekend, the clear trend in the biggest events in recent years has been downhill. Since the 2010 Australian Open he has played in 17 Grand Slam tournaments and won just one title, here in 2012.
In his three Grand Slam appearances since losing to Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, Federer was knocked out in the fourth round of the US Open by Tommy Robredo, in the semi-finals of the Australian Open by Rafael Nadal and in the fourth round of the French Open by Ernests Gulbis.
Nevertheless there is nothing like a return to his favourite hunting ground to put him in optimistic mood. “I feel I have a very good chance again this year,” he said. “I hope to utilise my fitness, the amount of matches I’ve played this year. So I’m really coming in with a much better feeling than maybe in the last year, for instance.”
If Federer wins it is reckoned that he will be the first father of four children to win a Grand Slam title. His wife, Mirka, gave birth to twin boys six weeks ago. The couple also have four-year-old twin daughters. The whole family are here and Federer said he had been enjoying plenty of time with them. “I’m just doing two hours’ maximum [practice] a day,” he said.
He added: “I think as you get older you appreciate everything even more. You enjoy it more because you know you might not have another 15 Wimbledons left. You’re maybe even slightly more happy to be part of this great experience every time.
“I always enjoy coming back here. It’s a pleasure being fit and eager to give it a go again.”