Roger Federer’s 2016 season will see him turn 35 years old. In a sport where the magic number for serious consideration of retirement is 30, Federer has not shown much sign of completely slowing down. However, by the time Wimbledon 2016 rolls around a full four years will have passed since Federer’s last major victory. You can’t quite close the book on Federer for Slams. However, the opportunities have to be viewed as dwindling.
The Swiss Maestro last won a Grand Slam at Wimbledon 2012 when he defeated Andy Murray in the final. With that win Fed’s total for Majors improved to 17, a total that is starting to feel more and more safe as a record that will stand the test of time.
That is especially true since Rafael Nadal, a player who went Slamless in 2015, is really cooling off with his total stuck at 14 since the 2014 French Open victory. If Rafa plays a couple more seasons, as he has suggested he will, it’s hard to picture him winning three of the next eight Slams and tying Federer, especially based on how 2015 went in majors for the Spaniard.
Novak Djokovic may be the player most likely to challenge Federer for most career singles Slams. The current World No.1 sits at 10; he won three in 2015, and at that pace, he would have 19 by the end of the 2018 season. While he is not likely to maintain his pace for that long, it’s fair to say that right now the Serb, who will turn 29 in 2015, hasn’t shown any noticeable signs of slowing down.
But if Federer were to win another major, then most might cite Wimbledon as the most likely venue. It’s an understandable position based on Federer’s history of success there. However, if Federer were to win a major in 2016, he would very likely do it as an underdog. That being the case, the French Open is the tournament that feels most wide open right now.
The Australian Open isn’t exactly up for grabs as Djokovic, still in his prime, has five titles there. Wimbledon isn’t up for grabs either as Djokovic has three titles there, including two consecutive ones. The US Open is a little more up for grabs in my view. However, I wouldn’t say a title for Federer is as accessible as the French. After all, Djokovic has turned in so many surprise losses at Roland Garros over the years – and I don’t just mean to Stan Wawrinka in the 2015 final – that doubting the Serb in Paris is perfectly understandable.
Moving backwards from 2015, let’s not forget some other notable Roland Garros failures. Djokovic, in 2011, entered the French Open semifinals totally undefeated in any match. He had won every single event that he had entered over five months, a streak that ended to Federer in the French Open semis.
The year before that Djokovic made a trivia answer out of Jurgen Melzer. The Austrian’s lone Grand Slam semifinal appearance came at Roland Garros 2010, a run that saw him come back from two sets to love down to beat Djokovic in that tournament’s quarterfinal round. For me, the match still stands out as the most surprising comeback of this decade given the relative ranks, the relative reputations of the players, and the scoring line.
The year before at Roland Garros marks the last time Djokovic failed to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal. The Serb, playing in the third round, fell to Philipp Kohlschreiber, a veteran player with few notable Grand Slam victories in his career. With all the surprise losses at the French over the years, maybe we should actually stop being surprised by Djokovic’s French Open failures. With Nadal’s dominance fading, maybe a door will open for Federer to add a second Roland Garros title of his own.
That said, I don’t think it will happen for the Swiss Maestro without some luck helping him out. A draw with Nadal and Djokovic on the same side of the French draw would help. Upsets to the other favorites would go a long way too. I don’t see Fed beating Djokovic or Nadal in the final himself, but a 2016 French Open final that featured Federer against Wawrinka, Murray, or Kei Nishikori is one where I would have more confidence in the former player than any of the latter.
Given that something always goes wrong for Djokovic at the event, and Nadal’s longevity doesn’t appear to be anywhere near Federer’s, the Swiss Maestro’s chances for a title at Roland Garros, though not all that good, aren’t exactly remote either.