Can Federer Reclaim No. 1?
by Alison Kim|
ATPWorldTour.com previews five storylines to watch during the 2011 season. In the final installment, we look at Roger Federer's bid to reclaim the World No. 1 ranking.
Going into the quarter-finals, the numbers were strongly in favour of the Swiss – he had defeated opponent Robin Soderling in all 12 of their previous meetings, including the previous year’s final, had reached an unprecedented 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals and had contested four straight Roland Garros finals.
But Federer’s bid to match Sampras’ mark would frustratingly come up just two sets short, as Soderling came from a one-set deficit to defeat the defending champion, thereby opening the door for Rafael Nadal to overtake World No. 1. Nadal not only usurped Federer by winning the clay-court title, but ran away with the top ranking over the next few months, clinching the year-end No. 1 distinction by September.
Though Federer was at his best in the final months of the season, compiling a 21-2 record following the US Open, he remained realistic about his chances of returning to World No. 1.
“Sure it is challenging. It is going to be very difficult because Rafa is playing well. It's not something I have in mind right now,” he said one week prior to his title-clinching victory over his Spanish rival at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. “The goal is to play well here in London and prepare for next season and hopefully at some stage get it back.
“If not then I will focus on just winning tournaments. That is something I like doing as well. I have Australia to defend first. Rafa has no points to defend here [in London]; that's why things look very good for him for the next few months.”
To start the 2011 season, Federer trails Nadal by 3,305 points in the South African Airways ATP Rankings and may see the gap widen even further following the Australian Open, where he has 2,000 points to defend and Nadal 360.
Federer’s best chance to gain ground would be during the European spring clay court swing, where Nadal swept the three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles and Roland Garros for 5,000 points. Federer, meanwhile, earned 970 points during that stretch.
The lawns of the All England Club, where they’ve shared the past eight titles and faced off in consecutive finals between 2006-08, could also prove a critical stage in the Battle for No. 1. Federer, who made a quarter-final exit to Tomas Berdych this year, would net 1,640 rankings points by winning his seventh Wimbledon title. That triumph would put him alongside William Renshaw and Sampras atop the list of all-time Wimbledon champions, but would it also be enough to help him equal Sampras’ number of weeks at World No. 1?
It was following Wimbledon in 2009 that Federer first took back the World No. 1 ranking, ending Nadal’s reign of 46 consecutive weeks and going on to become just the second player after Ivan Lendl in 1989 to reclaim the year-end top spot after losing it for a year. Lendl maintained his status as the No. 1 player on the tour through August 1990, five months after his 30th birthday, and never regained the top spot again.
Does Federer, who celebrates his 30th birthday next August, have what it takes to get back to No. 1? Buoyed by his strong finish to the year, the Swiss was optimistic about the year ahead. “I'm just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last,” he said in London. “I believe I can have another great season in 2011.”
And though Sampras was 29 years old when he last held the top ranking for a 10-week stretch in 2000 and played his final tournament two years later, Federer claimed after his victory at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, “I have no plans at all - stopping, quitting, whatever you want to call it. [I] hope I can play for many more years to come. [I] enjoy it and take pleasure out of traveling the world, playing against the best, challenging myself in practice and so forth.”