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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, April 14, 2017

Roger Federer

"On the grass at Wimbledon, (Federer) will be the favorite, I think," said ESPN analyst John McEnroe.

Photo credit: Stephen White/CameraSport

Impeccable timing helped Roger Federer win his record-extending 18th Australian Open championship.

Managing time off from tennis could be a key to Federer reclaiming the Wimbledon crown for the first time in five years.

Gilbert: Nadal Shatters Major Myth

Both Federer, who shut down his season after the 2016 Wimbledon to strengthen his surgically-repaired knee, and Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, who missed Wimbledon with a left wrist injury and pulled the plug on his 2016 campaign early, have bounced back to end major title droughts this season.

In a conference call with the media to promote ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage, which begins on Monday, John McEnroe said he expects more veteran players will adopt the Federer and Nadal approach to scheduling.

McEnroe believes when it comes to scheduling, the 35-year-old Swiss is proving less is more.

“I mean, he didn’t play a tournament for six months and he won the Australian Open—it’s crazy,” McEnroe said of Federer. “He chose not to play the French—that’s extremely unusual—but it could work out beautifully. … Nadal missed a few months and he looks better than he has in years. So I would be highly surprised if more of the veteran players don’t do it.”

Three-time Wimbledon champion McEnroe cites Federer as the Wimbledon favorite though he doesn’t believe the SW19 grass will play as fast as Melbourne’s hard courts.

“He’s the oddsmakers favorite,” John McEnroe said of Federer. “Ironically, the courts in Australia are gonna play quicker than the courts at Wimbledon, which wasn’t the case in the past. The courts were faster down there, which really helped Roger do his thing. Nonetheless, it was still amazing what he pulled off.

“On the grass at Wimbledon, he will be the favorite, I believe. Murray will probably be the second guy and after that it’s going to be a little bit more unclear. He hasn’t beaten Murray or Djokovic in a best-of-five (recently), he didn’t play the French obviously so it’s going to be interesting. You sort of hope that pans out to see those guys get back on track. Or how great Roger really is that he’s able to it again because there was almost a temptation to say it would be pretty hard to top what he did in Australia.”

While Federer could have opted to walk off into the Melbourne sunset basking in the Grand Slam glory of an 18th major many believed would eluded him, instead he went back to work and swept the sunshine double winning Indian Wells and Miami back to back and looking dynamic in the process.

“That would have been a heck of a time to say, ‘Well okay I just proved something miraculous,’ “ McEnroe said of Federer. “But he seems to be like the six million dollar man. He looks great physically, he’s rested and he’s one of the few guys who can make the decision to not play the clay-court season and then walk into Wimbledon and be the favorite. It’s an amazing story what we’ve seen so far in tennis this season with him and Nadal the way they’re playing.”

Federer’s immense talent and instinctual flair are the foundation for his game. Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Pam Shriver says Federer’s sharpened tactical acumen and his comfort level moving on lawn are reasons she’s picking the Swiss to capture an eighth Wimbledon crown.

“I just love his evolution as a better tactical player,” Shriver said. “I mean he was so gifted early in his career, I don’t feel like tactics were all that necessary. And then more in the last few years I think he’s realized he needed to be a tactician as well as that great athlete—one of the greatest athletes ever—and I think Ljubicic has been the perfect coach for him and I think that on a grass court your confidence of what you’ve done earlier in your career is such a huge help that he’s certainly going to be my pick because I don’t see anyone else playing great tennis.

“I think the big question will be how will Rafa make the transition and will he have like one of the years when he did the double, will he be able to make that kind of transition late in his career? We’ll see.”

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season then suffered a surprising loss to good buddy Tommy Haas in his return to tennis in Stuttgart.

The top-seeded Swiss found his groove last week in Halle demolishing Rome champion Alexander Zverev for his ninth Halle title. Federer has won four of the six tournaments he's entered this year and should arrive at SW19 empowered after a semifinal loss to Milos Raonic last year.

A student of the sport, Federer has cycled through coaches—including Peter Lundgren, Tony Roche, Paul Annacone and Stefan Edberg—like a graduate student eager to engage with different professors to further his education. McEnroe minimizes the impact coaches had on Federer’s Australian Open title run saying the most meaningful change came from within.

“To be honest: I’m not sure how much the coaches have had to do with this,” McEnroe told Tennis Now. “He loves talking tennis and all those guys bring credentials and qualities and some that he has worked with have brought something to the table, I presume. Ultimately, it boils down to Roger. And maybe it just clicked at the right time. It all came together in Australia.

“The court was playing faster than ever. It allowed him to do certain things that maybe he didn’t feel he was able to do before. We long wondered why he would sort of giveaway the ad court to Nadal with the serve and chip it as opposed to try to come over it. It did appear that, particularly in Australia, that he sort of decided okay…Some of it had to do with the racquet, he got a bigger frame, he became more confident coming over his backhand. He felt he could hit over it more consistently, but it seems like that’s something he would have been shooting for for many years. When you’re winning as many majors as he did, he was probably like ‘Look, I’m winning all of them anyway, so who’s to tell me what I should do?’


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