EVERYONE knows the 34-year-old version of Roger Federer isn’t what he once was. But his funk in Flushing, where he formerly was unbeatable, is more pronounced than at the other three grand slam events.
Federer hasn’t won the US Open since 2008 and hasn’t reached the Open final since 2009. That’s why a renewed sense of excitement exists entering the Open this week that Federer finally could add a record sixth Flushing title to his resume after a summer of sizzling net play capped by beating Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati last Sunday.
Djokovic, who beat Federer in the Wimbledon finals, said the Swiss Maestro is playing his best tennis, still relishing the fast-paced courts. Indeed, Federer’s serve is brilliant again and he is more aggressive as a net-charger.
“Many people did talk about his career coming to an end after that season a few years ago that was below his standard, but he came back stronger and he’s playing maybe the best tennis that he has played,’’ Djokovic said.
“He’s fit, he’s aggressive. He likes a very fast tempo of play, So, Cincinnati conditions were very suitable for his style because he plays very, very quickly, very fast. He comes to the net often. He doesn’t give you much rhythm.’’
Federer’s newest wrinkle — occasionally taking an opponent’s second serve right up at the service line — has been met with terrific reviews. His finesse style and graceful array of strokes is why he’s the Flushing fans’ favourite.
If Federer employs his new trick and wins a big break point, the Open fans may blow the new, non-functioning steel roof off Ashe Stadium.
“It came out as a fun thing I started in practice,’’ Federer said. “I said, ‘Let me try it in a match.’ We’ll see. Of course I’d love to use it.’’
Federer opens Tuesday against Leonardo Mayer.
“I feel I have a good chance, but I don’t want to look past my first round,’’ said Federer, who won the Open five straight years from 2004 to 2008. “It all starts with the serve. If you’re able to hold your serve you can do pretty much what you want on the return. As the [Cincinnati] tournament went on, I decided to keep up the aggressive play.’’
Though Federer hasn’t been part of the Open finals the past five years, he has had modest success in the other slam events: Australian Open (2010) and Wimbledon (2012) titles, advancing to the 2011 French Open finals and losing a four-set heartbreaker to Djokovic at the All-England Club in July.
Federer looked poised to end his Open dry spell last September but was stunned in the semi-finals in straight sets by eventual champion Marin Cilic, who since has fallen back.
As the No. 2 seed, Federer has a good draw this year, but in the quarter-finals he could face Tomas Berdych, who upset the then-No. 1 seed in the 2012 quarters.
“Surprised?’’ Federer asked of his Flushing slump. “On the run I was on into 2008, even 2009 in the finals [against Juan Martin del Potro], clearly I was hoping it would be endless. But you know it’s not realistic. 2010 and ’11 were tough matches vs. Novak in the semis [featuring blown match points]. I came very close. But close is not good enough.’’
Federer strategically tried a different pre-US Open routine, sitting out the Montreal tune-up three weeks ago to spend more time in Switzerland after Wimbledon. Federer’s record for slam titles stands at 17, his last win at Wimbledon in 2012.
“It’s hard to compare myself to back then because you adjust your game to what’s coming your way,’’ Federer said. “I felt five, 10, 15 years ago, I had a bit more time when the courts slowed down.’’
Federer explained early in his career the faster courts complemented his serve-and-volley game. With the recent slower surfaces, even on Wimbledon’s grass, baseliners Andy Murray and Djokovic thrived more.