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100 not out!

Roger Federer has answered retirement questions with his 100th title

100 not out!

There have been questions raised over a possible impending for Roger Federer, including in this space as well. The Swiss maestro appears to have answered that in a resounding fashion with his 100th career title at Dubai where he beat Next Gen aspirants Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets – the latter in the final. With the win in Dubai, Federer has brought up a century of ATP titles, and he’s second only to Jimmy Conors’ record 109 crowns.

Federer’s 6-4, 6-4 win over Tsitsipas is of course a reversal of their Australian Open clash. While the win for the Greek youngster had formally announced his arrival at the big stage with a win over his idol at the first major of the year, for Federer it completed 12 months without a Grand Slam title. Hence, the questions were being asked about how long he would continue should major titles continue to elude him.

Federer’s post-Dubai reaction underlines that he isn’t going anywhere for another couple of years, at the very least, as he eyes that elusive Olympic Gold next summer. It’s evident that Federer’s goal would be to look for opportunities to sneak in another major or two over the next couple of years to add to his record tally of 20 titles.

That record tally indeed is very much in sight of his rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The Serb is on another three-major winning streak, while the Spaniard would be the favourite to reign supreme once the clay swing begins next month, including Roland Garros.

Neither Djokovic nor Nadal were in Dubai last week. The World No 1 has taken a well-deserved time off to recharge himself for Indian Wells and Miami, while the World No 2 played in Acapulco where he was undone by eventual champion Nick Kyrgios in the most thrilling of matches.

It is evident that Federer’s main challengers remain Djokovic and Nadal – the latter is still the most dominant on clay, and the former pretty much everywhere else. Both Djokovic and Nadal are indeed driven by their own goals, with the common ambition of finishing at the top of the pile in Grand Slam titles – and indeed the ATP Masters 1000.

All three of the GOATs are in action in Indian Wells in the coming week, which is the first of two ATP 1000 events on hard courts before the clay court swing begins. This week would give us an idea where each of these three currently are, and indeed tell us more about the younger chasing pack as well.

The Indian Wells draw has set up early blockbusters. The undisputed best player in the world right now Djokovic could potentially meet arguably the most dangerous young opponent on his day Kyrgios in the third round. What makes this potential clash even more intriguing is the fact that the Australian is unbeaten against the Serb in their previous two matches, even though they were played out two years ago when Djokovic had traced a downward spiral.

Another third round mega clash could see Federer take on countryman Stanislas Wawrinka. While Federer looks to build on his Dubai triumph and ease into the clay season which he will take part in for the first time in three years, Wawrinka is looking to climb back to the top of the men’s game where he had been before the injury troubles in 2017.

Nadal and Alexander Zverev, the second and third ranked players in the world are in the bottom half. For the Spaniard, Indian Wells and Miami offers a buildup to the clay season, which is the focal point of his entire season. While Nadal has enjoyed a lot of success in Indian Wells where he has won three titles, Miami is the sole North American ATP 1000 event that he hasn’t won.

Zverev, meanwhile, would look to bring back the momentum that saw him end last season with the ATP World Tour Finals title as he beat both Federer and Djokovic in year-ending finale. Even though Grand Slam success continues to elude him, the German has already been triumphant at the ATP 1000 events with multiple titles under his belt.

While Djokovic would still be the favourite at Indian Wells – especially if he overcomes Kyrgios – the best of three format of the ATP 1000 events opens them to a larger field of contenders. One of them would indeed be Federer who would be looking to add to his 100 titles.

Even so, Federer’s focus – in addition to the Summer Olympics next year – would be the grass court season and Wimbledon. He would look to make the most of any openings that he gets at ATP 1000 events, but it’s really the majors where he wants to be at his best.

Federer’s win in Dubai and his reaction thereafter show that he has Connors’ tally in sight and wants to make sure he adds to his own Grand Slam titles to give Nadal and Djokovic a stiffer target to chase.

K Shahid

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