Federer Under the Radar: Who Saw That Coming?

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Roger Federer got things off to a fairly easy start at this year’s Australian Open, winning his first-round match in straight sets over Alexander Kudryavtsev, 7-5-, 6-2, 6-2.

It was the four-time champion’s 60th match win in Melbourne, and was to be expected, considering the form he’s displayed over the past few months. He won 17 matches in a row to end 2011 and added three more this year in Doha before having to drop out of the tournament due to injury.

Obviously, Federer is playing quite well and with a tremendous amount of confidence. But it’s been a little while now since he’s had the ultimate success on the Grand Slam stage with Melbourne 2010 being his last major title. And this year, talk seems to be centering more on his younger opponents: Will Novak Djokovic repeat? Is Rafael Nadal healthy? Will Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl win a Slam together off the bat? Is it time for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to break through?

That doesn’t leave much room in the discussion for Federer, especially as how all the talk of any tournament he entered in the past used to start and end with him.

You can’t exactly classify Federer as an “underdog”; he is still, after all, one of the greatest to ever pick up a racquet. With his playing style, he can continue to notch impressive results for a couple of years to come, at least, and be considered one of the favorites to win any major he competes in.

As some of the attention slips away, Federer appears well suited to take advantage of it. The French Open last year could be a prime example as everyone was waiting to see if Nadal could reverse his losing streak against Djokovic in the finals of the year’s second Slam. Federer had something to say about that, though, stopping Djokovic in the semis in finger-wagging fashion.

Federer’s next two Grand Slams didn’t go as planned, losing wrenching five-setters to Tsonga and Djokovic at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, respectively. He took a bit of time off after that Open loss and came back physically and mentally refreshed.

And aside from a balky back, nothing seems to be bothering Federer at this early point in the season. His draw in Melbourne offers a few possible matchups early on that could be intriguing: big-serving Ivo Karlovic in the third round; then perhaps Bernard Tomic, Sam Querrey or Alexandr Dolgopolov in the round of 16. Federer could be tested in any of those, but experience—if anything—should carry him through.

From the quarters on, things could get to be a little more difficult as Juan Martin del Potro or Mardy Fish loom, plus he’s drawn to face Nadal in the semifinals.

At that point of the tournament, odds are that the spotlight will still be on Nadal, Murray and Djokovic as Federer continues to sneak in under the radar. Perhaps he’ll emerge from it with a 17th Slam in tow.

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