LONDON – Twelve months after shutting down his season in the wake of a devastating semifinal defeat, Roger Federer returns to Wimbledon as favorite to capture a record-breaking eighth title and become the tournament’s oldest champion.
The evergreen Swiss superstar, who turns 36 in August, has stunned the critics who wrote him off as yesterday’s man when he went down to Milos Raonic in five grueling sets on Centre Court in 2016.
The loss forced him off tour for the remainder of the year to rest a knee injury, leaving his Grand Slam title count on 17 where it had been since 2012.
Fast forward a year and Federer is poised to break the tie for seven Wimbledon titles he shares with Pete Sampras and take his career tally at the majors to 19.
With eternal rivals Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in slumps of varying lengths and degrees of seriousness, and Rafael Nadal fretting over whether or not his knees will bear the stress of grass courts, it is Federer in the box seat.
Federer, who captured a fifth Australian Open in January, will go into Wimbledon buoyed by a ninth title on the grass of Halle.
His final demolition of Alexander Zverev, 15 years his junior and a player seen as his natural heir, came just a week after he marked his return from a 10-week break by losing in the first round in Stuttgart.
It was his first defeat in an opening round on his favorite surface since his shock loss to Mario Ancic at Wimbledon in 2002.
However, Federer believes his Stuttgart setback came at the right time ahead of Wimbledon.
“I was doubting myself a little bit, I must admit, because losing in the opening round for the first time in 15 years on grass was always going to shake me a little bit and it did,” said Federer who has lost just two matches all year.
“So I’m happy to react right away and remind myself I actually can play well on grass.”