Can Roger Federer rise at Wimbledon once more?
Todd Woodbridge thinks he can – but says the stars have to align for the Swiss superstar to succeed.
Federer will enter the tournament just five weeks out from his 40th birthday, having played only eight singles matches in 2021 and two on grass, following a second-round defeat to Felix Auger-Aliassime in Halle.
However, with eight singles trophies in his cabinet he has won more Wimbledon titles than any active player, and the last time we saw him at the All England Club, two years ago, he was a point away from winning a ninth before Novak Djokovic pipped him 13-12 in the fifth set of a dramatic final.
Woodbridge believes Federer will benefit from the familiarity of returning to a venue at which he has enjoyed so much success, despite several factors – new accommodation within a bubble environment, a smaller entourage and limited crowds – making it a different experience.
“It is the one place he'll go where there isn't performance anxiety. There is a real calmness from how well you usually perform when you go there. And there is a comfort in going through the gates, through the routines that you've done over so many years,” said Woodbridge, who won nine doubles titles at the All England Club.
“I always felt that, and I know he would obviously feel that, because this is the tournament that feels like his own.
"There'll be some motivation and there'll be some scars from 2019, but if he thinks back to that year, he still played brilliantly, and should have won.
“That's something more positive to be able to feed off.”
While his form on grass may be lacking, another positive for Federer was his performance at Roland Garros, where he advanced to the fourth round – beating Denis Istomin, Marin Cilic and Dominik Koepfer – before a precautionary withdrawal.
It is the only tournament at which Federer has won consecutive matches all season, and the first time he has done so since Australian Open 2020.
Those matches in Paris, in the best-of-five format of the Grand Slam stage, could prove instructive.
"I think he actually found that competitive nature and spirit that he needed,” Woodbridge said of Federer’s French campaign.
“The best-of-five format is going to be a good and bad thing for him. He's going to have time to be able to find ways to win and to hang in, but if he does have a couple of long matches, how is his recovery?
“That's the one thing we don't know; given this length of time away from the game, what's that going to do to him?”
Federer stands to achieve some heady milestones should he triumph at SW19 this year.
He would become the oldest male Grand Slam champion since Arthur Gore won the 1909 Wimbledon championships at age 41.
He would equal Martina Navratilova’s all-time record of nine Wimbledon singles titles.
And he would earn a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles trophy, putting him one clear of Rafael Nadal, and two ahead of Djokovic.
Woodbridge believes Djokovic is the favourite for his third straight Wimbledon crown, and that Federer is also vulnerable to big-hitting young players who would swing freely rather than be intimidated by his legendary aura.
But should the draw break open, Federer, thanks to his experience and belief, could be well-positioned to capitalise.
"He can definitely win it. But he's going to need help. Maybe somebody takes out a couple of seeds?” Woodbridge said.
"Anyone who can rush Roger, or any of the younger guys with a big game, are threats. If they come out swinging hard like Matteo Berrettini did at Queen's, that's going to be really dangerous because Roger is not going to be able to use his skill set.
“He knows the history of the sport so well, and Ken Rosewall made the 1974 final at age 39; I think he knows that's possible. It's a different day and age, but it's all about your mentality. He definitely can do that.
“I think if he gets that right opponent in a big match, he can most definitely come out and win a championship.
"But the stars are going to have to align to make that happen.”