With the U.S. Open set to begin Monday, it opens yet another chapter in one of the most compelling storylines of the tennis summer. That is, of course, the resurgence of Roger Federer to place himself once again among the top contenders in the sport.
Exactly one year ago, Federer was in the midst of one of the toughest seasons and moments of his incredible career. He was out of the top four in men's tennis for the first time in years, as defending champion he had been eliminated in the second round of Wimbledon, his most beloved tournament, and he was coming off poor showings in his most recent tournament participations.
Federer entered the 2013 U.S. Open hoping to erase the bad streak of early tournament exits that he had been suffering throughout that summer. He received, however, one of his most surprising defeats of the season, when he fell in the fourth round, dropping a straight-set decision against Spaniard Tommy Robredo, one match shy of a long-awaited meeting with Rafael Nadal in New York.
One year later, Federer's outlook entering this fortnight could not be anymore different. This time around, the Swiss has had quite the busy summer in terms of match play. Federer is currently on a run of four straight finals, which include a classic five-setter which he dropped to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, a run to the finals in Toronto, and an unprecedented sixth trophy at the Western and Southern Open last Sunday, his first masters title since winning the same tournament in 2012.
Federer will be seeded second behind Djokovic at the U.S. Open, due to Nadal's withdrawal, meaning that the earliest he could face the Serbian is in the final on Monday, September 8. If he wins the tournament, he will pass Nadal in the world rankings to be second only to Djokovic, given that Nadal will have dropped 4,000 points from skipping the masters events at Toronto and Cincinnati and the U.S. Open, all three tournaments which he won last year.
One thing that is little known to those who do not follow tennis closely, however, is that if Federer were to beat anyone but Djokovic in the final, he would also move ahead in the Race to London Rankings. In essence, there are two types of tennis rankings. There's the Emirates ATP Rankings, which track the previous 52 weeks and are the official rankings, which are currently led by Djokovic, with Nadal coming in second and Federer in third, but there's also the Race to London rankings.
The latter track the points obtained by the players in 2014 and serve to qualify players for the World Tour Finals in November. The reason these rankings are importance, besides their purpose as the meter for qualification to the WTF, is that these will mirror the Emirates ATP Rankings at the end of the season. One has to understand that to see how monumental a Federer victory in New York against anyone but Djokovic would be. Federer would move ahead to top those rankings and it would depend on him to top the year-end rankings for the sixth time.
Even if it is Djokovic that he defeats in the finals, Federer would still have an opportunity to end the year at the top, especially considering that following the U.S. Open, the indoor hard-court season begins, and that is a period of the year in which Federer constantly excels.
It would be good for the sport if Federer won the U.S. Open. For the first time in many years, the year-end race to see who ends the season at the top would not be composed of only two players, as it was in 2012 between Federer and Djokovic or last year between Djokovic and Nadal. This time around, there would be three athletes with a realistic shot at ending 2014 ranked No. 1 in the world.
Djokovic currently leads the race, followed closely by Nadal and Federer. At some point in the next month or so, Nadal will return to the courts, and if he wins a few tournaments and has a strong showing in others, he could also make a case to end the season at the top. Then there's Federer, at age 33 he is battling time and critics alike, hoping to keep making history and building an already gigantic legacy.
If Federer wins his sixth U.S. Open title, he will not only extend his record to 18 Grand Slam titles, but he will also break the tie with Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors for the most U.S. Opens in the open era. It would also add even more spice, excitement, and drama to what has already been an incredible 2014 season, giving him a chance to match Sampras with six year-end No. 1 rankings.
Follow Jaime Heilbron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Panamadevil89