By Chris Oddo | Sunday March 19, 2017
Roger Federer’s continued to waltz through tennis’ history books on Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open, defeating Stan Wawrinka, 6-4, 7-5, to become the oldest winner of a Masters 1000 title in ATP history.
They are friends first, but reluctant rivals often, with Federer holding sway over their head-to-head tilts. But their rivalry has shifted over the years, and Wawrinka has been far more competitive, even when he does fall. He nearly stopped Federer at this year’s Australian Open, climbing back from a two sets to love deficit to force a fifth set, and on Sunday there was a feeling that he might hit that high gear and start to overpower Federer.
BNP Paribas Open Live Blog: Highlights, Stats, and More from Both Finals, Sponsored by Tecnifibre
The Swiss maestro claims his 90th career title and his 25th at a Masters 1000 event, and improves to 6-0 against the Top 10 in 2017 with his victory. The 35-year-old’s victory marks a swift follow-through on his recent Australian Open final and has some pundits believing that he could potentially reach the top of the ATP’s rankings once again if he continues his torrid tennis while Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic continue to struggle.
In theory it sounds far-fetched, but then again so does what Federer has already achieved in 2017.
"For me, the dream run continues," Federer told reporters after the final. "The fairytale of the comeback that I have already shown in Australia."
Many had written him off after he pulled the plug on his 2016 last July in order to rest and rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee. What would he be like when he returned, and would his body continue to let him down and force his eventual retirement?
Those questions have been replaced by the aforementioned, but for Federer to reach the No.1 ranking he’d have to continue his magical tennis unabated. Anyone who saw him fall to World No.116 Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai in Febraury knows that consistency week-in and week-out on the tour won’t be a simple task at his elevated age, given the grinding physicality of the tour.
But for now Federer can bask in the glow of possibility. By winning the two most prestigious titles on the calendar thus far in 2017, he has clearly put himself in the mix as a potential candidate to win more. Wimbledon, where Federer is a seven-time champion, comes to mind, but much will depend on what lies between now and then, and how Federer lays out his schedule and preserves his energy.
"I'm not as surprised as I was in Australia, but still this comes as a big, big surprise to me, nevertheless, to win here again and beating the players that I did and the way I did," Federer said. "I mean, couldn't be more happy. It's an absolute, huge start to the year for me. Yeah, last year didn't win any titles. I don't think I was in any finals except maybe Brisbane last year. The change is dramatic, and it feels great."
On Sunday he looked more than fresh enough to conquer Wawrinka for the 20th time, and 15th time without a single loss on a hardcourt. He broke in the tenth game of the first set to take the early lead, and after falling behind by a break in set two when he dropped serve for the first time all tournament, he responded by soon breaking back and then clinching his title when Wawrinka served to stay alive in the match a second time.
Wawrinka played a solid match, but he did not find that earth-shattering level that he has achieved in his three previous Grand Slam finals (all wins), and fell victim to Federer’s aggression in the biggest moments.
"I think it's more positive," Wawrinka said when asked if he was frustrated by how good Federer is playing at 35. "That's mean you can still play your best tennis at that age. So it's something you can learn from, especially for me who is going to turn 32 in few days."
He added: "It's tough to lose against him... He's still a tough player to play for me, for my game, because he's playing quick. He make you feel uncomfortable and he mix a lot. It's not the best game I like to play, but it's always challenging. I think to play a final against him in a Masters 1000 is something amazing for me. I wouldn't have dreamed that a few years ago and now it's the second we played. I won the first one. I lost today. For sure I'm disappointed, but it's still a great week for me."
After the match Wawrinka addressed the crowd emotionally, close to tears, and cursed Federer jokingly before telling him that when he watched this year’s Australian Open final he was his biggest fan.
It was a beautiful moment between two players that have grown closer over the years. Wawrinka has been tucked under Federer’s shadow for all of his career, but he has managed to emerge into the light in the last three years, winning three major titles and of course claiming the Davis Cup with Federer in 2014.
But it was not to be. The year of Federer’s rejuvenation continues in full force, and the title count keeps clicking.
Where it stops, nobody knows.