33 year-old father of four Roger Federer became the third player after Connors and Lendl to win 1000 pro ATP matches at the Brisbane International on Sunday. It was a perfect milestone, as the Swiss Champion beat Canadian giant Milos Raonic—one of the youngsters tipped to end the dominance of the ‘Big 4’—in the final to win his 83rd career title. 1000 wins, to put things into perspective, is extremely impressive in a competitive and physical tennis era—where no other active player has even played 900 matches. Federer’s longevity is proving to be his most valuable trademark, as he comes back year after year, and continues to defeat every upcoming player 10 years his junior.
It was Federer’s first tournament of the year, and though he looked rusty in his first match, he went on to dominate Duckworth (6-0, 6-2) and ‘Baby Fed’ Dimitrov (in 39 and 52 minutes respectively) to reach the final. He outplayed Raonic in the first set, only to lose the second in a tiebreak, and went on to clinch the third set on his only championship point when Raonic double-faulted at 4-5 30-30. It lasted 133 minutes, and Federer was pushed just enough to be confident about his chances at the Australian Open starting next week in Melbourne. Not many will bet against him reaching the last 4, but that’s where his ultimate test begins.
Federer has won 4 Aussie Open titles, but his last came in 2008, 7 years ago, as he will look to become one of the oldest Grand Slam Champions in tennis once again. He had a stellar 2014, where he won maximum matches on tour, but failed to win a Grand Slam. He lost to Nadal in last year’s semifinal in Melbourne, and is sure to face a charged-up young field including Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov.
However, Marin Cilic, reigning US Open Champ and 2014’s most surprising success story, has pulled out with an injury. There will be the usual contenders—Wawrinka (fresh from his 3rd Chennai Open title), defending Champion in Australia, and Berdych, Ferrer (who is fresh after beating Berdych in the Qatar final). Nadal isn’t sure if he’ll play, but Andy Murray looks in good form in his ‘recovery’ season. Djokovic lost to big-serving Karlovic at Qatar, but in the best-of-5 Slams, one can never bet against him. He is the greatest clutch player the men’s game has seen, and he will enter Melbourne as a married man and father like Federer, with an air of experience about him. Djokovic won Wimbledon last year, and is the favorite to win at least 2 Slams this year unless Nadal, Federer or Murray emerge to upset him more often.
The dark horse will be the returning Juan Martin Del Potro, the tall Argentine who was tipped to dominate Men’s Tennis for years until his body betrayed him after his stunning 2009 US Open victory. Frenchman Monfils can’t be counted out either. The searing heat at Melbourne, especially during the day games, will be the defining factor for most players—many of who suffer, wilt on court and retire midway through. Fitness and mental strength will be tested to the maximum, setting the tone for a highly competitive season to follow.