It’s been nearly three years since Roger Federer won his record-extending 17th major.
It was July 2012 and the “Swiss Maestro” had just dispatched hometown favorite Andy Murray at Wimbledon’s historic Centre Court in four sets—a fitting setting for what could have been (and still could be) the final Grand Slam triumph of the game’s most decorated, successful, and popular players ever.
But apparently, he’s not done yet.
At the time of the Wimbledon triumph (his seventh), Federer was a month away from turning 31 while his contemporaries—Murray, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic—were still in their mid-20’s and had essentially knocked him off his perch as the game’s most dangerous player.
Now three years later, Federer’s decline has been very gradual, if not invisible. Unlike some faster players whose speed—and thus their game—evaporates in their late 20s or early 30s, Federer’s mental fortitude keeps on going.
The man who’s been ranked No. 1 longer than anyone in history has currently upped his ranking back to second in the world and is one of only two players to beat No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic this year.
It’s the majors where he’s looked vulnerable.
At the time of his latest Wimbledon triumph (2012) the ever-consistent Federer hadn’t missed a Grand Slam quarterfinals appearance since 2004. His streak would run to 36 majors in a row before he was ousted in a second-round shocker at the All-England Club in 2013.
Federer followed that up with a fourth-round dismissal at the 2013 U.S. Open, a fourth-round knockout at last year’s French Open, and a third-round loss at this year’s Australian Open. That’s four times in seven majors that he failed to reach the quarters—following 36 consecutive makes.
But he has mixed in a few good runs in there.
There was the Wimbledon final in 2014, where he took Novak Djokovic to a fifth set before succumbing, as well as semifinals appearances at the 2014 Australian Open (lost to Nadal) and 2014 U.S. Open (lost to Marin Cilic).
What’s his game plan for winning this year’s French Open?
Well, he’s already a step ahead, given the favorable draw he received.
Any worries about matching up against Nadal, Murray, or Djokovic can be put off until the finals for Federer who is the lone member of the big four on the bottom of the 128-player bracket. Instead he’ll likely see opponents he’s had his way with like eighth-seeded Stan Wawrinka in the quarters (16–2 record against) and either fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori (3–2) or fourth-seeded Tomas Berdych (14–6) in the semis.
He also needs to avoid the grueling five-set matches that doom him in the next round (like the marathon win over Gael Monfils in the 2014 U.S. Open quarters that had him exhausted against Cilic in the semis).
Should Federer, who is the only one other than Nadal in the French Open field who has actually won the tournament, to come up short though, he needn’t worry. He already had the ultimate send-off three years ago at Wimbledon.