One of the interesting things to note from Roger Federer’s calendar choices for 2013 is that he will go into the Australian Open without any tournament match practice in the previous few weeks. It’s not an unprecedented event – many players have won Wimbledon without playing a warm-up event in the past – but that comes at a time of year when they are already match tight from the first half of the season. At the start of a year, it usually takes time to hit full steam so the question remains: is Federer taking a risk by not even playing an exhibition event?
Well, he may show up at Kooyong and play in a one-off match or something, but at 31, Federer surely knows by now how what suits him best and how his body will react after a pre-season of training. In 2012, he showed up in Abu Dhabi and could barely move on court, he was so stiff. In Doha the following week he improved but was way off his best. So perhaps playing some warm-up matches in practice will be enough. The extra rest will certainly help.
Novak Djokovic will be playing in Abu Dhabi and at the Hopman Cup in Perth; Rafa Nadal will be in Abu Dhabi and Doha and Andy Murray will be in Abu Dhabi and then in Brisbane. None of the top players like to play a Tour event in the week before a slam but is going into the Australian Open, with its heat and humidity, without any tournament play, really a good idea?
When Federer won the Australian Open in 2007, he played in the warm-up event at Kooyong and made the final, giving him three good matches. In 2004, before winning in Melbourne for the first time, he again played at Kooyong.
In 2005, Marat Safin arrived in Perth for the Hopman Cup with a black eye after a fight in a nightclub, lost all three of his matches and then won the Australian Open. But he still had those three matches. Even Andre Agassi, who won Wimbledon in 1992 with no grass-court tournament practice, played at Kooyong before winning in Melbourne in 2000, 2001 and 2003. The one time Federer tried the no-play route, in 2008, he lost in the semi-finals, before revealing that he had been suffering from mononucleosis.
You have to go all the way back to 1995 to find the last time someone “just showed up” and won in Melbourne. That time it was Agassi, who blitzed his way to the title on his first trip to Melbourne. Tracking down information for some of the years before then is tricky but it seems that Jim Courier managed the feat in 1993 and Mats Wilander did the same in 1988 respectively.
But for almost two decades, only Agassi managed it, which shows just how tough a task Federer has on his hands. It’ll be three years after his last non-grass Grand Slam by the time the players arrive at Melbourne Park and with Djokovic and Murray so strong on hard courts and perhaps with a rejuvenated Rafa Nadal to cope with too, becoming the second man to win without a warm-up event would seem a very tall order indeed.