Roger Federer has been playing at the top of his abilities in the early stages of 2018. He defended his Australian Open crown in spectacular fashion, losing only two sets in the entire tournament. The Swiss 36-year-old, who is bidding to become the oldest world No. 1 in the Open Era, carried that form over to his first round match in Rotterdam against Ruben Bemelmans yesterday. Federer eased past his opponent with sublime serving, flashy shotmaking and a champion’s ruthlessness. Bemelmans won only three games in a contest that lasted a mere 47 minutes.
Federer’s next opponent is a familiar face; the two years younger Philipp Kohlschreiber. They have squared off twelve times before, with Federer coming out on top every single time. The German has only taken three sets off Federer altogether, the last one coming at Basel in 2015.
Unlike Federer, who has been aging better than any wine known to man, Kohlschreiber has been on a steady decline since he reached his career-high ranking of 16 back in 2012. The 34-year-old is now ranked 36 on the ATP ranking and is likely to drop further down in the coming year or so.
The match on Federer’s racquet
So, what can we expect from today’s encounter? All signs point to Federer: form, surface and history. I’ve tried really hard to find something that could potentially cause an upset. But the truth is there’s nothing Kohlschreiber can do on his own to win this match. This match, like most, will be on Federer’s racquet. The match-up is heavily in the Swiss’ favor, too. I’m expecting to see Federer win the majority of the rallies from the baseline, both from the forehand and backhand wing. And when it comes to defending serve, Federer trumps his opponent by some distance.
Kohlschreiber can only play his best and hope that the Federer of 2017 and early 2018 doesn’t show up. Because if he does, it’s not about whether Kohlschreiber can win the match or push Federer to the limit. On the contrary, he’ll be counting games. Of course, Federer could have a bad day. I just don’t expect it to happen when Federer is as fresh as he is and simply because history is on line. And judging from his first round match, history will have to pave way for the 20-time Grand Slam champion once more.