By Jake Beleski
Can Roger Federer win another grand slam title?
That is the question that has been asked of the greatest player of all time since winning his 17th major at Wimbledon in 2012.
The simple answer is yes he can, but the odds are slowly stacking up against the 35-year-old Swiss maestro.
The Fed-express made his much-anticipated return to the ATP Tour in Perth this week following a six-month injury layoff.
He wasted no time getting back into the swing of things as he breezed around the court for a 6-4 6-3 win over Britain’s Dan Evans.
But Federer will not be judged on how he performs at this tournament — he will be measured on his progress at the Australian Open later this month.
He has reached three slam finals since his 2012 triumph — two at Wimbledon and one in New York — and on all three occasions has been beaten by his current nemesis, 12-time major winner Novak Djokovic.
It is not just age that has been pulling Federer back towards the chasing pack in recent years, but also a shift in the way his rivals are countering his attack-based game.
Djokovic worked out a long time ago that rather than hitting him off the court, he could outlast Federer’s brilliant shot-making if he consistently kept the ball in play.
It was a lesson best illustrated by Rafael Nadal, whose incredible defensive abilities and persistent attacking of Federer’s weaker backhand found previously unseen chinks in the Swiss armour.
In a best of five sets match, Djokovic’s greater consistency has proved to be the perfect counter to Federer’s attacking power.
In three-set matches between the pair Federer has a winning head-to-head record (15 wins, 14 losses), but that is reversed over five-set matches (7-9).
Fed can win another slam, but not if he reaches a final and Djokovic is on the other side of the net.
It’s as simple as that.
There are plenty of other players that can topple Federer — Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka to name a few, but nobody holds the same stranglehold over the ageing champion at majors as Djokovic.
Federer had an opportunity at Wimbledon last year to capture title number 18 when Djokovic fell to Sam Querrey in the third round, but suffered a heart-breaking defeat to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals.
It was a match he should have won, and it was obvious he knew that an exciting opportunity had slipped from his grasp.
Wimbledon remains his best chance of adding to his remarkable grand slam tally — if he can remain injury-free — but he will need a little help along the way.