Match length has suddenly become an issue of concern for Wimbledon bettors. Roger Federer played a draining five set match in his opener, and had to come from way behind to win it. His second rounder was only slightly easier – he won in a tie-breaker in the fourth set in a very spirited match. Federer’s efforts pale in comparison to the ridiculously epic contest between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut – the fifth set in that one is longer than any other whole match in Wimbledon history, but it’s still a lot of wear and tear on a player in the first couple of rounds.
The best way to get a sense of how significant this extended early play will be for Federer’s hops of winning yet another Wimbledon title the best thing for us to do is to look back at history. Here are a few different views on what has happened in the past, and what that can teach us:
Federer at Wimbledon
2009 – Federer played just one more than the minimum number of sets in his first six rounds last year, and lost his only set in that stretch in the third round. The final went to five sets last year, so he has already played as many extra sets in two rounds this year as he did in all of last year.
2008 – Federer played the minimum possible number of sets through the first six rounds with 18. It was a remarkably powerful performance as well – he only needed a tie-break in three of those 18 sets. It didn’t do him a lot of good, though – he lost to Nadal in the finals.
2007 – Federer actually only needed 16 sets to get to the finals this time – he got a walkover against Tommy Haas in the fourth round. He beat Nadal is five sets in the final.
2006 – He played the minimum number of sets to the finals again, and won against Nadal in just four sets.
2005 – He played just 22 sets in his seven matches. The only match he didn’t sweep was a third round tilt against Nicolas Kiefer.
2004 – He needed four sets in the quarterfinals and the finals, but won all the rest in three sets.
2003 – This was the year of his first title, and it cam after he was eliminated in straight sets in the first round the previous year. The only set he dropped all tournament was a third rounder to American Mardy Fish of all people.
Conclusion – Federer has already played as many extra sets this year in two rounds as he has ever played at Wimbledon. The next time he loses a set he will be in uncharted territory. The deeper we get into this tournament, then, the more uncertain his stamina is going to be because he has never been tested like this. Given that he’s not as young as he once was that’s a concern.
Federer in his other Grand Slam wins
2004 Australian – He played just two extra sets in the seven rounds.
2006 Australian – This is the best comparison we have seen yet. He needed four sets to win each of his last three matches, and five in the fourth round. The problem in the comparison is that he cruised through the first three rounds without breaking a sweat.
2007 Australian – 21 sets in seven rounds and just three tiebreakers over that stretch. Federer has never looked better.
2010 Australian – His most recent Grand Slam win started in a similar way to this year – he dropped the first set and won a tie-breaker in the third before cruising through the fourth. The difference between that tournament and this one is that he cruised through his next three matches. He dropped a set again in the quarters, but then swept his way to the championship.
2009 French – This was a rare display of stamina for Federer. he swept the opener, but then needed four sets in his next two rounds, and five sets in the fourth round and semifinals. He swept the quarters and finals. That’s a total of six extra sets over the tournament, and he still looked very strong in the final. Federer will need to get a sweep or two to avoid playing more matches than that this year – he’s averaging 1.5 extra sets per game through two rounds.
2004 U.S. – He only played 21 sets in seven rounds, but this is a bit misleading – he got a fourth round walkover, and played four rounds in the second round and a five set quarterfinal classic against Andre Agassi.
2005 U.S. – He swept his first three rounds and played just three extra sets the whole way.
2006 U.S. – He needed an extra set in only the quarters and the finals.
2007 U.S. – Four set matches in the third and fourth rounds are the only blemishes in this run to the championship.
2008 U.S. – He played four sets in his fourth, fifth, and sixth matches and swept the rest.
Conclusion – Federer’s start in the Wimbledon this year doesn’t look like any championship run he has had. Just twice in all of his Grand Slam titles has he ever dropped one set in his first two games, and he has never dropped more than that. This doesn’t look like a championship year based on what he has done in the past, so he’ll have to pull something new out of his bag of tricks to add his 17th Grand Slam title here.