Tennis

2018 could be vintage: Federer

Youngsters' rise and veterans' return bode well for new season, says world No. 2

Roger Federer expects great things from the likes of Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray when they return from long injury layoffs at the start of next season.

Swiss maestro Federer took the second half of 2016 off to fully recover from knee and back injuries and returned with a vengeance to win this year's Australian Open and Wimbledon at the age of 36 - taking his Grand Slam total to 19.

Rafael Nadal also made an astonishing comeback from an injury-plagued 2016 to win this year's French and US Open titles, ending the year as world No. 1.

Federer's staggering year ended in subdued fashion yesterday morning (Singapore time), when the world No. 2's hopes of a seventh ATP Finals title were ended by David Goffin in the semi-finals, with Federer succumbing 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 at the O2 Arena.

It had appeared that Goffin would have an extra day to prepare for Belgium's Davis Cup final against France next week, as Federer feasted on the elegant Belgian's medium-pace game to boss the opener.

But Goffin, 26, is made of sterner stuff.

The second game of the second set proved to be a turning point as Goffin, beaten 6-2, 6-1 by Federer in Basel last month, broke the veteran's serve with a forehand winner and then consolidated his lead to take the match into a decider.

Federer squandered a break-back point in the next game when his attempted pass was met with a sharp volley by Goffin, whose moment of truth arrived at 5-4.

Consecutive aces gave him a 30-0 cushion before he put a nervy forehand in the net. Federer then went wide with a forehand to give Goffin two match-points and a first serve proved too good.

It was only Federer's fifth defeat of a superb year.

Goffin was scheduled to meet fellow ATP Finals debutant Grigor Dimitrov in this morning's final.

Said Federer: "It's disappointing to finish on this note. But whatever happened today is less important than if I look at the entire season. With that season, I'm extremely happy."

Yet he is already looking forward with relish when multiple Major winners Djokovic, fellow Swiss Wawrinka and Britain's Murray are expected to be back in action.

"You've always got to expect a slow process. Then if it goes fast, that's great," Federer said.

"You take time off, you come back, you're good again. That's not how it goes. Coming back is always a challenge for the body. It's a challenge for the team because you've got to be extremely patient yet positive. Not so easy, you know, in some instances.

"But I expect from the guys who have been extremely high up in the rankings, who have won Slams, like Stan, Andy and Novak, of course I expect greatness from them.

"When they return at some stage, not maybe from the very beginning. But I wouldn't be surprised if it worked out for them as well like it worked out for me and Rafa."

Djokovic (elbow), Murray (hip) and Wawrinka (knee) have not played competitively since July.

Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic were also missing from this year's ATP Finals, giving the tournament a new look with half the eight-man field being first-time qualifiers.

Federer believes with the returning heavyweights, the likes of Goffin and Dimitrov and a new wave led by Alexander Zverev pushing hard, 2018 promises to be a vintage one.

"I hope also Kei, Tomas (Berdych) and Milos all find their way back on Tour and are back in Australia because that would make it quite epic," Federer said.

"Then you mix them together with the new guys from the World Tour Finals here who have just come off a great year, obviously are confident, want to stay in the top 10.

"They are sort of weaving their way in. You have the young guys coming through. I think it could be a very cool start to the year, which I'm really looking forward to." - REUTERS

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