Federer faces next generation Dimitrov in MSG exhibition
NEW YORK (AP) — To Roger Federer, the math is simple: He owns a record 17 major titles, Rafael Nadal has 14, and the Spaniard dominates a certain clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
“If he wins the French Open a few more times and I don’t win any more, then clearly he can catch me very quickly,” Federer said Monday.
For the part about not winning another major championship, Federer was clearly speaking hypothetically. His game looks sharp at age 33, with victories in two of his three tournaments this year, including a recent defeat of top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the final in Dubai.
Then again, the other tournament he entered was a Grand Slam event, and Federer lost in the third round to journeyman Andreas Seppi.
He mused Monday about putting more separation between himself and the 28-year-old Nadal, whose health is probably the biggest obstacle to breaking the record. But Federer quickly added with a grin: “That’s not why I’m still on tour, just to remind you guys.”
“I hope to make it more difficult for them,” he said of Nadal and Djokovic, who has eight Grand Slam titles at age 27. “But at the end of the day, records are there to be broken.”
The second-ranked Federer’s exhibition match Tuesday at Madison Square Garden is no doubt meant as a meeting of generations. Grigor Dimitrov is nearly a decade younger than Federer and got tagged with the nickname “Baby Fed” for the resemblance of their games.
Federer recalled Monday that the first time he practiced against a 16-year-old Dimitrov, he “couldn’t believe how he was playing, how similar it was to me.”
Federer has won all three meetings between the two, leading Dimitrov to quip: “It’s always a pleasure when I play against him, even though I’m losing the last three times.”
Dimitrov, who is currently ranked 11th, reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon last year, falling to Djokovic in four sets. He so far has been unable to build on the breakthrough, losing in the round of 16 in his next two major tournaments.
Federer wound up pushing Djokovic to five sets in the Wimbledon final, falling short of his first Grand Slam title since 2012. The next major tournament happens to be the French Open, where Nadal could pull within two — though injuries are always a concern with him these days.
Before Federer faces Dimitrov on Tuesday, Monica Seles and Gabriela Sabatini will face off to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their classic five-set WTA Finals match at the Garden.