Action Images. “Roger Federer” Photo. telegraph.co.uk. 3 Sept. 2013. 25 Oct 2013. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/tennis/rogerfederer/10283335/Roger-Federer-loses-in-US-Open-leading-many-to-wonder-whether-the-great-mans-magic-has-disappeared-for-good.html].
It’s another English summer and another Wimbledon final. The year, 2012. Roger Federer hits a punishing forehand and charges to the net, forcing Britain’s Andy Murray to miss his passing shot wide. The Swiss maestro raises his arms and falls to his knees as the crowd goes wild. Federer can barely contain his emotions and breaks down in tears. You can tell how much this means to him. A seventh Wimbledon crown ties the Swiss with Pete Sampras’s all-time record. Yet there is an element of familiarity to this scene. It’s a sight tennis fans have become accustomed to. But not for long.
The 17 time Grand Slam champion has had a glittering career, no doubt about that. Rewriting the history books over and over again puts him in the debate for, probably, the greatest player of all time. But with the way his season has gone so far and, in fact, considering the last few years, it would be foolish not to speculate whether Federer is past his prime.
Federer fans did not have a whole lot to cheer about this season. Their man failed to reach a single Grand Slam final this year, a bizarre occurrence if you’ve been following tennis for the last decade. Losing to a guy ranked outside the top 100 at Wimbledon, dropping out of the top five and bagging only a single title all year long, are worrying signs if you’re in Federer’s camp. And it’s not just about the losses, it’s the manner in which he’s been going down which brings his relevance on tour into question.
In his fourth round loss to Tommy Robredo at the U.S Open, Federer made a total of 43 unforced errors. Such error-strewn performances, where Fed-Ex is seen to shank the ball more than get a clear cut at it, have become a regular feature in his matches of late. This brings us to the question of his age, and whether the Swiss maestro is a step or two slower. You see, Federer’s greatest asset in his peak years was his footwork. His ability to effortlessly glide around the court and get in position to hit those forehands is what got him to stack up those 17 Grand Slam titles. At 32, it’s not easy to keep running around backhands and getting a clean strike at the ball. Hence, the countless errors and mishits.
Over the years, Federer’s closest rivals have caught up with him and, in Nadal’s case, even surpassed the champion. The Spaniard holds a commanding 21-10 advantage over the Swiss in overall head-to-head meetings and is nipping at Federer’s feet with his tally of 13 Grand Slam titles. Time and time again, Nadal has exposed Federer’s weaker backhand with his heavily spun forehand going above shoulder level and the Swiss has failed to find an answer. Novak Djokovic also knows what it takes to beat Federer, having done so 13 times. Scot Andy Murray, too has got the better of the legend on most occasions leading 11-9 in their head-to-head matchups.
The thing is these younger guys are faster and hungrier than Federer. Having seen him dominate the game for so long, they have figured out the mystery that is Roger Federer. They are no longer daunted by the prospect of going up against him. And more often than not, the lower ranked guys come out all guns blazing too when playing the Swiss great. Exhibit: Sergiy Stakhovsky, who played magical tennis on Centre Court this past June when pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the Championships.
But then arises the question of what’s left for the Swiss master to achieve? Having pretty much won all there is to be won in tennis, where does the motivation come from? What could possibly push Federer to get up each morning to hit the practice courts? He puts it down to simply the love of the game. “Clearly when you win everything, its fun,” Federer said following his loss to Robredo at the U.S Open. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you love the game more. For me, I knew it, winning or losing, practice court or match court, that I love it.”
Fair enough. But so used to sitting pretty at the top, being relegated to a secondary role and just existing on tour is not what any great champion wants, Federer being no exception. His desperate attempts at turning his year around with a racket change and now, more recently, a split with coach Paul Annacone, are indicators that Federer realizes he’s in a bit of a pickle. To add salt to the wounds, his appearance at the year-end championships is also in jeopardy for the first time in his career.
What the future holds for the great Roger Federer, only time will tell. But with his days of domination well and truly behind him, we can safely say we have indeed witnessed the end of an era.