Is this the end for Roger Federer? Even with his unsettling standards in various tournaments in 2008 and the earlier half of 2009, Federer did manage to continue his amazing streak of consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, and mustered decent performances in an assortment of matches. Yet this year, despite the convincing victory in the Australian Open, he has: i) won no other titles, ii) lost to younger, faster opponents whom he used to dominate, iii) lost in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon with sub-par performances to Robin Soldering and Tomas Berdych respectively.
But everything is far from over. The media vultures may be spelling the end of an era – yet again – however; the most recent defeat provides a wonderful opportunity for Federer to rethink his game and make significant adjustments on and off the court.
What Is Wrong With His Game?
From a technical perspective, commentators and tennis experts have pointed to a plethora of aspects: his slightly lethargic movement, him chipping his backhand returns meekly, misfiring ground-strokes, inconsistent serves, poor game plans et cetera. Naturally, there have been calls for Federer to consider engaging a coach, going back to the fundamentals of his game, and spending more time evaluating how he can counter the bigger-hitting opponents whom he has consistently lost to throughout this half of the season.
On a personal basis nonetheless, he is simply not enjoying the sport of tennis. Since his series of victories last year, coupled with his encouraging return to the top of the rankings, all his interviews and reports have been flooded with talk about him surpassing Pete Sampras’s records, how Mr. Grand Slam can go further in his historic pursuits. Perhaps he has been inundated by such expectations – from within and without – that he has lost the sense of joy and excitement from every match. It all seems a tad mechanical and monotonous; like he has been going through the motion of achieving everything – with tennis as a mere process – and devoid of any emotions whatsoever.
Changing The Tennis Landscape
Way past his retirement, Federer would be remembered for his immense contribution to the increased profile and popularity of tennis. His outstanding conduct, respectable sportsmanship has made his name almost synonymous with the sport, attracting more and more people to be interested in playing and watching. This dominance has been positively-received internationally, and appreciated by many.
More importantly, he had been so masterful on the court that he has inspired a new generation of players who are no longer afraid of matching him point for point, pound for pound. With great preparations and athleticism, they are armed with far greater confidence and ambitions in the competitions; in the middle of the Federer-Nadal battles, they are providing greater resistance to break the stranglehold the Top Four has had.
Fans were pouncing on Federer after his defeat by Berdych in Wimbledon, when he casually attributed his defeat to possible injuries, instead of giving the latter the deserved credit. It is a fact that Federer has struggled with illness and injuries in the past, and has remained resolute regardless (just cue the 2008 Shanghai match with Murray in which he was aching in tremendous pain, yet played through the three sets). I am convinced that the recent injury remark was blown up disproportionately by the media, and that he did give Berdych the deserved credit; still, he needs to accept the fact that he no longer dominates like he used to. In my opinion, all top athletes in their slumps struggle to deal with such acceptance; as much as Federer relishes in victories, defeats – as always – would be part and parcel of any tournament or season.
Just a quick note: with the rivalry between Federer and Nadal, there has been this constant comparison amongst tennis fans on who is the greatest tennis player of all time. For me, it is quite simple. One, there is no single greatest player: every individual – with his style and approach – only makes the sport more exciting and vibrant for us as fans to savour. The evolution of tennis also makes it unfair to establish contrasts between various generations of players. Two, there is no point bashing Federer or Nadal because you are a fan of the other because these two athletes have tremendous respect for one another. Their contribution to the game has been equally important, while their assortment of contests have been wondrously enjoyable.
World Number Three? There Is Still Time
The best thing Federer can do right now is to take a deep breath, re-evaluate his priorities and go back to the one thing that brought him through his tennis career: his love for the sport. While it might be a challenge to regain his previously impervious form and fight his way back to number one, his focus should be back to loving his game. Regardless of his positions, he must know that as long as his passion remains ignited, he will eventually find that rich vein of form, and continue to have the support of his fans who will always be cheering him on.