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What Does Federer’s Loss Mean?

July 3, 2010

There’s no doubt this is a difficult loss to digest for Roger Federer and his fans. Federer’s game has come crashing down to earth following his success at the Australian Open, with zero titles and strange losses. If it weren’t for that lone Slam, well, you can only imagine what the critics would be saying. Thankfully, Federer gave us some of his best ever tennis in Melbourne which makes it all the more confusing that he has failed to find anywhere near that kind of level since. With disappointing losses in the American hard-court swing and an average clay-court season in which his semi-finals streak was broken, Federer has fallen in the quarters at the tournament he loves most. What does this mean for Federer and his fans? I can only hazard a few guesses.

1. Federer hasn’t lost his dominance now, he lost that long ago: Despite his obvious triumphs since, I believe 2008 was the end of the reign of Federer. By reign I mean three Slams a year whilst winning Masters titles left right and centre. He didn’t win a single Masters in 2008 and won only one Slam. They aren’t shocking results, but they were nowhere near 2007s. 2009 saw one of Federer’s best years in claiming the French Open and Wimbledon, but he still wasn’t exactly dominant. He won two Masters titles and lost two five setters in Slam finals. Excellent results, but clearly the days of Federer being the one and only on anything but clay were over. The same  goes this year; the Australian Open was a marvelous victory but how much more can we expect? Federer isn’t the same player he was three years ago, but that’s ok. There is no need to hit the panic button. The Federer decline isn’t going to be sudden and shocking, instead it’s been a slow slide that started three years ago and four Slams back.  

2. Tennis is changing: The new crop of tennis players are taller and more powerful. Unlike most, though, I don’t believe this spells the end for Federer. These one-dimensional players, the likes of Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, and Robin Soderling, may be able to hit through the likes of Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal of late, but you can bet your left leg this won’t always be the case. Variety is always going to be an advantage and the ability to adapt and change your game will always be the key to being a top, dominant player. Federer may be struggling with these kinds of players at the moment, but he will have those tournaments where he plays with too much variety for any of them. It may have sounded harsh when he said the big hitters aren’t going to reinvent themselves in a year, but it’s true. Tennis may be changing but there will always be those players that are special in that they set themselves apart from the field. Federer, Nadal, and possibly Djokovic are those players.

3. Motivation may have been an issue before, but not now: Federer was scarily calm after his quarter-final loss at Roland Garros. He was relaxed and joking in his press conference, seemingly un-worried about the state of his game. Flash forward to Wimbledon and the headlines come criticising Federer for his surliness and ungraciousness in losing. You know what though? That’s a good thing. Federer spoke of not being able to wait for next year’s Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and said he was looking forward to ‘attacking’ at the US Open. This loss could be a wake-up call for the Swiss who may have been just a little content with his 16 Slams this year.

4. Tomas Berdych is a man on fire: Federer fans have to be somewhat relieved that Berdych beat Djokovic in straight sets last night. Federer won’t take any consolation from it at all, but it’s safe to say that Berdych is playing near his best this fortnight. Djokovic is the second ranked player in the world and he clearly was no match for the Czech. We have to keep some perspective when analysing Federer’s losses; a loss to a man playing the tournament of his life is terrible news for a dominant world number one, but Federer isn’t that player any more. Berdych may not carry his form through to the final where he will likely suffer from nerves, but be rest assured that this wasn’t just anyone who took out Federer.

It may hurt that Federer is no longer someone we can count on to reach Slam finals time and time again, and of course it’s frustrating that he fails to take his chances at times and struggles against ‘lesser’ opponents, but let’s stay calm, the winning isn’t over. He proved in 2008 that he can come back from bad patches and we were seeing his best only six months ago. To doubt Federer can come back from this is foolish. Equally foolish, however, is placing the same expectations on him that we did in 2006. It’s time to face reality. Federer isn’t going to win everything anymore, but he will win again.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy permalink
    July 3, 2010 1:55 am

    This post is brilliant 🙂

  2. passingshot permalink
    July 3, 2010 2:27 am

    I think you are certainly right that the game is changing. However, I think the rise of brute power (and I certainly have to include Nadal in this regard) deprives the game of the fascination that the supremely versatile all-court game of Federer provided. The new game is one-dimensional and boring – but it works. The winner Sunday will show that.

    Will Federer be back? He might – just might – win another slam, but if you mean like Nadal’s inexplicable renaissance, from a player who couldn’t beat a top ten player for much of last year to the player who now wins everything, then I think not. It’s kind of sad to see a genius in decline.

    • July 3, 2010 2:50 am

      I can’t believe you think he only may win another Slam when just half a year ago he was playing so well! Of course he will! Nadal is only 24, that’s why he can come back. Wait until hard-court season and we’ll see what happens with him! Del Potro is my second fav player so I like the aggressive game, but I like Federer’s more. It’s the pushing game I despise.

      ‘If you are bored with life, you are too stupid to think of something to do’

      -Ernests Gulbis 2010

  3. passingshot permalink
    July 3, 2010 3:51 am

    You yourself have indicated that Federer’s decline began some years ago. My observation of top sportsmen ove the years is that when the slide begins it has a tendency to accelerate. Inexplicable losses become more and more frequent. They come to resemble less and less their former selves. I fear that is where we now see Federer: the shooting star expires quickly, it may not be a gentle ride into a distant sunset for such an extraordinary talent.

    I don’t think Nadal’s spectacular comeback has anything to do with youth – his “injuries” should have ended his career years ago, as it appeared when the new “slimline” Nadal re-emerged in the American hard-court season last year and couldn’t win anything until he once again become the Incredible Hulk of the tennis circuit this year.

    Yes,” pushers” do not deserve the highest crowns – they are tests sent to try us, but they are as miserable to watch as they are to play. There is a justice in Murray’s fate.

    • July 3, 2010 3:58 am

      I fear you are too pessamistic. Federer is more resilient than you give him credit for! He is no shooting star, no flash in the pan. Sampras won a Slam at what, 31? Agassi too? What makes you think Federer can’t… god knows when he will retire! (45??) I think Nadal’s comeback has to do with natural surfaces instead of those pesky hard-courts. I feel for Muzza but I do not like his game!

      ‘If you are bored with life, you are too stupid to think of something to do’

      -Ernests Gulbis 2010

  4. passingshot permalink
    July 3, 2010 6:11 am

    I don’t mean to say that Federer is a flash in the pan: perhaps I used the wrong metaphor; I meant to suggest he reached heights of near celestial brilliance in his game. At its best, I have never seen anything like it in the history of the sport. Many would agree.

    The comparison with Sampras may be apt. Between his last Wimbledon title in 2000 and his last hurrah at the US Open in 2002 I don’t think he won a title. No one suggests that at the end of his career he was the player he was in his prime, even though he ultimately won one more slam.

    Is that what you are holding out for Federer; that he may win another big one, even though between times he is routinely bullied off the court by the growing entourage of over-sized sluggers? I prefer to remember him when he was without doubt the best in the game. I don’t even know if his pride as a champion would permit him to hang about to become only a contender without an outside chance for a big title.

    In terms of longevity Agassi may not be a good example: there are questions about how he managed to mount an impressive physical revival from aged 30 to 35, and it doesn’t concern his admission of recreational drugs. These days, in the steroid era, we need to be a little sceptical about dramatic improvements in a player’s late career – or (with other players) their recovery time and time again from serious injury, not to mention physical performance that defies our understanding of what should be humanly possible even for top athletes.

    • flo permalink
      July 4, 2010 5:05 pm

      Crap I’m going to show my age but Sampras didn’t really play the tour the last two years of his career. He skipped Wimbledon in the year he won his last US slam. So however you see this Federer slide he’s not at that stage yet. ANd if you actually watched Sampras win that last slam you’d know he basically did it with guile and leaning hard on serve and serve and volley; and he was lucky to dodge Hewitt and get Agassi because Hewitts defense and passing shots had destroyed him the year before. THe serve and volley as a prime weapon has no place in tennis at this present moment so if anything Federer will have it harder than Sampras.

      But Fed is stuck in a weird situation of being too close to the end of his career to drastically change his game and not really being able to work through the pretenders like Berdych and Soderling (although, admittedly Nadal makes players look mediocre even Federer in his prime). Is he willing to go to a racket with a bigger sweet spot? Flatten out his forehand? Not many changes he can employ without major retooling (he’s never going to develop a two handed backhand now if he didn’t do it 2-3 years ago). He basically needs some cushier draws and then hope Nadal won;t be at his peak (speaking of which if prime athletes have about 3 years of peak then Nadal is on his interrupted second so for Fed’s legacy’s sake maybe hopefully it’s only one more year although Nadal is a legend and undeniably an all-time great player (more so if you just look at dominance in the span of a year or 3/4 of one). Nadal is amazing, can’t deny a legendary competitor…like how I can’t deny there are some non-sucky boyband songs…or good American novelist…or some other stuff (lost my train of thought)…anyway…

  5. evie permalink
    July 3, 2010 2:12 pm

    People who think he is not going to be able to handle losing and will therefore retire earlier than expected have not followed him closely in pressers and interviews. The guy loves loves loves the tennis tour. Who knows why, but he does. If he continues to make the second week of most slams, thereby giving himself a shot at the title, he will be around until at least 2012, short of losing a limb. I hope he gets better at the post-loss pressers, though. As a fan, I hate seeing him ripped apart in the media.

    I agree with your post that the decline started in 2008. Of course, he had the mono, but I think that masked the beginning of the decline. If he’d been healthy, he would have beaten Nole and then Jo, but RG and W would still have been crushing defeats. That was Rafa’s top year, after all.

    I also agree that he will still continue to win. But the days of the 23 straight semis are obviously over. It couldn’t go on forever. We’ll be like every other fan — hoping he gets to finals, but not just assuming he’ll get there.

  6. passingshot permalink
    July 9, 2010 3:36 pm

    Well, there has been plenty of time to digest Federer’s loss, and speculate on his future, but in the meantime I am wondering, Kaitepai, where is your analysis of the Nadal/Serena triumph? It may be time for you to come out of mourning for the Fed and refocus on the present. We are missing your insights.

    For myself, I continue to marvel that the two most conspicuously injured (who also happen to be the most conspicuously muscled) players dominate, despite their relatively poor health. I read reports that Nadal is off to rest and treat his perennially damaged knees, that so obviously diminished his performance at Wimbledon and Paris ( since the problem arose, he says, in the clay-court season). I also see that he has time for a spot of volleyball – that’s an interesting treatment for patella tendonitis. Must try it some time. As Petzschner observed earlier, I wish I had his problems. I fully expect the Mallorcan Monster to be back and turbo-charged for the North American hard-court season, his knees fine and dandy – unless of course it looks like he might lose a match, in which case they can be guaranteed to play up again.

    • July 9, 2010 9:29 pm

      Haha, yes, his knees are strange though. My friend, who is a huge Rafa fan, once asked him a question on this erm, what’s the word for it… you know an “ask Rafa” opportunity somewhere… and said she was concerned about his knees and how were they? He replied my knees are fine. Cue 2 months out. Haha, poor thing, she was like, ‘Rafa lied to me!’ I don’t know, I’m sure he does have injuries. I am looking forward to the hard court season! Thanks for the compliment but I have been extremely busy with work, I have worked two weekends in a row! I am also considering starting up a sister blog, sexism in sport, after Andy Haden’s comments infuriated me. I had to write an article but had nowhere to post it except on my personal live journal! I have also been working on a piece to do with justifying equal pay in women’s tennis despite them taking in less revenue than the men, inspired by an ill-written article in US tennis magazine last month. I am also yet to publish something I wrote a few weeks back about my love for hard courts. It sort of goes against most people’s love for the natural surfaces. So I’m not completely slack! As for Nadal’s and Serena’s wins… well I’d be more inclined to write on Serena given she is just incrediable. Oh, I was also inspired to write about how the women are perhaps not as inconsistant as the men, three setters in Grans Slams just don’t allow for the seeds to dig their way out of holes.Nadal, Djokovic, Federer would have been knocked out before the 4th round in Wimby this year if they played best of three. So I have heaps in the pipeline… oh and what do I have to say about Nadal’s win? Great for him, crap for tennis. The end. Haha!

      ‘If you are bored with life, you are too stupid to think of something to do’

      -Ernests Gulbis 2010

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