Roger Federer The End Of Dominating Era
The loss of form has been sudden and unexpected. The decline swift and unbridled. The fans of Roger Federer are bewildered and surprised. Is it the end of road for the tennis icon, who has a most impressive record of being the World Number 1 for record 237 weeks? Is the question now being asked? There are experts and former great tennis stars, including Andre Aggasi, who feel that Federer era is over but die-hard fans of 16 Grand Slam winner, believe that he will come back. For 30-year-old Swiss champion, the year 2011 so far has been very cruel. Nothing has gone right for him and he has lost his aura of invincibility.
History is replete with the stories of the downfall of successful and great sportspersons, who enthralled the fans when they were at the peak and were treated like heroes, but were reduced to ordinary mortal once they lost the form and the prowess to captivate the fans.
Modern sports, it is often said, is heartless. Sentiments and emotions have no place in it. It worships the present and has no time for the past and this fact may be staring at Federer. The Swiss star’s domination is on the wane and he is finding it extremely difficult to relive or resurrect the form which he displayed from 2004 to 2007, during which he claimed 11 of the 16 major championships in which he figured. Still fans and tennis buffs lived in the belief that “Fed Express” can steam roll any opponent and will somehow overpower Nadal. For couple of years Federer survived on the top of the tennis world, overcoming other challengers while living dangerously against Nadal.
After that he added five more Grand Slams, including the elusive French Open, to his kitty but he surely was finding it tough to fend off the competition which was growing in size. Federer has been finding it hard since the 2009 US Open. He won only one of the last six Grand Slams. However, after he lost to Novak Djokovic in the Australian semi-finals in January, the former World Number 1 Federer does not hold any of the slam titles for the first time since he won at Wimbledon, in 2003.
In any individual game, a player is only as good as who he or she beat. Through four months of this season Federer has not been able to win any title barring one. He has been unable to beat either Djokovic or Nadal. Federer is struggling like Golf legend Tiger Wood but that is no solace for the tennis mastero. But both the former World Number 1s in their respective disciplines are facing really very rough weather. They are struggling on the court and course and despite their best efforts nothing is going their way.
Way back in 2008-09, former World Number 1 Andre Agassi had predicted that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s domination in game is coming to an end. “Now we have possibly the changing of the guard. You have those top two who are now losing ground to the likes of (Novak) Djokovic and Murray and (Juan Martin) del Potro,” Agassi had said.
He had also said that Murray is the man most likely to be the dominant figure the next few years. The World No 3 is still seeking his first Grand Slam title. Well, Agassi has proved right in his prediction (so far) about Federer, but Nadal and Murray have proved him wrong—the Spaniard by emerging Number 1 and winning many a Grand Slam while Murray failing to win any (so far). Interestingly the Swiss maestro started the 2011 season with a winning note as he regained the Qatar ExxonMobil Open trophy routing defending champion Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 6-4.
In the process, Federer captured the final for the third time following back-to-back triumphs in 2005, became the first three-time winner in tournament history (since 1993). This title fetched him 67 ATP crowns from 95 finals and it was the 11th straight year that he won an ATP World Tour. “This is important to do well here,” Federer had said after the win. “I’m not just using this to get ready for the Australian Open. I thought he was playing well. I thought the level of play was extremely high. I was very happy with, from my side, I was almost flawless, and I was able to play offensive when I needed to, and when I wanted to it all worked out. So I’m really pleased having played a great final.”
But the champion must be wondering where his form has gone, why he has not been able to win a title after that and why he is losing to players whom he would have defeated in no time only two years ago. The former champion, who conceded his World Number 1 position to Rafal Nadal, last year, was in for a rude shock when he failed to defend the Australian open title as he lost to Novak Djokovic 6-7, 5-7, 4-6 in the semifinals.
A shattered Federer however remained defiant saying “it’s not the end in any way” because as he admitted he was beaten by a better man on that day. “It’s a start for many other tournaments after this,” he had said. “Sure it is disappointing and it hurts at this moment. I wish I could have won here for a fifth time but it wasn’t possible.” And ominously added “Let’s talk again in six months’ time.”
Djokovic, who won the Australian Open was more humble saying, “It was premature to say there was a changing of the guard in the men’s game… . It’s much too early to say that. Roger is still very much motivated to reclaim the top spot in the rankings and he’s playing great. …And then you have Nadal who has been a very, very dominant player. …We are still behind them and you can’t say there is a new era coming up. But there are more players who are able to win majors which is good.”
Four of those six months have passed, Federer has further slipped down his ranking and is Number 3 yielding his second slot to Djokovic, who meanwhile is having an awesome season beating all and sundry and collecting title after title. When the 2011 season opened, it was assumed that it will again be a two men race—Federer and Nadal—in the men’s tennis, but unassuming Djokovic upset all the calculations.
The Serbian is undefeated (till the writing of this piece). He has beaten Federer thrice so far. Starting from Australian Open, he beat the Swiss in Dubai Open final and in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open. When asked about his views about the rampaging Serbian, Federer said: “I always said it over and over again: to me, he didn’t need to prove his point. By winning a second major, winning back to back Masters 1000s, going on a streak like he’s doing right now, I knew he could do it. He was good enough.”
“It’s a state of mind we never hear from Federer. It’s not the strategy ATP fans usually hear from the former World No. 1. Which leaves a question: Is Federer really past his peak? A majority of his Grand Slams, 11 of 16, were won between 2004 and 2007. The 29-year-old’s biggest news is when he doesn’t lose to a World No. 1 or 2,” said tennis writer Stephanie Kuzydym. Other tennis writers also feel that Federer is finding it hard to stay put at the top. According to Paul Oberjuerge, Roger Federer’s fall from from the top is gathering pace.” Originally, it was Rafael Nadal who Roger Federer could no longer defeat. Then it was Nadal and Novak Djokovic who Federer could no longer defeat. And now Jurgen Melzer?
“We have been here before, wondering if the former World No 1 and 16-time Grand Slam champion had entered his decline only to see him bounce back. Eventually, however, Federer will be sliding from his perch”. Again the Swiss had a variety of explanations for losing. First clay tournament of the year, swirling wind, seven break points squandered, Melzer just plain lucky. It perhaps indicates Federer’s strength of mind that he refuses to concede that this or that loss is damaging to his psyche.
By Harpal Singh Bedi