fed’s falling?

Posted on November 12, 2007

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Ok, first, full disclosure – I am a Roger Federer fan.

So it was hard to watch him in his last few matches and not have this nagging thought constantly popping up in my head – is the era of the great Federer fast drawing to a close?

All good things must come to an end sooner or later, right? Especially a tennis player as watched and studied as Federer.

It’s inevitable that one day, perhaps sooner rather than later, one of the contenders (or pretenders) to the tennis throne would finally succeed in dethroning the long-reigning king and yank him down unceremoniously. After all, they have all been scheming since at least four years ago, and have been constantly chipping away at Federer’s game, possibly deconstructing his every play and move, analyzing his every flaw and coming up with shots to counter His Royal Flawlessness.

Perhaps they can smell blood in the water and detect a chink in Federer’s air of invincibility recently, after Argentina’s David Nalbandian beat him twice back-to-back last month, first in Madrid where he won the tournament by shocking Federer, who then suffered a further setback by falling again to Nalbandian in the third round of the Paris Open. So the vultures are circling in now and probing harder than ever to make Federer fall.

And tennis is a very mental game. The rest of the field had seen Federer’s slide down towards being almost human, and vulnerable, and probably think they stand a chance too. First it was at Wimbledon, where Raphael Nadal was able to push Federer to a five-set game in the final before finally succumbing – a fact that Federer himself acknowledged, then when young upstart Novak Djokovic unexpectedly beat Federer in Montreal, just before the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, the US Open. The Swiss star held steady against Djokovic when they met again, in the US Open final, as Djokovic’s nerves at arriving at the big stage unsettled him and undid his game. Then we had the recent stories of Nalbandian beating Federer not once, but twice in a row. And just yesterday, in Shanghai for the season-ending Masters Cup, Federer was again stunned, this time by Fernando Gonzalez, who is the first man to beat Fed in a Masters Cup round-robin match.

In Federer’s defence, we know it’s hard to stay on top. He would have to play better and smarter than the rest of the pack, who are hungry to devour him. Federer would also have to keep changing his game and step it up further to prevent them from figuring him out or catching up, but there will always come a time when he just has to stop running and give in to the inescapable.

Those who are tiring of his dominance will probably cheer the recent downturn in the Swiss’ fortunes. Many have said that they are bored with ol’ Fed making tennis predictable by consistently beating the rest of the field to a pulp.

But they shouldn’t be too gleeful, nor write Federer off yet. Federer is still the one to beat when it comes to five-setters, he has the stamina and mental edge to win in longer games. Except for his Kryptonite, the French Open, notice that almost all of the games he lost are three-setters?

Perhaps this string of losses would also shake him out of his complacency and force him to try harder. It was perhaps a little unavoidable that he is on cruise control against many players, knowing full well the superiority he has over them. But these losses could serve as wake-up calls for him and make him work even harder. And become more dangerous.

He might also finally get a coach. He has been coachless since the middle of the year after firing Tony Roach and it’s a testament to his mental strength that he could go out there game after game on his own, without the reassurance of staring up at his box and having a coach to spur him on.

Fed himself had said that he sees himself playing for a few more years, perhaps till he’s 35. And he’s only 26 and injury-free, compared to the rest. He’s probably going to strategize harder and play it smarter – perhaps just a few compulsory games here and there, and then concentrating all his efforts on the Grand Slams, so that he could continue chasing, and perhaps, surpass Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles. With 12 already in the bag, it’s not a stretch for Fed to gain 3 more before he passes his prime.

But we know that it’s going to get tougher for him as the players get younger, stronger and hungrier to rid him of the Number 1 spot that he has held for four years. But it’s sure going to be fun for tennis fans to watch as they try.

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