It has not been a great season so far for Roger Federer, that’s for sure.
Winning Wimbledon last year was big for him because he just was not looking the force he once was, until he pulled off another Grand Slam.
Now, he’s in that position again. Worse, even.
He has been beaten this year, time and time again, by players far beneath him in the rankings, and very disappointingly so. These men obviously play out of their boots when they go up against a top opponent, but even so they are huge blows for Fed to take.
It’s almost cliché now to say that you should never want to write Federer off, but except for when Rafael Nadal is on a clay court, it is looking increasingly as if the two great players of the 2000s are making way for the likes of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and a host of potential future Grand Slam winners.
It seems as if Roger understands this, and it’s why he is going for the new racquet. And yes, trying to get used to the new equipment no doubt had a role in his defeats in Hamburg and now in Gstaad – he is still very much experimenting with the new racquet – but only a small role.
At the end of the day, Federer was being picked off by Sergiy Stakhovsky, Federico Delbonis and Daniel Brands, regardless of which racquet.
While this is not hugely significant – all three, especially Brands, are good players – what is significant is that Federer is trying out the new racquet in an attempt to hopefully bridge the gap between he and Murray/Djokovic, even if it means a few upsets along the way.
But can he do it?
Unfortunately, I do not think so.
In fact, the real achievement for Federer going forward will be to retain his spot in the top five.
And I absolutely hate saying it, but it’s looking more and more to be a likely scenario. Wimbledon 2012 looks set to be remembered as Roger Federer’s ‘Indian summer’.
At one point, I suspected Fed would retain the title this year and that would be his last hurrah. Obviously, even that isn’t the case now.
Maybe I will be proven wrong. I hope so. Perhaps he will settle with the new racquet in time to wipe the floor with everyone at Flushing Meadows, and win the US Open.
Basically, he has to give us a reason to believe that there’s one more moment of Federer magic left. At present, there is no indication of this happening.
It remains possible, of course, and as long as it does remain possible there will always be hope. Not much belief, but at least some hope.
Andre Agassi did it, after all. So did Pete Sampras. Federer isn’t even 32 yet.
Things are different today, though. The ATP Tour has an unbelievable wealth of talent, and I doubt even Agassi or Sampras would be able to enjoy a late-career run of glory against the likes of Murray, Djokovic and a fit Nadal.
We are in a very special era for men’s tennis, and let’s not forget that it was Federer himself who ushered that era in. He raised the bar to levels never before seen.
His rivals had to become absolute physical freaks to stand a chance of beating Federer. But, they did. And they are. Now he is being lost in the shuffle.
Federer remains the most naturally talented tennis player in the world, but physically he is falling behind. Not because of age, but because of the supreme standards at the top now.
I definitely don’t believe it’s a mental issue. Though Roger has every right to settle with his world-class legacy intact forever, simply enjoying his tennis until he enjoys it no longer and retires, I really believe he remains driven to succeed.
The problem is that his indisputable talents are no longer enough to keep him above the rest of the pack in gruelling, physical match-play.
As said before, I really hope Federer finds a way to keep up the pace for a few more years. I think we all do.
But we may just be witnessing the end of the line for one of the greatest-ever sportsmen.