Tramlines: Fed fading fast

Reuters - Mon, 14 Jun 15:51:00 2010

Roger Federer claimed he was unworried by his shock defeat to Lleyton Hewitt in Halle on Sunday but a disturbing trend is developing for the Swiss.

- 0

Suddenly, players that he had long held in his pocket are beating him and, with Wimbledon fast approaching, arguably the best player ever to swing a racket looks vulnerable.

At the French Open earlier this month†Robin Soderling†posted a first victory over Federer at the 13th time of asking, knocking him out in the quarter-finals.

That was the first time Federer had failed to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam since the 2004 French Open, an astonishing record sequence of 23.

Last November Federer suffered a similar first career defeat to Nikolay Davydenko, who like Soderling had lost all 12 of his previous meetings with the Swiss.

Maybe Federer is just superstitious about the number 13?

Then there was Juan Martin del Potro last September in New York. Federer appeared to have the US Open final in the bag but the Argentine had other ideas, recovering to win and snap a 0-6 career head-to-head.

Del Potro followed that up at the ATP Tour Finals in London, while Davydenko also built on his victory in London by beating Federer again in Doha in January.

Since Federer outclassed Andy Murray to win the Australain Open in January, his 16th Grand Slam triumph, he has failed to add to his 62 career titles.

When Federer was at the absolute peak of his powers in 2006 and 2007 any defeat was greeted with mild disbelief. This year, however, those defeats have become commonplace.

In Indian Wells it was Cypriot†Marcos Baghdatis's turn to beat Federer for the first time, then in Miami†Tomas Berdych claimed a first win over the maestro in six years.

Ernests Gulbis†and†Albert Montanes†both stunned Federer on clay during the spring and†Rafael Nadal†continued his domination over him in Madrid.

Nadal's return to form and fitness, culminating in a fifth French Open title last week, spelled the end of Federer's year-long reign as world number one and left him tantalisingly short of†Pete Sampras's record for total weeks at the top of the rankings.

On current form, it is not clear when the 28-year-old Federer will be in a position to seize it back, especially with the points gap almost certain to increase in the weeks ahead.

Talk of a crisis is, however, premature.

Federer still boasts a game that most players can only dream of and it would be a major surprise if the very act of walking through the gates of Wimbledon does not rekindle the fire that has been missing for most of the year.

What has become clear though is that having achieved so much in the game and ripped up most of the records, Federer's intensity levels have dropped.

Defeats these days do not seem to hurt quite so much. After losing to Soderling and surrendering his French Open crown he even managed a few jokes.

The flip side is that Federer looks happy in his personal life and out on court.

His French Open title in 2009 was the missing piece and everything else that comes along now for Federer will be purely icing on a pretty spectacular cake.

So expect more defeats against some of the game's lesser lights, but also expect plenty more moments of sheer magic from Federer as he begins the home straight of a magnificent career.

++++++++++

RANKINGS

Sam Querrey's victory at Queen's sees the big-serving American move up two places to a career high ranking of 21, but it is beaten finalist Mardy Fish who is the big mover in the top 100 as he bounces up 20 places to number 70.

Hewitt's memorable victory over Federer in Halle sees him move up six places to number 26. It was also the first time since 2003 that Hewitt beat Federer, with the Swiss master having won the previous 15 meetings between the players.

There was no change in the top 20.

In the women's rankings, Li Na's triumph at Edgbaston sees her equal her career-best ranking of 10 and the Chinese is the only new entry in the top 10.

At the other end of the ranking, Dinara Safina started the season as number two in the world but has now slipped to 21st and is an alarming 58th in the WTA race rankings.

++++++++++

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

Winner: "My opponent tomorrow is 6 feet 3 inches tall..maybe I can buy some inches off her..haha..gosh what do these tennis players eat!" - poor old Sania Mirza looks on the bright side of being vertically challenged.

Honourable mention: "I guess it could have been worse?! Green-back to basics-son" - Laura Robson show she is more suited to comment on football than on the sexual promiscuity of her tennis rivals.

Wooden Spoon: "No news from my side :)" - ehh thanks for that Julia Goerges; the smiley face was particularly enlightening. Goerges just edges out EVERY SERENA WILLIAMS TWEET EVER.

++++++++++

A-BOG v A-BOG

The only thing that anyone has been talking about all week has been the gladiatorial sporting battle between America and Britain's finest - yes the latest round of A-BOG v A-BOG!

Our brave boy Alex Bogdanovic gave two fingers to the LTA by playing his way into Queen's without the need of a wild card and then showed some spiky guts to come out and tell the powers that be what he thought of them after a tight loss to Bulgarian prospect Grigor Dimitrov in the first round proper.

That's the sort of fighting spirit our boy needs to show to get back into this contest. He takes this latest round against Alex Bogomolov Jnr who lost in the last 16 of a non-descript clay court challenger in Switzerland.

Standings: A-Bog (USA) 10-7 A-Bog (GB)

++++++++++

THIS WEEK

It is the last chance for players to get in some grass court practice before Wimbledon starts and it is also a chance to start flirting with the fairer sex before you arrive at SW19 as this week sees two unisex tournaments take place in Eastbourne and s'Hertogenbosch.

Down in the South of England, it is sure to be the women who are the main draw with the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, Svetlana Kuznetsova and French Open champion Francesca Schiavone all competing.

Nicolas Almagro is the top seed in the men's draw but the always entertaining James Blake is perhaps the biggest name on show despite his unseeded status.

There are not too many big ATP names in the Netherlands either, with Ivan Ljubicic the top seed ahead of Marcos Baghdatis.

In the women's draw, Justin Henin is the undoubted stand-out name although I'm sure a few full-blooded males will be looking forward to seeing number three seed Maria Kirilenko in action. Second seed Dinara Safina has already been knocked out.

Aegon International – Eastbourne: 11.30am LIVE on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) & on the Eurosport Player

Eurosport / Reuters

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account