Monday, July 29, 2013

Is it over for Roger Federer?

That is the title of a thread on an internet forum, started after Roger Federer lost the Australian Open final in 2009. Of course a five-set loss in a slam final wasn't the end of Roger's time on the top of the game. Instead he has returned twice to World No. 1 after that and won four slams. But now that question arises again. And this time Federer hasn't even lost a slam final, instead his streak of Grand Slam quarterfinals since Wimbledon 2004 has ended.

2013 has been a bad year for Federer. He started the year with a decent performance at the Australian Open where he reached the semifinals but lost to Andy Murray in five sets. After that his results have been mostly disappointing and getting worse as the year goes on. Rome final and Halle title have been his best performances after the Australian Open, and neither of those were too impressive performances after all. And after reaching the final on clay in Rome, Federer was struggling to keep his quarterfinal streak alive already at the French Open. It took five sets for Federer to beat Gilles Simon on the fourth round, only to get beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in three sets.

Then came Wimbledon. After the not-so-impressing title in Halle, Federer took an easy win over Victor Hanescu on Wimbledon's first round. But then he got outplayed by Sergiy Stakhovsky on the 2nd round and his quarterfinal streak had come to an end. After Wimbledon Federer added Hamburg and Gstaad to his schedule and made a switch to a larger racquet. But results of those events were disappointing; a semifinal loss in Hamburg to Federico Delbonis and a 2nd round loss in Gstaad to Daniel Brands, both of them players Federer should routine.

But why is he playing so badly? For sure his performance has declined because of his age. But that doesn't explain why he was the World No. 1 just a year ago and now struggling to beat players even outside the top 100. His back has troubled him over the past year; he had back issues already last year when he won Wimbledon. But he played well last summer and his performances have started to drop after it. Maybe reaching Sampras' record of weeks as the No. 1 was his big goal and he hasn't been as motivated after that. And maybe the bad losses have taken away some of his confidence and given his opponents more confidence, he isn't anymore such an unbeatable opponent.

But is it now over for Roger? I wouldn't yet say so. He will probably never again return to World No. 1, his performances are declining with his age and his back issues seem persistent. But his best game cannot have gone away in a year. If he can play his best game, he can still win even slams. But falling from the top 4 makes it hard for him; he may face top 4 players already in quarterfinals. Having to win three top 4 players seems difficult for him; he seems to struggle to recover even from one long match. So getting back to top 4 would be important for him if he is still to win slams.

If Roger makes semifinals at the US Open this year and plays a competitive match against a top 4 player, then I believe he can really win one more slam. But I cannot see him winning many more slams anymore. Maybe two if he finds a good form at Wimbledon and manages to keep it until the US Open. And very difficult to see him winning three or more. But that would be 20 slams in total then, a good number to retire at. Unfortunately that seems too difficult to reach.

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