Even though Federer has enshrined himself in the pantheon of the greats; it seems to me that there is a question that weighs heavily on his mind, which bewilders and bothers him, like no other query has before. The question is a simple one for players past their prime to answer, but a very difficult one for someone like Federer who is not quite certain whether he is past his prime or just running a temporary loss of form, albeit a long one. The problem gets magnified when it becomes a question of belief for the champion (Am I still good enough?).
The question Federer asks himself, I conjecture-- as some would have guessed by now-- is, “Has my time come to exit or should I continue playing?”
“No Fed, don’t retire. You are too good. There’s a slam waiting. End of discussion!” I can almost hear the loyal followers of his game argue, but I deem it as perfectly reasonable speculation, this pertinent question I have put forward.
Is he suffering a temporary setback or is he genuinely past his prime? Let’s reason this. For more than half a season this year, Federer has won nothing of notable importance. Yet, outwardly he projects himself as a contender for the Olympics, the Flushing Meadows, and next year’s Wimbledon, but inwardly; he continues to crack at the big moments, getting nervous and losing early matches to players he might have owned in the past. He claims he’s fit, and can carry on for years, but are his claims a result of honest introspection, or just a flatulent show of confidence?
To me, Federer appears confused as he can’t seem to figure out whether he is indeed heading towards the exit door of the theatre he outperformed everyone in, or just going through the biggest bad phase he’s ever had in his career. Having basked in Grand Slam glory for 4 consecutive years, I’m sure he feels that he can grab a few more (he won three slams only last year); the thought of equalling Sampras’ record of 14 slams being especially tantalising—- ‘So close, yet so far’, as they say.
Should Federer get hooked to the thought of chasing Pistol Pete’s glory and continue playing, he faces two obvious predicaments. Either he can win slams or he can’t win any. If he wins one slam soon enough, it might entice him to carry on for a while with the hope of getting just another, but if he doesn’t win any for maybe another whole year (2009), he risks becoming an expired number 1 like a Safin or an Agassi whom everyone enjoys walloping because it’s a prestigious addition to their resumé.
On the other hand, if Federer’s confidence is just ostentatious, then it is better that he retires soon (while in the top five), instead of giving himself false hopes that he can ride the chariot of glory once again.
Also consider this absurd scenario if Federer continues to play without winning. Will we, as fans of his game watch him ripped of his throne and carry on tournament after tournament without winning anything substantial or going deep into them? Can we watch him torment us with first round exits while he concentrates on his especial mental and nervous weaknesses, and tries to overcome them? Are we strong enough to watch The Federer Express roll down the rankings to number five or even lower? I’m just speculating, of course, but can you imagine the Roger Federer as a world number five??? OR would we rather he retire while he’s still the king of the castle?
As I mentioned in the opening passage, the battle rests primarily on his self-belief— it is a question of self belief— but even Safin believes, as do Hewitt and Moya. So clearly, belief is only a good start, after which he’ll have to continue observing his flaws, but will he be strong enough to not be overwhelmed by consecutive losses he’ll suffer during this down phase and keep his confidence and vision awake even as the whole tour finds more and more chinks in his royal armour? This is maybe Federer’s first genuine test of resilience. I hope he passes it because he surely has other-worldly talent to do so, but will he learn how to conquer his mind, his demons and his nerves? That remains to be seen.
Help Federer answer this bleeding question on the edge. Should he go, or should he stay? Discuss and vote.
BTW, hugs to some of the MTF'rs I know.
Long time since I posted here.