Fed's quest for immortality a question mark
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Posted by James Martin, TENNIS.com
If there's one deadline none of us forget, it's April 15. Which makes it all the more amusing to watch men's tennis this week. While most of us scurry to file our tax returns, the pros are kicking up European dirt in the most renowned of tax shelters, Monte Carlo. It's always been a favorite tour stop for the pros, many of whom live in the city ("maintain residence" may be the more apropos way to describe it).
One player who doesn't need a tax break is Roger Federer, who still lives in his native Switzerland. But the newly married and expectant father, who planned to skip Monte Carlo in an attempt to pace himself during the grueling clay-court season, requested, and was granted, an 11th-hour wild card to compete in the tournament.
Federer has struggled with consistency this season, both in terms of results and actually keeping the ball in play. So logging in more time, not less, on the court might be the best thing for his game.
His recent form has been a point of vigorous debate. Just check out any message board or talk with your friends at the local tennis club and you'll find a hotly debated conversation on what ails the Mighty Fed. It's tennis' new bar-room game. Some of the theories are convincing. For example, there are those who point out that players are smartly exploiting Federer's backhand, which, in turn, has become an increasing liability. And Federer's habit of chipping backhands short to get a cross-court forehand to rip, a once-successful gambit, isn't as effective anymore. Other theories, such as Federer losing his mojo because he's going to be a dad, are about as believable as a Novak Djokovic medical timeout.
In discussing Federer's game with my own circle of tennis nuts, I've heard something that wasn't even imaginable 12 months ago -- namely that Roger Federer will end his career stuck at 13 Grand Slam titles.
Ridiculous, right? Federer is just 27. He has reached the final of the last four majors, a run that included winning the U.S. Open, and he still owns the most complete game on tour. It's enough evidence for me to believe Federer will surpass Pete Sampras' mark of 14 and become the greatest player of all time.
But what if the Mighty Fed isn't as mighty as everyone thinks? A year ago, Federer's only real threat was Rafael Nadal. Now Andy Murray and Djokovic have proven they can beat Federer. Tennis is a confidence game, and with each passing Slam in which Federer comes up short, the pressure will mount.
Imagine the implications if Federer gets stuck at 13. How long do you reckon he'd play to break the record? You can almost see him plying his trade well into his 30s, gray around the temples, the Grand Slam record becoming his Great White Whale.
And what about the G.O.A.T. debate? You won't find a more adversarial exchange than the one that pits Federer fans against Sampras fans. If Federer wins 15 or more majors, the debate is over. He's the G.O.A.T. If he doesn't, message boards will forever be hives of unruly Sampras and Federer acolytes slinging stats and immature attacks at each other.
It's still hard to imagine Federer coming up short. But you can say this: His quest for tennis immortality, which seemed inevitable (and boring), is shaping up to be the most fascinating story in tennis.