Federer will be back
April 11. 2009
The target nagging away and frustrating Roger Federer is Pete Sampras's record haul of 14 grand slam titles. Randi Sokoloff / The National
Are Roger Federer’s powers on the wane? That is the question intriguing the world of tennis as we head for grand slams in Paris, Wimbledon, and New York.
The same question was asked last year after his heavy defeat to Rafael Nadal in the French Open, and further disappointment in a thrilling final at Wimbledon. Federer, however, showed with his straight sets victory over Andy Murray at the US Open how deluded those critics were who leapt in to administer the last rites to a wonderful career.
It would, of course, be similarly unwise now to rule the Swiss genius out of the upcoming slams, but his petulant reaction to his defeat to Novak Djokovic in the semi-final at the Miami Masters was a sign that Federer himself is starting to worry about the decline in his game in recent tournaments.
It is by no means unusual to see a player smash his racket, fail to shake hands with the umpire, and be glum and unresponsive in a press conference after losing a match. But not Federer.
He has built a reputation on being cool and dispassionate, putting disappointment behind him, and maintaining focus on the challenges ahead. His reaction in Miami was so much against type, it was as if Shane Warne had announced he was giving up cricket to become a Trappist Monk.
Clearly, the target that is nagging away and frustrating Federer is Pete Sampras’s record haul of 14 grand slam titles. Federer is one short of the total, and came desperately close to reaching it at this year’s Australian Open. His disappointed reaction in Melbourne after defeat to Nadal gives you an idea how important the record is to Roger, and normally you would expect him to win another slam or two – possibly Wimbledon this year – before a gentle decline, and the final ride into the sunset.
His problem now is the form being shown by his rivals on the tour. This is something of a golden age for men’s tennis, with Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray all playing better than ever. Behind them in the rankings, Del Potro, Verdasco, Roddick, and Simon are all capable of upsetting any of the top players. There was certainly not this depth of talent at the top of the tennis tree when Sampras was racking up his titles.
Having said that, I expect Federer to equal Sampras’s record, if not this year, then next.
He is not even 28-years-old yet, and having had the benefit of the best wisdom on nutrition, coaching, and physiotherapy since his teenage years, there is no reason on earth to expect much in the way of physical decline for some time yet.
As with most competitors in individual sports, the main enemy to be feared is between his ears. Failure in Miami rattled him, but experience tells you he will regroup and continue to be the opponent his rivals in the top four least want to encounter.
My view is that Federer’s appearance in 10 consecutive grand slam men’s singles finals between 2005 and 2007 make him the greatest tennis player, and only a curmudgeon would deny him the final slam triumph to cement that title.