Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
The writing is on the wall. Roger Federer’s days of winning grand slams are finished. Yes, it has become very apparent that the sweet swinging Swiss Superstar will never win another major in his storied career. And as a result, the 16-time grand slam champion will retire after this year’s US open.
This is not official – this is pure conjecture on my part. But when it happens you can say you heard it here first! Unfortunately, the signs are there – Federer is just not good enough to beat his two main rivals in the same tournament in a best of five environment. He can’t win the ‘free’ points like he used to and that means too much slugging from the baseline which ultimately means defeat against the luminaries of today’s game.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are too good – as they reach the pinnacle of their respective careers – and if both advance as they should in any tournament – Federer (ranked #3 in the world) would have to beat one of them in the semi-finals and then follow that up and beat the other one in the final – assuming they both take care of business. This is too much to ask for a man on the downside (way down) of his career.
He could scrape out a win – if the conditions are perfect – over one of the two giants. However, the key word is ‘could’ and the likeliness is remote. But it is inconceivable or nearly impossible (in my opinion) that he can beat both of them back-to-back in a major event. And for this reason the greatest player of our generation will call it quits after the final slam of the year in Flushing Meadows, New York.
So far, half way through 2011 he is a combined 0-5 against Djokovic and Nadal – winning just 2 of the 13 sets played. Numbers that suggest he might never beat these guys again. Coincidentally, Federer’s last win over one of these 2 big-shots came last November in London at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals when Fed beat Djokovic in straight sets– Djokovic’s last loss on the ATP tour! That loss (by Djokovic) has led to an undefeated mark halfway through the 2011 season – good enough to get “The Djoker” on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
And most would agree that you can throw Andy Murray into that mix. Federer just can’t handle the relentless power off the ground from these baseline bombers. Djokovic, Nadal and Murray are winning the majority of the baseline rallies against Fed and it is crystal clear that Roger needs a bigger serve if he is going to compete on even terms against these guys on a regular basis – and at this late stage of his brilliant career this is a long-shot at best. A serve that would be equal to a Milos Raonic – this kind of weapon would sure stem the tide!
The real problem is not Fed’s serve. And it’s also not the forehand – this shot is still regarded as one of the best in the game. It’s the backhand! The big 3 all have better backhands – Fed’s backhand has improved considerably in the last 3 years but it’s still a weak shot compared to the heavyweights in the game. Unfortunately for Federer – Rafa, Djoker and Murray are so confident in a baseline exchange – they know they’ll eventually ware out Federer because he just can’t generate the power or precision to put pressure on them. Federer usually succumbs with a weak backhand slice or an over-hit backhand drive because of the continuing, relentless pressure.
The patterns are similar week-in-and-week-out, the guys are doing the same thing continuously and Federer has no ammunition to counter-attack. Now lesser lights (players ranked outside the top-10) are catching on and following the same sequences – sooner or later Federer will find himself struggling to make the semi-finals of major events if things continue to spiral in a downward fashion.
Federer’s ranking can only go one way – and that is down. His good friend Tiger Woods has found his ranking outside of the top-10 for the first time in 14 years and if Roger isn’t careful he will be outside the top 5 before year’s end. These two have often been compared, and in certain aspects, their careers have mirrored one another. For Roger’s sake let’s hope the parallels come to an end!
Even Federer’s best attribute – his movement – has deserted him to some degree in the past 6 months. Other players are moving around the court with similar ease (Fed used to make other players look slow but that is no longer the case) and Federer seems to be a step slower than he was a few years back. Without his rabbit like speed the Swiss maestro is never going to beat a guy like Djokovic who is on top of the world with his sky high confidence.
Federer is not the kind of player who will stick around if he believes he can’t win. And even though he would’ve liked to get a few more majors on his resume – he is smart enough to know that NOW is the best time to exit the game that has made him famous. His legacy is set and he will be the grand slam wins leader for many years to come. With Djokovic firing on all cylinders – this has to be considered good news for Federer as it will be increasingly more difficult for Nadal to reach the lofty numbers set by Federer.
He has the numbers to be recognized as the greatest player of all time – he has won all 4 majors – something only 7 players have ever accomplished. Federer is the only male player in tennis history to win three Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year three different times in his career. He had a streak of 23 consecutive grand slam semi-finals appearances (that ended at last year’s Australian Open) – a record that – in my opinion – will never be broken. He has more than enough cash for him and his family and I believe he feels it’s time to start enjoying the fruits of his hard work over the past 13 years.
Secretly, he would never admit to this, Federer wanted to win more grand slams (male or female) than anybody on the planet. So this meant he would have to catch Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19), and Navratilova and Evert (both with 18) to be recognized as the world leader in Grand slam victories. And for a while there it seemed possible. But the emergence of Nadal and now Djokovic – and this is more a pipe dream than anything.
Roger was outstanding during his incredible 13-year run and may go down as the greatest player of all-time; but the once unbeatable tennis genius is not that anymore. Let’s hope he realizes this and exits the game on cue at the US Open – watching history for the past decade has been intriguing to say the least. It’s a shame it will soon come to an end – but as we know – all good things must come to an end. Let’s just hope Roger understands when the end has come!