Roger Federer is without doubt the greatest male tennis player to have ever played the game. On one hand, one can cite his numerous records and achievements. On the other hand, one can also talk about the quality of his tennis strokes, the grace of his movement across the tennis court and the completeness of his game.
Whether one is a fan of serve-and-volley or of hitting from the baseline, it is hard to deny that Federer has it all in his game. Federer's greatest achievement though, is that he has completely fulfilled his immense potential. In some sense, there are no more peaks to conquer and no more worlds to explore, except for revisiting old hunting grounds and repeating the same old achievements.
This is the reason why Federer's career is probably at a crossroads. Even though he is still going strong and holds both the No. 1 ranking and the Wimbledon singles trophy, he is competing against the passage of time. The biggest question Federer must ask himself now is whether he has an exit plan, and how he sees that plan playing out.
Like all athletes, tennis players too, dream of bowing out while on top of their game. However, bowing out on top is also the hardest thing to do for any player. In recent history, many tried to accomplish this, but no one except Pete Sampras managed anything remotely near that desired achievement.
However, Sampras' decision was made easy by the fact that he had experienced the gradual slide from the top in the two years preceding his final Grand Slam victory. When he won the U.S. Open in 2002, he was already ranked No. 17 and his performances were the last great ones of his dying career.
For Federer, it is harder to say if the last Grand Slam title he won is going to be his last. He is still a magnificent tennis player who can beat anyone on his day.
However, those days are growing fewer and farther between, especially against his fellow best players. For instance, since the beginning of 2011, Federer holds a 3-6 losing record against Novak Djokovic, a 2-4 losing record against Rafael Nadal and a 2-2 record against Andy Murray.
The truth is that Federer has never really regained the aura of invincibility that he had at his peak. Sure, he is No. 1, but that is as much a function of an injury to Rafael Nadal, and the inevitable return to earth for Novak Djokovic after his unbelievable 2011, as it is of his own performance.
Furthermore, men's tennis has never been as even as it has been this year. This is amply illustrated by the fact that four different men won the four Grand Slams in 2012. With Djokovic and Murray still young, it is probable that they will improve further and pose a greater threat to Federer's aspirations and ranking. The same is true for Nadal, if he manages to recover from his career-threatening injury.
It is for these reasons that Federer must now begin thinking of an exit plan from the game he has dominated for so long. It doesn't need to be a short-term plan formulated in a hurry. It would need to be more in the form of targets that he hopes to achieve before hanging up his racquet.
Perhaps defining his goals and recalibrating his targets will also give Federer the freedom to express himself on the tennis court once again to his fullest ability. Perhaps that freedom will be enough to enable him to write a last great chapter in the greatest tennis career of them all.