Roger Federer did well in 2012, compared to earlier years when he was overshadowed by his rivals.
Federer reached the No. 1 position once again (though he lost it to Novak Djokovic by the end of the year) and won yet another Wimbledon crown in a year when he won six titles overall.
The question on everyone's minds then is whether Federer will continue his resurgence in 2013 and take his game to the next level—if he has yet another level to go to.
His rivals, as always, found Federer to be a difficult code to crack. One can argue that it was easier for them to beat Federer in best-of-fives as compared to the other formats.
Let us look at some factors that will help us figure out when the G.O.A.T. will finally lose his touch.
Prior to 2012, Federer had to contend with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on the ATP Tour. This year, Andy Murray stepped up to show that he is good enough to be ranked in the Top Four and competent enough to be a pain in everyone's backsides.
Rafael Nadal: In 2012, Federer met Rafa twice (both at the semifinal stage, earlier than when they usually meet). The duo split their meetings, with Nadal beating Federer in the Australian Open (four sets) while Federer defeated Rafael in the Indian Wells (two sets).
Federer still finds Nadal difficult to defeat, especially in Grand Slams, and he will thank his stars that Nadal was injured for most of 2012. Nadal is making a recovery of sorts, and his presence in the draw will add more pressure to Federer.
Novak Djokovic: Federer and Djokovic met five times in 2012—thrice in the semifinal stage and twice in the finals, a trend that articulates the progress of Federer in the absence of Nadal during the second half of the year. The Grand Slam meetings ended with a win for each (French Open for Djokovic, Wimbledon for Federer). The season-ending finale saw Djokovic win for the third time this year against Fedex.
Djokovic does not have the same domination over Federer as Nadal holds. This means that Federer still fancies his chances against Djokovic in the next year, unless Djokovic can find the extra something to increase the gap between the two. Expect Djokovic and Federer to exchange the No. 1 ranking next year for few months.
Andy Murray: The new entrant into the elite list of the men's draw, Murray has been having the better of Federer in recent matches. Murray's dominance can be easily slotted into two halves: pre-Olympics and post-Olympics. As usual, Federer defeated Murray relatively easily in Dubai and at the Wimbledon finals. Things changed for Murray in the Olympics final when he beat Federer in straight sets (a convincing victory nevertheless). The two would meet again in the semifinal in Shanghai and London with each winning once.
Murray will gain confidence from his showing this year and will no longer start his matches against Federer as an underdog. From the rankings, it is very much possible that the two will meet in semifinals of the Grand Slam tournaments, and whoever wins the duel will be the favourite to win the tournament.
There are other contenders who have given Federer trouble in 2012, but other than Tomas Berdych (even though it was only one match in the U.S. Open), none of them are consistent enough. John Isner and Tommy Haas also chalked up victories over Federer in 2012, but one needs to see that happen continuously in order to take them as a serious contender.
While Federer's rivals have been loading their arsenal constantly to defeat him in all tournaments, it remains to be seen how motivated Federer himself will be. Among his achievements are a staggering 17 Grand Slam titles and 302 weeks with the No. 1 ranking. Endurance and longevity have never been highlighted more in Federer's career because they have been overshadowed by his exploits on the court.
Thirty-four consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals speaks volumes of his consistency as well as his freedom from career-threatening injuries. So what drives Federer now? Will he still be motivated enough to continue with his travels around the world, especially with his twin girls growing up? The girls will be four years old next year, and slowly, their schooling and raising will become the focus of Roger and Mirka.
Both physical and mental fatigue will add to the degradation of Federer's game, and it would not be a surprise if he tries to curb his appearances around the world. It might be a good idea for him to restrict the tournaments that he plays in if he wants to retain his touch. This might not happen in reality since he is the president of the ATP Player Council.
Federer will also be mindful of his image as a G.O.A.T. and wish to leave the Tour on his terms rather than be pushed out by his rivals. Hence, his performance in the early part of 2013 will give him a good sense of where he stands, and if he loses more than four matches before Roland Garros, it might be his farewell year. I don't think that this will happen.
Looking at these factors, it is very likely that Federer will go through the grind in 2013 as he has been doing for all these years. In the latter part of the year, it is possible (based on his performance thus far) that Fedex starts thinking about retirement.