Roger Federer: His Wheel's on Fire...

JA AllenSenior Writer IApril 4, 2009

If your memory serves you well, we were gonna meet again and wait...

It is human nature to panic when you lose something precious, like a child or a diamond ring or your ability to hit a forehand winner past a dazed opponent. 

The child is a product of your love, the diamond a symbol of your intense devotion, and the forehand a signature to the world of your prowess on the tennis court.

Panic acerbates a precarious state of mind and impedes the search—the resolution.  The tendency to overreact and sound alarms falls within normal behavior but it is counterproductive.  Slow and deliberate calm is the order of the day.

The child, of course, is hiding from you under the bed and your overwhelming relief supersedes your desire to “time out” him for life. 

The diamond fell behind the dresser when you accidentally bumped into it in passing.  You find the ring crawling on your hands and knees along the baseboard.

The forehand, however, is a trickier matter.  It is there, but it deserts at will—you cannot call it forward at times.  Consistency is lost, not the stroke that made you king of the courts.

This is an important distinction.  Roger Federer’s forehand, his weapon of choice, remains an integral part of the Swiss maestro’s arsenal.  All of Roger’s strokes are there, but what is not there any longer is the ability to utilize them effectively at any given moment. 

Roger has lost his consistent excellence...his game forsakes him at inopportune times.

As we review the retinue of choices to explain this strange aberration, we should be able to come to a conclusion about the Federer game.

(1) Roger is 27 years of age and he is not able to compete with the young guns in face-to-face fast draw competition.  Age has slowed his reaction time and given Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andrew Murray just enough advantage to overtake the mighty Federer.

Not really—Bill Tilden won his first championship at 27 and went on to dominate the sport for years after that.  27 is not old by any stretch of the imagination.  Age is not the determining factor in assessing the current state of the Federer game.

(2) Roger has lost his desire to win the “small” tournaments and will only concentrate on the slams.

Hardly—anyone who understands the Federer psyche knows this is pure tripe.  Federer lives to play tennis and to win.

Winning is his motivation for playing the game.  He has immense pride and expects to be victorious each and every time he takes the court.

(3) Roger is distracted by his personal life, the upcoming birth of a child, and his relationship with Mirka.

     Pooh—they have been together many years and although the news of the upcoming birth of a child set the tennis world on fire, the impact on Roger’s life will be minimal except to add to his joy and his contentment.

(4) The top of the field has caught up with him and some have surpassed him.  All will by the end of 2009.

     Yes, Roger is no longer dominating his competition.  Rafael Nadal is the No. 1 player in the world.  But Roger is still the No. 2 player.  Whether the rest of the field will catch him and surpass him is still conjecture at this point. 

     It is a simplistic statement without consequences made by those without anything better to add to the debate.

(5) Roger is too proud and too stubborn.  He needs either a coach or a sports psychologist to help him find his consistency and improve his mind set.

     No disagreements here.  Every critic, every fan, every sportswriter agree that Roger needs another pair of eyes to help him fine tune his inconsistent game.

     Ah, Mr. Cahill, Roger needs you in his corner!  Mats could help you, too, Mr. Federer!

(6) Roger is following Pete Sampras down the long and inevitable road of decline.  Roger’s path will be like Pete’s rather than like Agassi’s because Roger is too proud to be content with existing in the top ten.

     No—Pete’s serve and volley game was more difficult for him to sustain.  Roger’s game while inconsistent at the moment does not exert the wear and tear of the Sampras attack.  Roger will have an easier time maintaining his style of play than Sampras did over his last three years. 

As to Agassi, Roger has spoken of how he looks up to Agassi and his ability to remain a force well into his thirties.  It has given Roger the courage to predict that he will continue to play until he is 35 years of age or close to it.

It is natural for those who admire the tenacity and the game of Roger Federer to overreact at these losses that occur when he cannot play tennis at the same level he  did two or three years ago. 

The “game” is cemented in the collective recollection of Roger’s fans everywhere. 

It is not exaggerating to surmise that no one will ever play as Roger did – perhaps, not even Roger.  At least not day in and day out. 

This transition from being the top player brings headlines and eulogies at every loss suffered by the Swiss dynamo.  Better to concentrate on the facet of transition because we are in the midst of one in men’s tennis. 

It promotes questions instead of certainty; it proposes scenarios of possibilities at every major event or masters series.  There are young guys galore coming up the ladder, all willing themselves to the top of the game.

The former king of the mountain is hanging on and battling without his accustomed footing.  Whether Federer can hold his place is the most intriguing drama unfolding in the sports world today. 

Will the king foil his competitors and reign again or will one of them dethrone him and sit next to Rafael before upending the Spaniard as well…stay tuned…


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