I never thought I will write such an article, but life is never predictable. Tennis and tennis players (forget legends) hardly fall under the predictable category.
Roger Federer was one whom everyone around the world adored, and as I write this article, I am dreading the fact that there were will be many who will spew venom at the thought of the title.
But the fact is that in the face of Father Time, all good things come to a stop. Even the legendary Roger Federer.
Though Roger Federer has been playing well in the last two years, his performance graph has started to show that bit of inconsistency that will no doubt haunt his and his coach's minds for sometime.
Federer has entered three tournaments in 2013 and lost all of them without reaching the final stage in any of them. This is very unlike him at this phase of the season.
Also, losing from a stage where he held match points (thrice against Berdych in last few years) will also haunt him. Five losses in eight matches against Berdych will also make Federer think further.
One has to go back to August of last year to look at his last title win (Cincinnati Masters defeating Novak Djokovic).
What will be Federer's performance at 2013 French Open?
The five reasons that I feel we have seen Roger Federer's last Grand Slam win are the following (in no order of preference):
Players from the Next Level
Federer's losses against the likes of Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych (once again) will hurt him more than the losses against Andy Murray at the Australian Open.
The next rung of players have been troubling him more than before—prominent among them being Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner. Though the losses have still been sporadic, it is the reduction of the dominance that Federer had on such players that should worry him.
Age and Motivation
Though Federer has been physically fit (his consecutive starts at the Grand Slams as well as the number of quarterfinal appearances will vouch for it), he seems to struggle when the match gets longer.
Especially in the Grand Slam matches against the Top 10 players, Federer becomes the one likely to lose. When the matches get into the fifth set, it is very hard for him to play at the same level as the first. This is where his younger opponents have a major advantage with their fitness levels.
With a record number of titles under his belt as well as a growing family, it must be hard for the Swiss Ace to retain the same levels of motivation that he had all these years. Though there is no hint of deteriorating levels, things will change gradually this year.
The maestro is back and what a start! Demolishing fellow Spaniard David Ferrer at the Abierto Mexicana Telcel, Rafael Nadal has stormed back into contention. There is no doubt that the clay court season will see Rafa play to his best and be definitely one of the players figuring in the finals.
There is no need to remind one of his record against Federer at all levels, especially on clay. If Nadal can recover completely from his injuries, he will very quickly become a force to reckon with, even after the clay court season is complete.
From 2012, Andy Murray has split six matches evenly with Federer (wins coming at Olympics and 2013 Australian Open while losing at Wimbledon and the year-end ATP Tour Finals). With the legendary Ivan Lendl by his side, Murray has been improving continuously, and his game has moved up a notch while his temper tantrums has been under control.
More importantly, the title wins in 2012 has given him a new sense of self-belief where he knows what to do to win multiple Slams. He will definitely continue his growth, and with age on his side, Djokovic and Murray will mostly do the same to the ATP Tour that Federer and Nadal did few years ago—total domination.
Murray is now ranked No.3 (and lags behind by more than a thousand points), which only means that he will be the opponent that Federer will run into in most tournaments. As of now, only Djokovic on all courts and Nadal (on clay) seem to be capable of stopping the Scot from winning the titles.
Djokovic has been at the prime of his career and has ensured that his domination over the Grand Slam (except maybe the clay court) is complete. His ranking and subsequent seeding ensure that he meets the likes of Federer and Murray only in the final. When it happens, he is fresh and fit enough to take them on either in the best-of-three or the longer version of the game.
His age and fitness are proving to be beneficial to him whenever matches extend beyond four or five hours. Only the fittest can match and then beat him. Roger is clearly lacking in this area and hence seems to be playing catch-up with the Serb.
In 2012, Djokovic pipped Federer 3-2 in their battles during the year (losing to the Swiss Master at Wimbledon while beating him at Roland Garros and the year-end ATP Tour Finals).
I hope I will be proved wrong by the legend this year (or the next), but Federer's decline is becomin inevitable with each passing Grand Slam tournament.