This time last year, Roger Federer was ranked No. 1 in the world. Right now, that feels like a lifetime ago.
Federer is currently ranked No. 7, and he is in danger of not making the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time since 2001.
This week at the Shanghai Masters, he played in his first tournament since losing meekly to Tommy Robredo in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. After a first-round bye, he beat Andreas Seppi in the second round before falling to No. 42 Gael Monfils in the third round.
The talented-but-erratic Frenchman Monfils beat Federer 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. It was a topsy-turvy and error-filled match that once again highlighted Federer's inability to play the big points with confidence and his current lack of accuracy on his formerly formidable forehand.
Losses like this can no longer be considered a fluke for the 16-time Grand Slam champion. This is his new normal.
This loss will move Federer down to No. 8 in the Race rankings. The top eight players at the end of the season make the World Tour Finals at the end of the year. This year, since Andy Murray has already withdrawn after back surgery, the ninth-ranked player in the world will also make the trip.
Federer has been a staple at this end-of-the-year celebration of greatness, and even the threat this late in the season that he won't be able to participate is sending alarm bells through the tennis community.
Meanwhile, Federer is trying not to get too wrapped up in the contest. While it's certainly still a goal for his season, he's still focused on the bigger picture, as he told reporters after his loss in Shanghai, via ASAP Sports:
I'm just going to focus on trying to play well. I'm not too focused on what's the points system. I have no idea actually to be honest if I'm seven, eight, six, nine, or ten right now, what it takes. I'm just going to try to have a good tournament in Basel and Paris. In the end, if I get the invite, I'll be there. If I don't, I'll prepare for next year.
Federer is only 36-13 on the year, with his lone title coming in a small grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany in June. He has only beaten one Top 10 player all year, and that was No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, nearly 10 months ago.
Thursday in Shanghai was a historically bad day for Federer, since he lost in both singles and doubles, a rare occurrence for the legend.
There's just no way to sugar coat it. 2013 has been a rough one. Since his shocking second-round loss at Wimbledon to Sergiy Stakhovsky. Early in the summer, Federer decided to play extra events and try out a new racket. That plan backfired due primarily to back troubles, and after back-to-back losses to No. 114 Federico Delbonis and No. 55 Daniel Brands, Federer went back to his old racket for the U.S. Open Series.
After pulling out of the Rogers Cup with his back injury, he made it to the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open, before losing in a tight match to Rafael Nadal. He seemed to be back in form, but his loss to Robredo at the U.S. Open stalled that.
All year it seems to be one step forward and two steps back for the man who used to make winning Grand Slams look like a walk in the park.
The man who used to be unbeatable now is receiving pity from his opponents. After the upset, Monfils told reporters, "Yeah, I feel a bit sorry for [Federer] because I know he's running for London."
Federer, however, insists that he's on the right track.
It's pretty simple: you just keep on working hard, make sure that you get back on winning ways, then you become confident again, sort of get there.
Still losing against good players. The level of play is very good. But important is if you do play the right way and you move the right way, then all of a sudden that margin you don't have maybe right now, you get it again.
It's just important not to like worry too much, to be honest. It's important to keep on doing what I'm doing.
Though his spot is far from wrapped up, right now Federer is still has a good shot to make it to the World Tour Finals. Nadal, Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer have already qualified. Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych are both very close to securing their spots as well.
That leaves three spots open, and five players in contention. Stanislas Wawrinka, Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic are all within 400 points of one another. With three weeks of tournaments—including the Paris Masters—on the horizon, anything can happen.
Federer is currently scheduled to play his hometown tournament of Basel, followed by the Paris Masters. With all the other competitors also scheduled to play at least two more tournaments this season, he's going to have to improve his results in order to earn his place.
Most fans hoping that he does just that. Everyone is aware that Federer is declining, but the World Tour Finals just wouldn't be the same without him.
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