Roger Federer's 'Negative Spiral' Is Ongoing Battle for All Tennis Superstars

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 10: Roger Federer of Switzerland reacts after losing the game against Gael Monfils of France during day four of the Shanghai Rolex Masters at the Qi Zhong Tennis Center on October 10, 2013 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Roger Federer recently admitted that he tried to do too much in returning to the ATP tour last spring, following a debilitating back injury. He summed up his hasty and unsuccessful attempts to get in shape through comments in, "I played matches that I should never have played."

Federer added that he should not have played his Indian Wells quarterfinal match against rival Rafael Nadal, and that he should not have played at clay-court venues Hamburg and Gstaad in late July. "I fell into a negative spiral," he said in the same source,

As he pushes to qualify for one of the eight slots in London's ATP World Tour Finals, he is making physical and mental commitment to refocus his efforts without a coach, at least for the present. He is facing, perhaps, his last chance to rebound and drive for more Grand Slam titles in 2014.


Negative Spiraling is Nothing New

Superstars inevitably go through peaks and valleys of success and failure. There are always fierce competitors, looking to seize their titles. They must train to rise above their own boredom and apathy, and they must be fortunate to avoid major injuries.

When things go wrong with their training or fitness, confidence can disappear and losses emerge. Positive energy is displaced by negative frustration and a sense that everything is falling apart. It's not a temporary feeling of defeat or setback but a career crises.

Not all tennis champions have survived their Waterloo:

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Bjorn Borg walked away rather than fight through the burnout and challenges of rising competition.

John McEnroe never recovered from his 1985 U.S. Open defeat and subsequent hiatus from tennis.

Andre Agassi fell into a negative abyss after losing to Pete Sampras at the 1995 U.S. Open final. It took him three years to get into the proper mental and physical frame to continue his championship career.

Pete Sampras suffered through back problems and other limitations at the end of his career. He was able to escape his negative spiral for a glorious finish and triumph at the 2002 U.S. Open.


Modern Crises

As the Fab Four of tennis (Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray) ages, they have shown remarkable resilience in overcoming negative spells. They have learned to turn the page and transform heartbreak into comeback.

Not surprisingly, Nadal has been the modern standard for overcoming injuries and setbacks.

Perhaps his early career experiences (he suffered two serious injuries from 2004 to 2005) with injury interruptions taught him best how to handle adversity. Most notably, he had to bounce back from physical problems in 2009 and 2012.

Each time he rebounded back with multiple Grand Slam victories.

In addition, Nadal had to overcome the negative spiraling from his seven-match losing streak to Novak Djokovic from 2011 to 2012. He lost his No. 1 ranking and three consecutive Grand Slam finals to Djokovic.

Eventually, he persevered to win the 2012 French Open.

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Djokovic has faced the turbulence of being a champion.

Following his career pinnacle in 2011, he has dealt with personal setbacks including his grandfather's death during the Monte Carlo tournament in 2012, and he had a severe ankle injury one year later.

Djokovic also dealt with tough losses and disappointments in losing Grand Slam finals to Nadal and Andy Murray. His quest to win the French Open has been a bitter affair, capped by a grueling five-set semifinal loss to Nadal that cost him the chance to win this elusive Major.

Currently, world No. 3 Murray is attempting his own comeback after back surgery. He faces the uphill battle of becoming fit and sharpening his competitive edge. It won't be easy to get started.


Time Will Tell

They have all been brilliant champions in disposing young, potential challengers. Increasingly it seems that only Father Time will track them down, perhaps finally slowing their reflexes and burdening them with greater fatigue and need for recovery.

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Federer's comments about his disastrous 2013 season are also a statement of hope.

He believes that his injuries and training setbacks are the root source of his negative spiral. He is putting his efforts into positive energy and changes that will put him in position to challenge for the top titles once again.

Soon enough, tennis fans will know if 2013 was really the beginning of the end. Was it part of a continual decline into retirement, or was it a temporary setback before one more burst of Grand Slam-contending tennis?

But isn't this always the way it is for a superstar and his approach to being the best? There is winning or there is reloading.


Click here to see what tennis legends say about Federer's Grand Slam hopes

Should Federer get a coach?