If there's a tennis version of purgatory, Roger Federer is firmly stuck in it.
The former No. 1 lost to Novak Djokovic in three sets, 4-6, 7-6(2), 2-6 on Tuesday at the ATP World Tour Finals. The 32-year-old surrendered five break points and double-faulted another five times. It still wasn't a poor performance, yet it was more evidence that Federer has nowhere to go but down for the rest of his career.
Watching an era's greatest players begin to decline is always hard to do, especially in a sport where the players are isolated in one-on-one battles. You keep expecting that one magical run to happen, where the aging legend beats the younger stars.
Only it's not going to happen with Federer. I thought it could happen at the 2013 U.S. Open, and then he went and lost in the fourth round. I refuse to be burned again.
2013 has been one of the worst years of Federer's career. He failed to make a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002. His overall record is 43-15, and he's got just the Gerry Weber Open title to his name.
Right now, Federer is rooted in a position where he's better than most of the players on the tour. But he's also below the likes of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and David Ferrer. When it comes to the Grand Slams, the best he can hope for is a run to either the quarterfinals or semifinals, where he meets one of the aforementioned four players and subsequently loses.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
And things aren't going to get any better next year. Federer is going to be a year older, while the competition around him remains in their respective primes.
Hitting 30 is generally a death sentence for most tennis players, and Federer is no exception.
Maybe in a different era, he could remain competitive. Instead, Nadal and Djokovic have the ability to bludgeon you into submission or choose to keep running until you've got nothing left in the tank. Either way, players who aren't up to their physical levels fall in their wake.
Perhaps we should just enjoy whatever is left in Federer that can make him competitive against the top guys. Before you know it, he'll be falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and then Ernests Gulbis on a regular basis.