To sum up Roger Federer's day: Got pooped on by a bird, his match was ignored by television, and he lost to Kei Nishikori. Not a great day.— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 27, 2014
"Roger and the and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" might as well be the title of Roger Federer's Wednesday.
Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline recounted everything that had gone wrong for the 17-time Grand Slam champion:
Federer losing to Nishikori in general is not a bad thing. How he lost is though. Those legs need a break.— LZ Granderson (@Locs_n_Laughs) March 27, 2014
As bad as things got for Fed in Miami, it would be foolish to completely write off his major title chances in 2014.
Federer had been looking good before his quarterfinal loss to Kei Nishikori at the 2014 Sony Open. He didn't drop a set in his first three matches, including a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory over ninth-seeded Richard Gasquet.
Things even began well enough against Nishikori, with Federer winning the first set 6-3. The wheels slowly began to fall off in the second, which the Swiss lost 5-7, and he went on to lose the third 4-6.
As LZ Granderson pointed out, by itself, losing to Nishikori isn't all that bad. But losing to the 24-year-old is unacceptable for Federer after the way in which he started the match:
He tried to come up with explanations—some may argue they're excuses—for the loss but ultimately applauded Nishikori for the win, per Greg Garber of ESPN.com:
"Just couldn't find my rhythm on the serve, which was surprising," Federer explained later. "Maybe the [cool, mid-60s] temperature had something to do with it. Haven't played that many matches in the dark. It's a bit frustrating, but Kei did well to stay with me. He was more consistent in the second and the third, which are the ones he won. To his credit.
"The second set just got away from me and the third was a tough battle. It was a tough end for me."
This defeat obscures what has otherwise been a productive 2014 so far for Federer, and that's why it would be premature to read too much into one result.
Fed lost to Novak Djokovic in a third-set tiebreak in the final of the BNP Paribas Open, which isn't all that bad. Before that, he won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, and he lost to Rafael Nadal in the semifinal of the Australian Open, after beating Andy Murray in the quarterfinal.
Tennis has never been kind to aging veterans, so for Federer to remain competitive with the best at 32 years old is a remarkable accomplishment. Most players at his age are lucky to even crack the top 15.
Patrick Hruby, writing for Sports on Earth, made the comparison to Tim Duncan:
Watching Federer dismiss Gasquet, that much seemed obvious. Ripping backhand winners down the line, spinning serves out wide and forehands at geometry-defying angles, he resembled nothing so much as the Tim Duncan of tennis: different with age but hardly diminished, not as dominant but still competitive, less remarkable for what he once was than for what he continues to be.
Likening Federer to Duncan is apt. While Duncan can no longer be considered the best big man in the NBA, he's more than capable—even at 37—of playing a key role on an NBA Finals team.
Federer will never again overtake either Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in the rankings, but that doesn't mean that another Grand Slam title is out of reach, as Hruby added:
If he ever wins another major, it's probably going to take a favorable draw and injury luck, both for Federer and his potential opponents. (When a 32-year-old Andre Agassi captured the 2003 Australian Open to become the oldest Slam winner in the modern era, he didn't face a single opponent ranked in the top 10). Peak Roger—the man who won eight of 10 majors between 2005 and 2007, inspiring the late David Foster Wallace to wax metaphysical about "a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light"—is long gone.
Losses like this are bound to happen to Federer at points this season. His body can't take the full grind anymore, so he'll have those matches where he looks helpless and frail, because his legs are gone.
With a break, he'll be right back to wherever his best is at the moment.
In the end, Fed's performance in Miami doesn't hasten what has been a years-long decline, and it doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know.
Nothing to see here.