Is Roger Federer done?
That is the question on the mind of at least one tennis fan on the eve of the 2008 Wimbledon tournament. As recently as six months ago, the question would have seemed preposterous.
Federer was coming off a year in which he won three of the four majors, losing only the French Open to Rafael Nadal in a closer-than-it-seemed four set match.
This year, however, has been a different story. Federer contracted mono prior to the Australian Open and failed to defend his title. Novak Djokovic, the talented young Serb with the most complete game of anyone on tour other than Federer, seized the opportunity to pick up his first major win.
At the French Open, Federer played well enough to reach his third final, but never looked as dominant as we had grown accustomed to seeing. In the final, Nadal flat-out crushed Federer, bringing Nadal’s career to new heights and opening debate as to his place among the greatest clay-court players of all-time (for the record, I consider him the best).
Meanwhile, Federer’s place in tennis history is suddenly in doubt. His lack of a French Open title can be attributed to poor timing (because of Nadal). But, Federer’s aura of invincibility appears to have been broken, and his dominance of the ATP tour might be at an end. Djokovic, of all people, claimed that Federer is afraid.
All great athletes go through slumps, and inevitably know-it-alls like me question their greatness. Kobe still has time to cement his legacy, but I can’t help but think that by losing to the Celtics, he cost himself the chance to be considered one of the 10 greatest basketball players ever, possibly even the greatest.
On the flip side, I consider Patrick Roy the greatest goaltender of all-time, not because he won more games than anyone else, but because in 1995, the Canadiens thought he was washed up and traded him to the Avalanche, only to see St. Patrick carry the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup and deliver his famous quip about his Stanley Cup rings “plugging his ears.”
If Federer is wired like I think he is, he will use these doubters as motivation to push himself to a higher level—that level that only the best can reach. He will make a mockery of Wimbledon, rattling off five straight-set victories before facing Djokovic in the semis.
Federer will then proceed to dismantle Djokovic in such amazing fashion that Djokovic will be left curled in the fetal position, apologizing that he dared to suggest Federer feared him.
Finally, Federer will defeat his greatest nemesis, Nadal, and prove that while Rafa may own the red clay, he will not win Wimbledon while Roger is still around.
Wimbledon will be Roger Federer’s opportunity to silence his critics. Maybe he’ll obliterate Djokovic and Nadal and then give us a Roy-like quote. Or maybe Federer has been putting too much pressure on himself, and the criticism will get to him and he’ll fold under the weight of the expectations. Given his history, the final result will likely be somewhere in between.
Federer won’t be the greatest ever if he wins Wimbledon, but he can secure his place in the discussion. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.