Another match. Another loss.
Roger Federer suffered yet another loss in a forgettable season. This time it was to American James Blake, in the Olympic quarterfinals.
This time, at least he reached the quarterfinals. Federer won his first few matches, including a convincing victory over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic prior to the clash with Blake.
In fact, despite the media attention to his slumping form, he still won two tournaments this year and got to at least the semifinals in all three Majors thus far!
Put simply, if an unheralded player gets to the semifinals of three majors in a year, he would probably be hailed and showered with affection and praises.
Unfortunately, semifinalist and finalist are not what we come to expect from the world No. 1.
Then again, his losses this year have all come against top ranked players—notably against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon and the French Open, Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, and most recently at the hands of up-and-coming Croatian Ivo Karlovic.
This Olympic match was delayed by a thunderstorm for four hours. When the two players did eventually begin, Blake won the first set, 6-4. Prior to the match, Blake was 0-8 against Federer and had only won one set.
In winning that first set, Blake overcame a huge psychological hurdle.
In the second set, both players held serve to leave the score level at 5-5. Then, inexplicably, Federer crumbled.
With the game at 30-40 in Blake's favor, Federer gave away another point from a backhand error, one of 56 unforced errors he made in this match. That gave Blake the initiative at 6-5.
Federer then served, at 5-6 down. Facing the prospect of Blake winning the match, Federer's serve deserted him when he needed it most. He couldn't get a single first serve in for this pivotal game!
Fortunately, Blake hit a forehand just wide to hand Federer a lifeline. With the score tied at 6-6, the match went into a tiebreak.
At times, Federer looked like he was bothered by the humid weather. Other times, it almost seemed he was too kind to play the game. There were a couple of points where he should have been more aggressive with his smashes.
For instance, with the tiebreak at 1-1, Federer hit a forehand smash meekly, enabling Blake to recover and hit a cross-court winner. Things were not looking good for the Swiss maestro.
Blake won the next point with a powerful serve, bringing the score to 3-1. Then, showing confidence against the world No. 1, he adopted a serve-and-volley game and went to the net.
The strategy worked, as Federer hit a backhand into the net, perhaps affected by Blake's net presence. Blake was now three points away from a place in the semis.
Federer won the next point with a smash. But as mentioned before, it seemed almost like he couldn't bear to hit it—there was just no aggression.
Federer's body language seemed to suggest he had already given up. Did he finally succumb to the tremendous pressure of performing match after match, tournament after tournament?
James Blake wrapped up the next two points, and held serve for match point. With a forehand error from Federer, Blake had finally won against the world No. 1.
Is Federer Getting Vulnerable?
Honestly, the game was won by James Blake not because he deserved to win, but because Federer deserved to lose.
Federer's backhand has been very unreliable this year, but at least he still had his serves. In this match however, his serves deserted him as well.
I believe the pressure of winning has finally overwhelmed the Swiss star. Perhaps being at the top for so long has made him forget how he got there in the first place.
I can still remember Federer crying as he won his first ever ATP title—or during that unforgettable victory over Pete Sampras in the 2001 Wimbledon final.
He was so passionate about winning back then.
Quite frankly, I do not see the same emotions displayed in his recent games.
You could see from his game today that he can still be brilliant when he wants to be, hitting impossible shots that land on the line. He is only 27 years old, so he definitely still has a few more good years ahead of him.
I believe it's more of a psychological barrier he has to get through. He has to get back that feeling of winning, and that desire to win. Once he gets it back, I am certain he will overtake Nadal.
I will wait for that day.