Will Roger Federer Ever Again Regain the Coveted No. 1 and Surpass Pistol Pete?

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Will Roger Federer Ever Again Regain the Coveted No. 1 and Surpass Pistol Pete?
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

By now, you all know it. For the first time since Roger Federer won his first Slam at Wimbledon 2003, he's no longer the defending champion at any one of the game's four most heralded titles. 

Even worse, he hasn't even made it to the finals in any of the past four Slams.

Two semis and two quarters were all he made it to. 

For any normal tennis players, this would be great. Being among the top-eight two times and the top-four times speaks of consistency and stability in the top. The only other two who can boost of similar consistency in the last four Slams are Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

But as opposed to Federer, they both made it to the finals as well and won three and one respectively.

Roger Federer not holding any Grand Slams would have to come at some point. But him not even being a runner-up coming at the same time? The fall from the sky seems so abrupt and complete.

In order to appreciate that, we need to remember that only a year ago, Roger Federer being in a Slam final was the safest bet you could make in tennis—or any other sport for that matter.

After all, he had made it to a mind-blowing 18 finals out of the last 19 counting from Wimbledon 2005 to Australian Open 2010, both included.

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And the single one he didn't make it to? The Australian Open 2008, where Djokovic beat a mono-ridden Federer in straight sets and went on to dismantle the hot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. 

To repeat, the safest bet was Federer. He might lose the final, but he would always be there. 

 

The Fall From the Sky

Come 2010. As always since his 2008 defeat to Djokovic, the King, the Maestro, was questioned. Was it over? How could he lose to Del Potro in the US Open final? Was he finally getting too old? 

Nope, was his short answer as he ripped the hottest player at the time, Nicolay Davydenko, apart in the quarters after being down a set and a break in the second. After that, he demolished Tsonga in the semis, before crushing Murray's hope in the final. 

With Nadal still mildly injured, there was hope from his fans, this one included, that 2010 could be another dominating Federer year. 

Then came the lung infection. The agile, effortless and precise Federer from the Australian Open 2010 was gone. Instead came the error-prone Federer, who seemed slower and struggled to close out matches, losing more than once after holding match points. 

His clay season was disastrous by his standards. He only made the final in Madrid, losing a tight two-setter to Nadal. At Roland Garros, the defending champion and four-consecutive-time finalist was ousted in the quarters by the same man, who created one of the greatest upsets in tennis history by taking Nadal out the year before. Robin Söderling that was.

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Federer suffered from wet, heavy and slow conditions on the court which made his balls sitting ducks for the big-swinging and hard-hitting Söderling, who's heavier and more powerful strokes and serve had enough puff to penetrate the slow court. Conditions notwithstanding, the great man had lost for the first time before the final in a slam for the first time in more than two years.

The result? He lost his No. 1 position to Nadal, one week shy of Pete Sampras' record 286 weeks at the top spot. 

Had he won but one more match during the clay season or US hard court swing, he would have held on to it long enough to surpass the great Pistol Pete. Instead, he could see the ranking slip to his rival, who's since then had a firm grip on it. 

Wimbledon came along and it was time for revenge and resurrection. But no, again the king fell in the quarters, this time complaining about back pain hindering his movement—an excuse he was widely attacked for though some observers noticed it before and during the match.

Now, the Maestro had fallen not only once, but twice in a row before the final—a feat not seen since Aus-French in 2005, where he fell in the semis in both.

Federer realized he needed to change and hired Paul Annacone, Pistol Pete's former coach.

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The change was quick and evident and Federer enjoyed the best post-Wimbledon season of any.

Only problem? Once again, he fell before the final in the most important tournament of the fall, the US Open, losing a tight five-setter to Djokovic after holding two match points.

By winning the WTF in style and beating Ferrer, Murray, Söderling, Djokovic and Nadal in convincing, he recharged and looked as good as ever.

Paul Annacone had surely helped Federer regain his aggressive style, attacking the second serves and being more offensive and secure on both the backhand and forehand side.

Only problem?

Well, for the fourth time in a row Federer not only did not win a Slam, but also lost it before the final. Losing a tight three-setter to Djokovic, who outplayed him when it mattered combined with Federer folding on many of the bigger points.  

The champ of the Slams was no longer a champ of any of the Slams.

And whereas that might give you a No. 1 ranking in the women's game, there's next to no chance it's gonna happen in the men's. Without slams, you're second best.

 

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The Chances of Regaining the No. 1

Federer has never enjoyed being second best, never enjoyed being the underdog. He's publicly said, he's going for the No. 1, but that it will be hard. 

He's spot on with that. 

If Federer stays healthy and has a good training block in February, there are reasons to believe, he'll have a much better spring that the 2010. 

But, he trails Nadal by more than 4.400 points and rather than being the hunter, it looks like he's being hunted with Djokovic only 85 points behind Federer. 

But, let's break it down. How many points do the three top dogs have to defend in the months until Wimbledon, Federer's best chance to get the position back as he had the best second half of the season?

Federer has: 600 (Madrid) + 360 (French) + 360 (Wimbledon) + 150 (Halle) + 90 (Estoril) +90 (Miami) + 45 (Indian Wells) + 10 (Rome) = 1705 points

Add to that, that he's scheduled to play Dubai (ATP 500) this year, where he didn't go last year. 

Nadal, the leader of the pack, has a tremendous amount of points to defend. 

He won the entire clay season and Wimbledon earning him 7000 points alone. He earned another 720 for two semis in Miami and Indian Wells plus 45 at Queens. All in all = 7765 points.

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Djokovic has 720 (Wimbledon), + 500 (Dubai) + 360 (French) + 360 (Monte Carlo), + 180 (Rome) + 180 (Rotterdam), + 90 (Indian Wells), + 45 (Belgrade) + 20 (Queens) + 10 (Miami, + 0 (Madrid) = 2485 points.

Nadal thus has the most to lose, but remember he has a 4425 head start towards Federer and 4510 points to Djokovic.

The thing is that even though Nadal has the most to defend, who would bet against him in most of the tournaments? He made two semis in the hard court swing. Is he likely to do worse? Probably not, possibly better.

He had a perfect clay season and won 5000 points on clay alone. But whereas he may lose one final, he's not likely to earn less than 3500-4000 on the clay.

And Wimbledon? Well, he seems a safe bet in the final, and once he's there, he's also likely to win it. Again, would you bet against him? Of course he can lose before, and he'll need to, if Federer shall regain the No. 1. Just for the sake of the argument, let him lose in the semis.

On this account, Nadal is down 2000 points, give or take. Not too likely, but not completely unlikely either.   

Federer thus needs to earn an extra 2500 points plus staying ahead of the man in form and confidence: Djokovic.  

So, what can Federer do about it? Well, he certainly stands a good chance of performing better than in 2010. But just how much better? Another 2000 points sure does not seem unrealistic, but what about another 3000?

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The thing is, in order to attain those kind of points, he either needs to win more or less all the 'smaller' events (a double in Miami and Indian Wells would help him quite a bit adding 1865 points alone) or to raise his level in the Slams to his usual standards. Quarters and semi's won't get him to the top.

At least one Slam win seem needed, not least to prevent Nadal from defending two thousand points.

A more realistic scenario on the hard courts would be him earning approximately an extra thousand (a win and a semi or two runner-ups). On the clay, he can hope to win Madrid (400 extra) and hope to improve results elsewhere adding another say 600 points. Up 2000.

Come Wimbledon and it is his time to shine.

He'll probably need to make it to the final and if Nadal should be on the other side, he would probably need to win it.

Can the old King pull another trick?

My heart says yes, but my head says no.

No matter the conditions and the circumstances, there's a reason why he hasn't made it to the final the last four times. And there's a reason why Nadal has won three of the last four. And the Djokovics, Murrays, Berdychs and Söderlings are all on the rise and not going away.

The rankings are zero-sum. In order for Federer to earn more, others need to earn less. Can he outshine the younger generation for another six months?

If he pulls it of at this age and against this competition, it would be tremendous. 

After the Djokovic defeat he said: 'let's talk in six months.'

But as we do love to speculate, let the speculation begin.

Can he, or can he not?

 

 

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