Roger Federer winning at the French Open could end all the questions about his legacy... for good.
To the tennis world at large, Roger Federer is washed up, a has-been, over the hill and retirement bound. ESPN no longer runs Roger's early exits as surprising, SportsCenter-worthy developments. He's nearly 4,000 points out of first place. All signs point to Roger Federer being forced out of contention within the next couple years.
But the Swiss maestro has other thoughts.
In B/R's coverage leading up to the French Open, we will go over 10 reasons why Roger Federer has a greater stake in a victory at Roland Garros this year than any other player in the draw, and why he must win the French Open.
Roger Federer has found himself in an unfamiliar place as of late, a position that would best be summed up as "not No. 1." Federer's fall from No. 1 is old news by now, but No. 3? I feel like I had a daughter who grew up to be a stripper—like everything I stood for was flipped upside down. I'm sure Federer feels the same way.
While Federer's rabid fans count his remaining years of top-level competitive tennis on an amputee's fingers, at the very least, Federer should seek to regain some ground on the throne that seemed so rightfully his.
Federer himself has stated he would like to win more Grand Slams, to stay competitive in tennis and regain his No. 1 ranking, something that sounds daunting given the fact he is 4,000 ATP points out of first place. So a Roland Garros victory would, at the very least, put him in very good contention to retrieve his No. 2 ranking.
I know, I know. I'm fighting back tears as I type this. Shameless fanhood notwithstanding, I think I speak for the tennis world at large when I say it hurts to see Roger Federer falling off like this (but Rafa and Nole's brilliance as of late is mitigating the pain...not!).
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue and reportedly the inspiration for Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada, has taken a liking to Federer since his pre-Godhood years (c. 2002 U.S. Open) and has been spotted sporting her Federer at high-profile fashion shows, and watching her Federer emasculate all the lesser tennis players at the U.S. Open, while ever-so-innocently ignoring her dear Federer's "wife." I'll leave the girly, gossipy bits for you to look into, but my point is this:
Anna Wintour has a stare that would make lesser, off-the-rack Ralph Lauren-wearing hacks like myself burst into flames. Forget that Federer solicits her for fashion advice (solicitations that have gone sorely wanting on occasion), Federer and Wintour share a rapport that completely defies logic.
Why would a snobby, intimidating and heinously judgmental woman with monstrous expectations of others (and, actually, my favorite editor-in-chief of any publication—sorry, B/R) in Wintour be linked with the greatest player of all time in the snobbiest sport ever created?
Beats me. Either way, Federer must win the French Open (remember, France is the fashion capital of the world), lest he embarrass Ms. Wintour and upset her.
I'm pretty sure nobody wants that to happen.
Is Roger Federer nearing the end of his career?
Roger Federer might be running out of gas. And who can blame him, when gas is an exorbitant $4.50 a gallon here in the States? Gas is expensive whether you're worth $150 million, like Federer is, or nothing, like me. Federer needs to prove to those of us stateside that he still has gas in the tank, to restore faith in crude oil mongers the world over.
But seriously, I miss my Federer highlights on SportsCenter from obscure ATP tournaments 95 percent of tennis fans don't give a flying squirrel about. It makes tennis fun, and trust me, tennis needs the audience.
That said, let's be serious for a moment (I promise, I'll only be serious a few more times until the last slide). We are witnessing the end of an era. Federer doesn't realize it, because he doesn't exactly live for the competition.
Federer, like Sampras before him, lives to perfect his craft. It's a way of transcending competition that is inwardly focused and highly contingent upon accurate self-evaluations. No one can know what Federer is capable of except Roger Federer, and for a while, that was the reason for his success. But is Federer losing that faculty of self-evaluation? Has he been so steeped in trying to perfect his own game that he is in denial of the wear and tear on his own body?
Federer's evaluation of his opponents is in a league all his own. He could teach a seminar on how to use one's own strengths in a way that plays to an opponent's weaknesses. However, if Federer's ego is getting in the way of these evaluations and he continues to make bewildering admissions to the public that he will "definitely be happy to take two, three, four days off" prior to Roland Garros, this could spell the end.
When Federer says he needs a couple extra days off to prepare, he better show on the court that he can still be 90 percent of the Federer he once was and make his mark in this tournament, or his fans (and the tennis community at large) will lose faith in his viability as a contender...for good.
In 2003, Roger Federer was much too busy trying to win Grand Slam tournaments to care about his personal appearance, as evidenced by this Master's Cup photograph taken in 2003.
Since 2003, Roger Federer has won at least one Grand Slam event, every year. Tennis careers aren't known for their staggering longevity, yet this man has proven to be the best tennis player on earth at least once a year for seven years running. To put it in perspective, in 2003:
*Kobe Bryant faced sexual assault charges (he has since recovered, won a league MVP, won two NBA Finals MVPs and then managed to completely fall off against the Dallas Mavericks)
*President George W. Bush's approval rating was 70 percent (approval, not disapproval)
*John Kerry was still the senior senator from Massachusetts...and not yet an also-ran
*Saddam Hussein was still alive (as well as bin Laden...I think)
*Crude oil was $23 a barrel
Yeah, sure Federer's won three in a year a couple times since then (big deal), but in order to keep this streak alive into 2011 (and break his tie with Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg for consecutive years with at least one Grand Slam victory), he needs to win one of them. Why not the French?
Can you tell I'm running out of reasons until we get to the serious part? As is always the case with championships, more is better, even for someone who's set the all-time record for Grand Slam titles in men's singles history. And yes, even for someone who is considered the greatest to have ever played the game.
Seventeen would make the record seem virtually insurmountable; then again, you could say the same for 18, 19 or 20. It's already been established that the record is near-unbreakable. With younger talent on the rise and Nadal and Djokovic in the throes of their prime, it's possible Federer may never win another Grand Slam again.
Then again, with Nadal's style already taking a significant toll on his body (being the closest active player to Federer's record, with nine Grand Slams), it's unlikely Federer's record is in any immediate danger. But you never know. Federer's probably thinking, "Twenty, anyone?"
Federer's fans are known for their incredible stamina, oftentimes cheering into the final rounds of many a tournament.
Let's face it: it's not often (but it is a recent development) that Federer's fans watch him go into a tournament not named Roland Garros expecting him to lose. What I mean is, Federer fans expect dominance. They expect him to win, every time.
This year, Federer is the biggest underdog to win Roland Garros. Why? Not only is Federer numerically inferior to Nadal on clay in every meaningful department (even the topspin on his forehand tops out 500 rpm lower than Nadal), but Novak Djokovic has made meaningful strides towards a (possibly brief) run at the top of the tennis world.
Federer is finally—after seven years of dominance and jockeying for the G.O.A.T. crown—an underdog. The situation separates the fair-weather Federer followers from the diehards; those who love his mellifluous forehand motion, his throwback backhand and his trademark grin, and are also willing to look past his deteriorating footwork and waning stamina.
Nothing quite says "I'm Roger Federer, and you should quit tennis for the rest of your life," like Roger Federer's trademark grin.
Novak Djokovic is one of the most polarizing...You know what? Forget it. If I was going to try to be professional, I would have done it four slides ago. Early in his career, Djokovic was a walking, talking, living stereotype of everything laypeople hate about tennis players.
He was a fussy, borderline-hypochondriac who reminded me more of my ex-girlfriends than anything resembling a proper man. He thought his impersonations of other players were funny until he realized the only thing he couldn't impersonate was skills and winning.
And then something crazy happened: Nole started reeling off victories like he was the Michael Schumacher of tennis, scaring the hell out of everybody with his trademark, pimp-strong backhands, much-improved court coverage and footwork.
Djokovic kicked off his year the right way with a devastating Australian Open victory over that spineless Scot Andy Murray, and then ousted Nadal on clay 6-4, 6-4 in the Italian Open like it was no big deal.
It's a huge deal, because Djokovic is in line to take the world No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal. While nothing gives Federer fans more pleasure than seeing Nadal ousted from his No. 1 ranking, I think I speak for Federer fans as a whole when I say they'd prefer Nadal at No. 1 over Djokovic (actually, I think Federer fans would prefer Federer at No. 1 so that they can stop staring at the ceiling at night).
Either way, Federer needs to win to wipe that smug grin off of Djokovic's face...and bring back his own, infinitely more handsome smug grin (pictured).
This picture hurts my soul.
I don't even think I need to write anything here, but for the record: Federer has never, and the Rock means never (sorry), beaten Rafael Nadal at the French Open.
A victory at Roland Garros against Nadal would basically cement Federer's all-time greatest status. Can you imagine having the most illustrious tennis career in the history of the sport, yet you've never defeated your rival on his favorite surface? It'll end every question about Federer's greatness if he manages to defeat Nadal; forget winning, if he could just beat Nadal at Roland Garros, I'm pretty sure Federer will be able to tell his kids, "See, Daddy was the greatest tennis player who ever lived, and Uncle Nadal was a distant second."
Federer's name was synonymous with perfection in tennis for four solid years, but he always had this giant bone to pick with Nadal. The time has come. If Federer can win the French Open and defeat Nadal himself (remember, to complete his career Grand Slam he defeated Soderling in the final), he will essentially exorcise all his clay-court demons.
Federer exits Wimbledon with a rare loss. He has a 90.16% win percentage at the All England Club, and is tied with Bjorn Borg for most consecutive Wimbledon Titles, with five.
In tennis, 30 spells death for all but those with playing styles that truly endure. Pete Sampras won his last U.S. Open at 31; Andre Agassi won his last Australian at 32. Federer turns 30 in June; his days at, or near, the top are numbered. Aware of it or not, Federer's playing career will be over as soon as his reflexes begin to deteriorate, his feet lose even a half step and fatigue starts becoming big enough a factor that he starts resting between Slams.
Did you notice anything about that last sentence? Half of those things already apply to the Swiss maestro, and the prevailing fear among his camp is that his swan song could come as soon as next season.
I've said it in past articles, but Federer has a playing style that is highly conducive to a long career. That said, he's had a long career. Thirteen years in Slam contention, seven years in which he won at least one Grand Slam and a four-year run of dominance that goes down as the finest four years ever submitted from a male tennis player in the modern era.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, the dish will not satisfy Federer at this year's Roland Garros.
No one understands the implications of this French Open better than Roger Federer. My theory, despite his press conferences suggesting the contrary, is that Federer knows his time is coming. He may speak in terms of more future Grand Slam titles, or even consider extending his career well into his 30s.
If Federer wins the French Open and Wimbledon this year, I have a feeling he will retire, on top. It only seems right. Federer may have competitive tendencies. He may care about the nature of competition, but he seems more in the line of Sampras in the sense that he cared more about perfecting his own game than beating any single opponent.
It's the reason why he loses to the same people every time, and it's the reason why he sounds so standoffish after losses. He is not seething with rage against his opponent; he always speaks most graciously of them. He is more upset at himself.
Only Roger Federer knows what the magic number for his retirement is; and even then, we can't be so sure. We can be sure about one thing, though: Roger Federer wants to win this French Open. He wants it as a mark of personal pride.
No one knows about Federer's unfinished business with Nadal at Roland Garros better than Federer. It would be a win for Federer's personal pride over anything, and that's the reason above all reasons that this French Open matters.
Here's to a great tournament, and for those of you who have remained faithful to Federer in recent times, and to Federer himself if he's reading this: Best of luck.