Roger Federer has begun the fierce descent from champion to has-been. The signs are there. Most notably the fact that he has gotten worse as the season has gone.
This is not due to injuries, unless you consider aging an injury. This fact is going to be on full display when Federer makes an early exit at the US Open.
The first sign is Federer's decline in foot speed. It has become increasingly evident as the season has worn on. He just can't cover as much court as he used to. Of course, he rarely used to have to cover as much court as he does now. And that leads to the most alarming sign of all.
Federer is losing his pinpoint accuracy.
Federer's deft touch meant that in the past it was his opponents that were scrambling while he attacked the court like a surgeon. That is not the case now.
Just take a look at Federer's last match. In the Western & Southern Open, the third-seeded Federer was ousted in the quarterfinals by Tomas Berdych in straight sets 6-2, 7-6 (3). It was the third time in their past four matchups that Berdych has defeated the once-unbeatable Federer.
In this match, Federer struggled to gain control of his ground strokes. His patented pinpoint accuracy left his stroke and this left Federer completely vulnerable. Over the years, Federer's accuracy has led him to remarkably efficient victories. With that accuracy fading, his diminishing court coverage will leave him vulnerable.
Berdych is overpowering Federer. I believe Federer's loss of accuracy is tied to his loss of quickness. He is not able to get into as good of position for returns, and the split-second loss of his reaction time leaves him struggling to catch up.
It is not a knock on Federer that he is declining. It is expected. Federer is 30 years old, and in terms of tennis, he is an old 30. His run of dominance has meant countless more matches for him over the past 10 years than for any other player.
Federer is still an impressive 42-11 this season, but that is only impressive for mortals. For Federer, it is subpar.
The match with aging is one even Federer cannot win. He has had a great run, but it is over.