From 2004-2007, Roger Federer was untouchable at the Slams. In ’04, ’06, and ’07 he walked away with three of the four majors for the year, and in ’05 won two, and had match point for the third but lost.
But no reign is eternal, no empire lasts forever. The past two years have seen Federer’s dominance fade, as 2010 saw his streak of consecutive semifinal appearances broken and Roger add only one trophy to his case. 2011 has seen him lose matches up two sets to none and his collection stagnate at 16 slams.
This is the first time that he has not won one of four Grand Slams during a tournament year, but it won’t be the last. Roger Federer will never win another major, and these are the reasons why.
During his dominance, you would look at Roger’s draw and see only one opponent who could reliably stop him during a tournament: Rafael Nadal.
That is no longer the case.
Thomas Berdych, Jo Wilfried Tsonga, and especially Novak Djokovic have all become opponents that Roger and his fans dread seeing in his half of the draw, and it’s no longer guaranteed that he will beat two or three top-five players to win a tournament.
At the French Open this year he overcame Djokovic in the match of the tournament, but was unable to repeat against Nadal. There are now too many rivals that Federer is competing with for the throne.
In both of his last appearances, Roger was up two sets to love and in a dominant position to win the match. Both victories ended up eluding him.
In the past two US Opens, Federer has encountered Djokovic in the semifinals and had match points, but could convert neither time.
If Federer wants to win more majors, he has to close these matches out. After winning two brilliant sets both times, he let up and allowed his opponent to dictate play and work their way back into the match.
Unless he wins these matches that should be over in three sets, it’s hard to imagine him ever winning another Grand Slam.
Roger himself has noticed this in his press conferences, and it does nothing to help his chances.
Wimbledon is not as fast as it once was, and even the US Open has slowed down. The slower courts give more opportunities to his more defensive-minded opponents, and players like Djokovic and Nadal have been able to overcome him because of this.
Federer’s aggressive style of play is his hallmark, and with courts that aren’t playing as fast as they used to, his main weapons are becoming neutralized.
Federer has played in the era of tennis between the serve-and-volley days of Sampras, and the modern 20-plus groundstroke rally days of Djokovic and Nadal.
He utilizes a one-handed backhand, approaches the net, and plays an offensively-minded game, all of which are quickly becoming extinct in the new era.
Players like Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray are the new top contenders, using the defensive style of wearing opponents down, which is replacing the old style of blowing opponents away. Federer is trying to keep up, but his style is quickly becoming obsolete.
After their final at Roland Garros in 2006, Federer said of Nadal, “He's a fighter and he's a grinder, and he deserves to win here," and, “he is so strong on clay and played a really good match. He is so hard to beat on this surface."
After their final in 2011, he said, “I definitely thought that I got maybe a touch unlucky there and he got a touch lucky. There was a lot of close calls with the net, like right close to the lines plays and so forth.”
He also talked about luck after losing to Djokovic recently, and in most of his recent Grand Slam losses. What used to be acknowledging his opponent’s match play and skill has become Roger saying he got unlucky in his biggest opportunities.
This shows Roger placing a lot more emphasis on luck than on his own fault, and shows less belief in his game being superior and more belief in calls and fortune not going his way.
Many commentators have noticed this, and I agree with their assessment.
We all remember the days when Federer would nimbly run around his backhand and catapult an inside-out forehand past his opponent, but now he tries the same maneuver and is a step slower than he used to be.
What used to be a play that would set up winning opportunities has become one that puts him out of position and sets his opponent up for a winner down the line.
Both Djokovic and Nadal have realized this and now push him to his backhand until he tries to run around it, then punish him for it when he’s too far outside the center of the court.
Rafael Nadal never used to be a contender on hard courts. Then he improved his serve, flattened out his forehand, and made a run to his first US Open Championship in 2010 and a repeat this year.
Novak Djokovic was No. 3 in the world for what felt like a decade, always behind Federer and Nadal. But improved fitness and stronger mental fortitude paved the way to the best season he has had yet, and numerous victories over those same two opponents who used to own him.
Federer, however, is not the player he once was. He no longer has the same dominance nor inspires the same fear in his opponents, and while his opponents keep improving, age keeps catching up to him.
Few players win tournaments past age 30. We’ve all seen it in the news since Federer hit that landmark age.
While Federer is hardly a typical player, playing over 1,000 matches will take its toll on anyone.
It’s hard to believe that Federer will be able to keep winning Slams when his opponents are reaching their prime just as he is nearing the twilight of his career.
Players used to believe when they saw Federer as their next opponent that their run in the tournament was over. Now they probably are happier they’re facing him than Nadal or Djokovic.
Being the best player in the world inspires fear—there’s no question about that. But there’s also no question that Federer is no longer the best player in the world, and the fear that used to be associated with playing him is dwindling.
In 2008, when Federer was having a “bad” year by his standards, he still reached all the major finals.
This year he has only reached one.
If Federer wants to win more Grand Slams, he needs to give himself more opportunities. If he can get to the final, he’s usually the favorite considering his superb record in such situations.
But he keeps getting eliminated before then, leading me to believe that he never will win another title.