When Roger Federer's ATP ranking slipped to No.4 recently, it kicked off yet another "write-off-Roger" season.
There have been quite a few of those already.
Back in 2008, Mats Wilander had prophesied that Roger would never equal Pete Sampras’s 14 grand slams. No wonder a majority of tennis experts kept him out of the pre-French Open buzz this year.
They didn't expect him to cut short Novak Djokovic’s marvellous run to reach the finals.
And I am sure, nobody enjoyed it better than Roger himself. The quiet force pulled itself on. But once he beat Djokovic, the tack changed instantly. The critics showered praise on the Swiss Master and even gave him a chance to beat his super-rival and dirt master Rafael Nadal. The scenario was no different after he breezed through J.W. Tsonga in the US Open quarters this year.
"Vintage Federer," "aging Federer" and "Roger, a spent force"—that's how cruel competitive sport can get.
How ephemeral fame is!
And how media contributes to this more than the player's age, form or his weakening knees! It forgets that a few defeats or a slip from the rankings ladder does not mean Federer's game is not potent enough to win a slam!
The key elements of Roger's game are still as effective as ever. His serve is one of the most unreadable in the history of tennis—with his ability to hit consecutive aces and win big points. His drop shots are as deceptive as ever. His forehand may look as if it's lost a bit of sting when compared with those of some younger guns.
But that's not the case on days when Roger gets going.
He may have become a fraction of a step slower, but he can still move fluently enough to rattle his opponents. He seems averse to long rallies, which works to the advantage of superb ground-stroke hitters like Nadal, Djokovic and del Potro.
However, it would be too facile to say he is incapable of playing long rallies. After all, his is the only style of play that delights by what it excludes as much as by what it selects.
I would pick out two instances to argue why Roger will spend more time playing professional tennis.
First, in the US Open finals, the rallies between Djokovic and Nadal were so long and harrowing that the first two sets saw each rally averaging 7.7 shots. As exciting as it was, the match revealed how such seemingly interminable rallies can weigh down players no matter how young, talented, spirited and buffed-up they are.
Secondly, compare this with how Roger controlled Novak in the semis. Roger kept the points so short that the average time for each point was just four seconds! The first set between them saw only a couple of long rallies.
Only Roger knows how to play so masterfully, hit aces at will, win the first two sets and then forget that he is "Roger Federer" in the next two. He comes back valiantly in the fifth, hits a multitude of winners and then squanders away two match points.
It was yet another weird loss that beats imagination, no matter how dispassionately you judge it.
That said, more than browbeating a 30-year-old (sounds as if it's 60), genius for what he cannot do, it makes more sense to focus on what he is doing at a time when professional tennis is demanding much more from players hitherto unheard of.
It behooves us to reflect on the fact that it’s just time’s relentless devouring, not Roger’s inability to raise his game to a higher level.
"What changes when you reach the last stretch is that you can’t content yourself with this. You want to prove to everyone and yourself that you can still win a Grand Slam, and for that you have to beat Rafa and Djokovic and Murray.
"I like all these changes. I prefer finding solutions to the new problems—it spices up the situation. And it would be sad to live this tennis player life in a totally routine way."
That’s Roger speaking (via The Sport Review).
There has to be a befitting exit to this wonderful saga of tennis, this amazing phenomenon called Roger Federer.
Anything less would mean destiny’s inability to give perfect finishing touches to a superbly crafted piece of art.
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