Roger Federer: Early Struggles Foreshadow Tough 2013 Campaign

Donald Wood@@Donald_WoodFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25:  Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand in his semifinal match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day twelve of the 2013 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

After losing to the relatively unknown Julien Benneteau in the quarterfinals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam last week (via ESPN), Roger Federer is losing a step, and the signs are becoming very evident.

As if the loss to Andy Murray in the semifinals of the Australian Open wasn’t enough to get fans and experts concerned about the veteran, the defeat at the hands of Benneteau proves Federer is off his game.

Focus, injury, age: whatever the problem is, there is a clear issue.

The questions now are what is causing these struggles early in the 2013 season and can those issues be corrected.

Federer is 31 years old (32 in August), and the skills he once possessed on the court are diminishing before our eyes. Even the greatest athletes lose to Father Time, and the tennis great may be falling victim as well.

The Swiss star has looked a step slow at times during the 2013 season, and while he once was able to have a rough start to a match and overcome the odds to win, he hasn’t been able to do so lately.

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Another factor that has plagued Federer is the unforced errors and double faults. While the 17-time Grand Slam champion was never the best at avoiding mistakes, he always used his superior talent to get him out of those self-made jams.

The talent is fading, and the ability to win the same way he did when he was younger is not possible anymore. The veteran must clean up his errors and the way he attacks the court if he wants to remain in the upper echelon of players.

In an intense field of men all trying to make their mark on the sport—Novak Djokovic, Murray and a returning Rafael Nadal—the best days are behind Federer. In order to not only compete with the best, but beat the top players in the world, the Swiss legend must come to terms with his diminishing skills and compensate for them.

If Federer is losing speed, he needs to make it up with his great serve and precise shots.

There are few tennis players who can morph their game this far into a career and remain successful, but if anyone has the talent, ability and willingness to work at making it happen, it's Federer.