“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same” — Rudyard Kipling
Having tasted enough of the "triumph" that Kipling refers to, it seems senseless and ignorant to believe that Roger Federer still has something to prove to the tennis fraternity. Unfortunately for the Swiss maestro, he seems to have fallen into a labyrinth of contradictions from which it is becoming increasingly difficult to extricate himself.
If (as he claims), his game is as fine-tuned as it could be, then what explains the losses that have been steadily piling up on his stellar resume?
Could it be the infamous slower half-step that accompanies the gradual aging of tennis professionals?
Maybe it’s the expected lack of motivation or the oft debated "breach" in his "aura of invincibility."
The logical thinker would tend to lean towards the fact that Federer's losses have come against players whom he had run riot over with colossal personal winning streaks over the past few years (read: Blake, Berdych, Davydenko, Gonzalez, Soderling, Hewitt, etc.).
Might we at least give each of them a bit of credit for finally figuring Federer out at the smaller tournaments?
Either which way you choose to look at it, Roger Federer’s "free pass" ends now –the moment Wimbledon 2010 starts.
Because it’s his comfort zone , his territory and his surface of choice. Since the turn of the century, each Wimbledon has meant something significant to Federer.
In 2001, in a dramatic fourth-round five-setter between youth and experience, he ended Sampras’s streak of four consecutive and seven overall Wimbledon titles, thereby setting the stage for himself to eventually take over center court.
A year later as the seventh seed, he suffered a significant setback as he fell in the first round to Mario Ancic, who incidentally would be the last man to beat Federer on grass for the next six years!
In 2003, by capturing his first Grand Slam and playing an almost flawless tournament, he proved that he belonged on the biggest stage of them all. For the next two years, he defended his crowns for a three-peat, thus ensuring that this generation would be his and not Roddick’s.
Subsequently, in 2006 and 2007, he managed to ward off a hungry Nadal and retain his territorial advantage, just as Nadal had done to him on clay.
And although his reign finally ended amidst an eerie darkness surrounded by blinding camera flashes in 2008, Federer displayed incredible temerity the following year to pull off a nail-biter against a possessed Roddick in the 31st game of the fifth set.
Six titles—five of them consecutive—as well as seven consecutive finals! The only thing worth debating about such an achievement is where it stands next to Sampras’s own stellar Wimbledon record.
And we must hold back that conversation until the last word in Federer’s glorious Wimbledon chapter is finally written.
As the top seed at the tournament this year, he can ill-afford one of those first week upsets that (should it happen) would inevitably ignite talks of his decline all over again. It’s not as if he must win the entire tournament, but falling early will have a more significant repercussion for his confidence than failure at any other tournament can have.
Speculatively, if Federer wins, his Wimbledon legacy will have transcended Sampras’s and he could then comfortably lay claim to the title of being the all time greatest on grass.
Otherwise, if he loses early within the first few rounds, there will be more than just damage to his aura. It would draw parallels with Sampras’s 2001 defeat, following which he never won another Wimbledon crown.
It would also leave Federer without a grass court title in ages, fueling debate about his hitherto unquestioned ability to consistently perform at Grand Slams.
Roger Federer has probably met more with Triumph than with Disaster, but he has experienced the latter all the same. Every time this has happened, the genius in him manages to execute a flawless two weeks of Grand Slam tennis and take home the title.
At Wimbledon, just like in the 2008 US Open and in this year at Melbourne, Federer should want to pull off something special, irrespective of who lays waiting in his path.
His fans demand more, and, more importantly, his legacy somehow demands more too.
Make no mistake about it—if there is a moment waiting to be defined at SW19 this year, Roger Federer will be the first to try and define it.