The End of Their Reign? Roger Federer and Tiger Woods' Uphill Battle

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2010

Their fans glorified them, their competitors envied them, and the media couldn't help but illuminate their fortuitous friendship as two of the world's greatest athletes. 

Roger Federer and Tiger Woods undeniably overpowered and dominated their respective sports (tennis and golf) throughout the last decade.

But over the last year each star has ostensibly fallen from grace, begging the question: are we witnessing the end of their reign?

Woods' struggle does not exactly mirror that of Roger Federer's.

Woods endured an unrelenting and abusive media frenzy that exposed a bitter sex scandal, ultimately forcing Woods to disappear and recuperate. His re-entry into the world of golf has unveiled a palpably different Tiger Woods.

A missed cut and withdrawal from two of his five tournaments in 2010 have turned loyal fans into skeptics. But most of all, his less-than-remarkable return has revealed just how important the mental game is to golf success.

With Federer's loss Wednesday morning to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, it marks his second straight early departure from a Grand Slam tournament. His loss eclipsed a remarkable record of 23 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam semifinals. 

Federer also failed to reach the semifinals at the French Open earlier this year, which enabled Rafael Nadal's victory to officially bump Federer out of his coveted No.1 World Ranking.

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One can't help but wonder whether or not these two men will ever excel the way they once did.

Federer owns 16 Grand Slam titles, six Wimbledon victories (one behind Pete Sampras and William Renshaw), and 62 career titles (Sixth all-time).

Woods has earned 14 major championships (Second all-time), and has won 71 PGA Tour events (Third all-time).

There's no question that both Federer and Woods are Hall of Famers, but will their current stats become their final records?

Woods will likely compete on the PGA Tour for many more years; that's just the nature of golf. He has the luxury of time to bounce back, adjust, and reassert his dominance. Whereas tennis will continue to wear and challenge Federer's agile body to keep up with his sharp mind.

But why should it be a bad thing for the best golfer and tennis player in the world to continue to battle to be the best?

As Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) once said in the epic baseball film A League of Their Own , "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."

Sure, I marveled as Woods' trounced the field by 15 strokes at the US Open in 2000, just as I was inspired by Federer's three Grand Slam victories in 2006.

But no one is supposed to walk to the finish line.

It's humbling for the players to fail, and simultaneously conveys a necessary fact to their fans that these guys are human like the rest of us.

In fact, what makes this single moment in sports so thrilling is that the best players—like Woods and Federer—are having to prove their worth against new, emerging talent.

In 2010 alone, the golf world has been stunned by more than 10 winners, all of whom are under the age of 30.

Similarly, when a star like Federer gets knocked out of the quarterfinals, just like Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams did, it challenges those who beat them to demonstrate that they are not just underdogs, but true contenders.

Whether or not Woods or Federer can thrive again remains to be seen. But their grueling journey back to the level of success they once knew—and which you know they are ravenous for—will definitely be compelling.