Roger Federer: 5 Reasons the Swiss Master Is Sliding Heading Into US Open

Marcus ChinCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2011

Roger Federer: 5 Reasons the Swiss Master Is Sliding Heading Into US Open

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    It would take but a brief foray into the YouTube clips of Roger Federer’s matches over the last few years to perceive the stark realities of his tennis and the state of the game at the highest level.

    He used to be Mr Reliable and Mr Win Everything. Mainly because, of course, for about four years from 2003-07, he did win everything. That is now no longer the case.

    From being the undisputed world No. 1 at the end of 2006, when he held a 4,000-point lead over Nadal (the equivalent today of an 8,000-point lead), he is the clear third-best player.

    It isn’t an insult, of course. For many world No. 3 would mean the world for their careers. But not for Roger Federer. He’s tasted divinity and will surely seek it out again.

    No diminution of any of the achievements of his rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic intended, it is nevertheless clear that Federer, as a tennis player, is no longer as perfect as he once was.

    What is different about the 30-year-old Roger, as opposed to the 25-year-old demigod? These are five reasons that hopefully provide some answers.

1. The Footwork Is No Longer as Sharp as It Once Was

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    It was an aspect of his game that was so deceptively unassuming for many years, but Federer’s footwork has certainly been a cornerstone of his game.

    He has a beautiful forehand, lovely volleys, graceful nearly everything else but without the swiftness and tidiness of footwork those would never have been possible. Federer used to make everything possible precisely because of his footwork, his court positioning, speed, were all key elements of his dominance.

    In 2008, it started to slip, and just to quickly examine his latest matches from 2010-2011, it's clear that the fluid ease which once characterised his movements across a tennis court have instead become the strenuous exertions, at times.

    The footwork just isn’t quite what it used to be.

2. The Serve Is No Longer as Clutch as It Once Was

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    Another hallmark of the Federer era was the serve. It was his forehand that really impressed and stirred the world to praise, but his serve that earned him the points he most wanted to win.

    2007, certainly, was arguably the Federer year of the serve. It was the year when things were beginning to change a bit, and new players were emerging. But he held off a hungry Nadal at Wimbledon, and an eager Djokovic at the US Open, largely through his serve.

    It was precise, struck the lines when it had to and simply had that grace that marked it as a champion’s own. Aces would come seemingly at will, and at critical moments. It would hit the lines with unerring and quirky consistency. Nothing seemed so simple as winning when Federer had his serve going.

    But nowadays it isn’t as sharp anymore. The aces come, the first-serve percentages aren’t too low, but it just seems that Federer’s lost a bit of that clutch. It used to be that magic difference that turned a break point against him into a match point for him.

    Maybe those glory days of the Federer serve were just that. Unusually lucky and fortunate ones and perhaps they were all just a dream.

3. The Forehand Just Isn’t the Monster It Used to Be

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    No talk of change in Federer can come without discussion of his most prominent weapon over the years, his forehand.

    It’s a bit of a tricky issue, however, because part of his forehand’s weakness had not been anything technical but rather that it has only spawned in the game so many other big forehands. Some, in fact, which are now even bigger than his own.

    Somewhat like his serve the forehand used to win him big and save him bigger. Matches would hinge on the single shot and more often, would just be overpowered by it.

    Yet again, it's that clutchness, that absolute faith in his forehand, that seems to have been lacking of late. Errors now come at moments when, in the past, some heroic revival seemed in the making.

    His forehand in recent years hasn’t been bad. It's just not been as brilliant as it used to be, and that is making all the difference.

4. The Desire: Winning Isn’t Quite in the Blood Anymore

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    Part and parcel of everything is that Federer has won pretty much all that there is to be won. There are few trophies left for him to add to his collection (the David Cup and Singles Gold Medal among them). Winning so much, however, might have left in its wake subtle hints at a champion’s fatigue.

    It is something which Federer himself has been quick to deny, and no one would fault him. The desire for more is very much still alive in him. For Federer it isn’t a question of having desire or will. It's more an issue of his ability to translate this into concrete match-winning moments.

    We saw this most starkly at the French Open, when he ended Novak Djokovic’s winning streak to book a place in the final. But the mundane story for most of the year has been one of opportunities come and gone, when he has seemed almost too desirous, wanting matches so badly, almost, that he has been "wanting to want" them, as Peter Bodo has it.

    It's just the reflection of a historical Federer. Someone who, having made so much of it already, is all too aware of what every point, every match, every tournament might mean for him. For the moment, age isn’t all the issue. It's his realisation of it, that’s making things harder to win.

5. The Others, Roger Isn’t All to Blame

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    Still, for all that one might attribute to Federer for his seemingly irretrievable descent down the rankings, something has to be said about the others. Decline is never simply one player’s fault.

    There was Rafael Nadal, at first, who ruined the two Calendar Grand Slam chances Federer had in 2006 and 2007, before going on to wreck havoc in much of Roger’s own kingdom too. He dethroned him for the first time and was ranked world No. 1 up to just a few months ago.

    Novak Djokovic joined in the fray, who effectively led a team of capable all-arounders and power-hitters bent on overthrowing Federer and Nadal. Andy Murray came into the scene in a big way in 2008, reaching the US Open final, while Juan Martin Del Potro made his presence felt in the biggest way possible by defeating Federer in the final the next year.

    There’s Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych, who caused him much trouble in 2010 and in 2011, most recently, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, who has backed up his unlikely victory at Wimbledon over Federer with another thriller at Montreal. It is bad news for Federer when his challengers can start earning even unlikely victories.

    So, maybe there is some consolation in it all. Roger Federer used to be the best, and many thought him unbeatable. But the last few years have changed such entrenched thinking, in quite remarkable ways.

    Time and defeat has instructed him in mortality, and the fact that his successor have proven themselves such worthy champions might have taught him, at least, that it wasn’t all just his fault, after all.