Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim (author of the fantastic book Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played) wrote this in his post on SI.com:
“Faulty Federer falls. Both the gleeful Federer buriers and concerned Federer loyalists were out in full force this weekend. Their man dropped still another match to Novak Djokovic, a shank-o-rific Dubai final that saw Federer lose 6-3, 6-3. While Djokovic played stellar, complete tennis once again, Federer did himself no favors, framing shots, hitting destinationless backhands and finding few answers when Djokovic posed the difficult questions. Federer is now like a stock whose beta/variance is starting to widen. He’s still capable of greatness — that London win over Nadal wasn’t even 100 days ago. Yet the dismal matches are becoming more common. Realistically, we knew the ride couldn’t go on forever. And Federer’s performance is in keeping with the life cycle of a champion. The consistency is the first thing to go. The old weaknesses, such as they are, start to surface. (In this case, the drive backhand.) There’s still magic left in the wand, but it’s not automatically discharged. I directed Federer fans to the 2002 U.S. Open in which Pete Sampras, struggling with his game and arriving with little momentum, found the touch for seven matches. I think that’s pretty much what we’re looking at for the rest of the journey. Know he’s capable of greatness; know it’s no longer a given.”
Being a Fed fan, the natural thing would be to defend, to say that Federer has slumped before to come back even stronger. If you look at the recent results of Federer, he is not doing badly though. He won the ATP Masters final, reached the semi’s in AO (where he lost to an amazing Djokovic) and has beaten all lesser opponents pretty easily in 2011. The only problem for Federer has been Djokovic and the Serb has been a major problem for anyone he’s faced across the net recently.
So is this erratic loss a tribute to Djokovic and a changing of the guards (everybody’s using this expression it seems)? No, I don’t think so. The guard in this case is not Federer, it’s Nadal, and I think Djokovic has a lot more to prove before becoming nr 1 in the world. Also, Federer does seem much more relaxed about his game (not necessarily a good thing) and I think a loss in an ATP 500 tournament to a good player doesn’t really hurt as much as it used to. He picked up some ATP points, won some money, stayed in one of his favorite places on the world map and got some training for the upcoming Masters.
This attitude you can criticize of course, because it doesn’t really become a top sportsman to be content and relaxed, but on the other hand you have to understand it with the career Federer is having (it is also somehow related to his playing style, which is so confidently relaxed it looks nonchalant). The you can’t win it all-attitude has got to get to you when you in fact have won them all.
So I although I think Wertheim has a point in that we can’t expect Federer to win a slam without losing a set anymore, I think it’s a bit over-the-top to compare it to Sampras who actually was very tired of tennis at the end of his career and just wanted a final triumph before he put the racket in the bag for good. In contrast I think Federer enjoys the game more now that he is allowed to lose (again, not necessarily a good thing) and that his love for the game and the sport together with his supreme talent should give him at least two more slams and a few nice victories before it’s time to take on the ol’ legend status and start hitting balls with the twins.
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