At 37 years of age, with a second consecutive fourth round exit in a Grand Slam, and now ranked outside of the top 5, questions on the future of Roger Federer on the tour, only become louder.
After two successful Australian Open runs, where Federer added to his Grand Slam count, the Swiss maestro lost in four tight sets, to rising Greek sensation, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Since his return from injury, at the 2017 Australian Open, at the age of 35, Roger Federer has managed his schedule and fitness closely, to remain fresh, and in contention for the tournaments that he has participated in.
2017 was a phenomenal year, with two Grand Slams, and three ATP Masters 1000 title. Skipping the clay court season favorably contributed to the workload management. The following year also got off to a phenomenal start with 17 consecutive wins, the Australian Open title again, and a return to world number one at Rotterdam.
The Sunshine Masters saw a change in the trend, that was attributed to fatigue and exhaustion, and overshadowed by the Melbourne Slam, and the number 1 ranking.
Losing the Indian Wells finals to Juan Martin del Potro, after having match points on serve, and an early loss to qualifier Thomas Kokkinakis in Miami, were atypical. As the year progressed, there were more losses than one would have liked. What was more telling was the nature of the loss, and the opponent in question.
Wimbledon and US Open losses against Kevin Anderson, and John Milman, after leading in both matches, and having match point against Anderson for a straight set win, were out of the ordinary for a frontrunner like Federer. Losses to Borna Coric at Federer’s favored grass court tournament at Halle, and the Shanghai Masters, did not bode well for the Swiss’ confidence.
Factors such as the first serve percentage, number of times service broken, and unforced errors on the majestic forehand, did not paint a favorable picture either. And, more so, that all these disappointing Federer losses were against opponents, not called Rafael Nadal, or Novak Djokovic.
If one may recall, the first glimpses of the inability to close when ahead, and losing the invincible frontrunner tag, were visible against Belgian David Goffin at the ATP Tour Finals, in London in 2017.
Fast forward to the present, and one has to ask the question – What Lies Ahead?
One can never rule out the Swiss legend’s continued success, but as one takes stock of the circuit in the foreseeable future, it looks uphill.
The present is different to 2017; largely spurred by the invincible return of Novak Djokovic, and the emergence of the next generation of tennis. Djokovic and Nadal remain as strong as ever, and the young crop, like Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipa, Borna Coric, and others, are not only performing consistently on the tour, but have all recorded victories against Federer, in the last few months.
For someone of Federer’s stature, who has been second best to none for large periods in his career, continuously playing tournaments, where he no longer remains in contention for the latter stages, is not optimal.
Having announced his preference to play the clay court season this year, tennis fans and pundits, are speculating that this may well be the last year on the tour. The Uniqlo contract, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics notwithstanding, 2019 is as good a time as any to call time, on what has been a truly magnificent career.
Over the next 12 months, the circuit will get more competitive, with the next generation (hopefully) maturing further, and Nadal and Djokovic still remaining as potent as ever, for the time being.
More so, Federer will be a year older, and those legs will find it harder in the long tussles, week after week.
A relaxed visit to Roland Garross one last time, followed by another shot at SW19, where he will always be a contender, and another trip to New York, where luck has eluded him for a decade now, will be an ideal way to end his Grand Slam career.
Shortly thereafter, Laver Cup 2019, in his home country of Switzerland, with his peers, idols and the next generation, will be the ideal setting for one final appearance, and send-off to a career that will leave with it timeless memories, highlights, agonies and ecstasies, and more importantly the ultimate ambassador the sport, or any sport has seen.
“Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happened.”