The failure of Roger Federer

Shivani Gupta
Shivani GuptaJul 24, 2015 | 10:58

The failure of Roger Federer

Roger Federer played a remarkable Wimbledon this year. He was crisp, elegant and powerful - all at the same time - on his favourite surface that made him a legend.

He was a man reborn. He looked fit, robust and hungry. It was his best chance to win a record eighth Wimbledon trophy and he perhaps could smell the victory, especially by the time he had beaten World No 3 Andy Murray in a "roll-back-the-clock" dominant and flawless display in the semi-final.


It looked like his time. You could feel it in your bones.

He looked like he felt it too. Calm and composed, not that he ever deviates much from this facade. And that this was happening when he is 33 years old, as everyone kept reminding us, was even more fabulous. This Wimbledon was different.

Except for the man he faced in the final yet again.

As magical as his display was against Murray, Federer came up miserably short against Novak Djokovic, World No 1 by several miles. The decimation was shocking.

The first two sets were keenly contested and who knows, had Federer won the first set tie-breaker, anything could have happened. He held on admirably to take the second in a tie-breaker.

The intensity was high as any match involving Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on the big stage is. But by the time Federer was serving to stay in the match at 3-5 in the fourth set, bearing a look of resignation, you wondered if the result could have been any different after all.

The fluency of Federer might have led his fans to believe he will claim his 18th grand slam, but the dominance of Djokovic was unfaltering. So is Federer at his best not good enough for Djokovic?


For the mean time, the answer is no. They fight incredible matches but in the end the result is the same.

Federer has the unique distinction of being a man everyone considers "the greatest of all-time", and yet face a complete reversal of fortunes against not just one but two nemeses.

First came Nadal, who did the unthinkable by beating the King of Grass at Wimbledon in the "finale of a lifetime" in 2008 in near darkness. As I watched that unbelievable final with hundreds who had stayed back on Henman Hill at the All England Club, we all knew it was the dawn of a new era. But even then, it wasn't possible to imagine the hold that Nadal would eventually have on the Swiss. Federer since has failed to beat the Spaniard in their four matches at grand slams till now, two finals and two semi-finals. Even in other big events, Rafa leads the head-to-head record 7-4 and 23-10 still overall.

No matter what Federer did, Rafa seemed to have his number. It almost began to seem that the Swiss had developed a mental block against his fiercest rival to date.


Then came Djokovic, who broke through the hegemony of both Federer and Nadal to be the supreme leader of men's tennis.

Against him, Federer continues to fail even more miserably. Since 2012, a year post Djokovic's breakthrough when he reeled off three of the four grand slams in 2011, Federer trails him 11-6. That means out of his total 20 losses against Djokovic, 11 have come just in the last three years and we still have a full hard court stretch to go in 2015. These losses include two Wimbledon finals now. They first played a match in 2006 and their overall record is 20-20. Federer's last slam came three years ago.

So why is it that while he manages to demolish almost everyone else still with his poise and poetic tennis, he fails to find answers for Djokovic? It's not like the Serb is not being beaten by others. Federer's compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka himself beat the "Djoker" in the French Open final this year when no one even gave him a chance.

Could it be another mental block? Or is Djokovic just too superior physically?

A bit of both. But twice now Federer has not been able to take back his top perch after being sidelined by a rising star. He is not the best when challenged by those who already have his mark. He dispatches all others with a hint arrogance, because he knows he is better than them. But has failed to overcome the challenge of both Nadal and Djokovic after they have already broken his stranglehold.

While Rafa has faded a bit in the last two years because of his diminishing fitness, he still managed to give Djokovic a good fight, maintaining a 23-21 record against the Serb. There is no doubt his control has subsided, but since 2012, Rafa's record is only slightly poorer at 6-7. Federer hasn't had a major fitness issue except for his back a couple of years ago.

Maybe because he is so rarely challenged with his simple flowing game, because he is so superior without being pushed, that he just doesn't know how to raise his level when he faces someone who is simply better. This is not to say he hasn't fought hard. He has raised his level many times, especially when facing Rafa or Novak.

But against all others, it's the man on the other side of the net trying, not the master.

Maybe he is so used to winning that it is not possible for him to strive like the lesser mortals.

Maybe there is no next level to his game. The Federer we have known, watched and loved over years is the supreme version of this "religious experience".

Age is not on his side but he is still such a joy to watch. So fit, so majestic. Just not the best anymore.

Last updated: October 13, 2015 | 18:56
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