As I sit typing, drowning my sorrow with RHCP, the last few shots of the Federer vs Djokovic match flash by. The loss confirmed a fact long since avoided by his greatest and most devoted of followers and thought about, albeit secretly, and whispered quietly at the end of each damned match, all the while trying to run from something unstoppable, hoping against hope that the next match would save them and prove them wrong - the fall of Roger Federer.
I remember when I first saw Federer somewhere in 2004 in the US open - around the time when he first started building his legend, his dominance - though I was already two or three Grand Slams late - he had this long lock of hair and seemed to a very rough personality off court. That’s when he had that fierce but graceful spirit which would grow on to dominate the world for another 5 years. Though the hair got short, the elegance rose.
His style ~was~ is characterized by a wonderful versatility, brisk, elegant and impeccable, precise shots and a fluid whip-like forehand which according to McEnroe is “the greatest shot in our sport”. He is an expert volleyer and has a variety of shots at his disposal and his extreme fitness level rivals only that of fellow player Nadal. My favorite - the slice - which, whenever employed, feels as if its going to hit the net, but is still able to spin like crazy, is still one of his greatest shots. His one handed cross-court backhand and flicks of wrists are not to be forgotten.
And I bet others can point a lot more about him.
I remember the time when no one would doubt the outcome of a match when Federer stepped out into the court. It was as if applying an axiom to the match, a law which was set in the tennis universe. None but Nadal would break that rule and that too in the greatest of endeavors, in the 2006-08 Roland Garros and the Wimbledon of 2008, tennis’s greatest exhibition of art, power, heart and spirit. Ever.
But ever since 2009 , even though the year was not bad at all, a doubt has crept in the mind of his greatest followers - will this slice actually hit the net?why was that forehand too long? It was during this time when Federer would exult at the end of a difficult shot with a “come on!” as if requiring the extra boost - a fact never observed before, the past being a collection of calm brooding over each faulty shot, calculating the error - behaving as mortals would on the battlefield of the court. The number of faults increased, the net points converted slowly dropped and the break-point conversion was abysmal. Some few godly shots remained to appear - the winner between the legs- the “tweener”, the net pass and the improved footwork. And all the while I cringed and winced at each fault- trying to reprimand each break point lost, each seemingly callous error.
And as time progressed, more and more players sought out that gap in Federer’s armor; the right which had Nadal had earned by right of skill, endeavor and spirit was now being openly shared by each to his own end. The Portos, Nalbandians, Hewitts, Djokers, Roddicks, Murrays- each had his own share of the legend. Beware - I’m not disregarding their skill nor am i discrediting their victories - I am merely suggesting that other players had their victories only when Federer ~finally~ appeared mortal , in their sight. Their victories were completely earned to the ends of the best within them and but most importantly, not at the cost of Federer’s. And all the time my frustration grew, not knowing what was wrong.
And the road has been downhill since 2009 Us Open. It seems that the fierce spirit has now been doused - he never seems to be trying- trying to deliberately break serve, trying to hold onto those break points long enough to win. Although a few of the glimmers of his skill still remain, the man is but a pale shadow of his former self. I cringe at each slice now,every single-handed back hand, watching whether every other forehand isn’t too long, whether he is tired or not.
The preciseness seems to be lost, the courage no longer visible, the skills faltering, the elegance gone roguish - but it seems the mind still remains somewhat sharp.I have no idea why this decline happened - that time when he was without coach? Growing family (no hard feelings)?
Regardless, in any match, as always, I shall stand by him.