Tag Archives: Steffi Graf

The Autumn of Roger Federer.

4 Sep

First things first. I’m the biggest Federer fan you can imagine. Which means, if you were born like me in the 70’s, quite a lot. I grew up watching McEnroe, Connors and Lendl duelling each other even before we saw an unprecedented tennis boom in Germany with Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. And while I was never nuts about Boris since it was usually painful to watch his childish behaviour on and off court, I spent most of the 90’s cheering for Agassi. Andre was always my hero, even though Sampras beat him most of the times terribly. Then Sampras aged fast and Agassi came back from the dead just to battle in the autumn of his career with this new kid from Switzerland.

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At first, I didn’t take Federer seriously. Ok, he beat Sampras in 2001’s Wimbledon, but everyone had its lucky day. He lost the next day to Henman (Tim Henman, seriously!) and didn’t win anything the next year. But then Roger had his breakthrough in 2003 with the first Wimbledon victory. I changed my mind about Federer after the US Open Quarterfinal against Agassi in 2004. I so wanted Andre to win the Open just one more time, but this Swiss played tennis from another planet.

It was chess on court, executed with the most elegance tennis had ever seen. Another generation had taken over. Federer reminded me of Sampras just that he won the rallies from the baseline. The second half of decade was Roger’s to win. Like no other player before, he dominated the scene. It’s fair to say Federer is the best player of all times, most stats – including 17 Grand Slams Titles – will back-up this thesis.

But nothing lasts forever. First it was Nadal, then Djokovic, then even Murrary – and now Robredo at the US Open. A straight 3 set-loss in the 4th round that seemed unthinkable just a year ago when FedEx still reigned the world as #1. I’m not entirely surprised, though. When I finally watched Roger on the Centre Court of Rothenbaum at the Hamburg Masters this summer, he reminded me very much of Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe or Ivan Lendl in their final year on the tour. Federer’s strokes are still brillant to watch – if you are looking for shots from the playbook, watch Roger. Just skip every second one, which he missed like I have never seen him before.

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It was painful to watch the former  #1 struggle so badly against the German #3, Florian Mayer, #45 of the world, who in Federer’s best days had won a game or two at best. This July evening, Mayer won the 2nd set, leading 5-1 and even 5-4 in the third before Roger pulled his act together one more time like he did so often in his career, just the opponents changed. While in his best times, the only surface to beat Roger was clay,  it seems these days as if every match on clay could be Roger’s last. The next day he lost to qualifier del Bonis in two tie-breaks. I was not surprised. This would have not happened one or two years ago.

There is never such a thing as a happy ending in sports. All great athletes retire way after they had reached their peak. But some declines are faster than others. Roger’s acclereated this year faster than expected. He battled with Nadal for years for the crown. Then Djokovic came from nowhere. Now even Andy Murray surpassed him clearly. And due to the two month break in spring and the early loss in Wimbledon even David Ferrer, Berdych and Del Potro did so. It wouldn’t surprise to see Roger dropping out of the Top Ten by the end of the year.

If Federer continues to play for another 2-3 seasons like he hopes for, still hitting hard with 35, his last years on the tour could turn into one long lesson in humility. Federer has always proven to be such a player – very humble and generous. Even after his unflattering quarter final victory against Mayer, he paid tribute to the German. I’ve seen no other athlete more humble than the Swiss.

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Still, it hurts to see FedEx in free fall these days. Federer, like no athlete in the last decades, dominated his sport. He defined modern tennis – more than Sampras, Lendl or McEnroe. Federer was the complete player. 2013 Federer transformed into something else: An aging giant whose time has come. At some point this summer an unknown feeling emerged watching the Swiss perfectionist: You started to feel sorry for Federer.

While there’s nothing terribly wrong about his game these days – he just needs way too many chances and produces one unforced error after another. He’s a different player by now than the one that won Wimbledon seven times. All these straight losses against players like Tsongas, del Potro, Robredo, players he dominated for a decade easily, and then those unexplainable defeats by no names like Benneteau, Stakhovsky, Brands – players on the tour you ain’t even heard of. Suddenly, it’s getting terribly late in the game…

While I do think, it will be tough to grab another Grand Slam title, history has proven often enough, there’s one last punch left. I still think, Roger could make it into a Grand Slam final one last time. Just like Agassi did in 2005’s US Open when he was already 35. Almost a decade later, at 32, Federer is following Agassi’s path. In the end, that might be as much as there’s left for FedEx. And yet – just how lucky we have been to witness the most amazing player ever in our time.

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