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Is Federer Gone – Can The Swiss Maestro Win Another Slam?

Roger Federer has had the most illustrious career in the history of the sport. At 37 years of age, the Swiss Maestro has accomplished just about everything the sport has to offer. He’s won 20 Grand Slams, 27 Masters 1000 titles, and been at the number one ranking for a total of 310 weeks – including 237 consecutive weeks at the peak of the sport.

The Swiss got off to a fast start this year, but his form has dropped off following the clay season, and with so many concerns about his playing and his form, it begs the question: can Federer win another Grand Slam?

Today, I’ll take a look at Federer’s year thus far and try and figure out whether the Swiss Maestro has finally succumbed to Father Time.

His Year So Far

Australian Open

Federer started the year off strong. After winning the Hopman Cup with his compatriot, Belinda Bencic, Roger headed into the Australian Open as the defending champion and the number two seed. Federer was one of the favorites to win in Melbourne, and he started the tournament off strong.

After two straight set wins against Alijaz Bedene and Jan-Lenard Struff, Roger found himself against an old friend – Richard Gasquet. The Swiss easily dispatched Gasquet, strengthening his record against the Frenchman to 17-2.

In the scorching heat of the Melbourne sun, Federer faced off against young Hungarian, Marton Fucsovics – winning in straight sets and producing a couple of highlight reel plays in the process. The win saw Federer into the quarterfinals without dropping a set, and he was set to play Berdych – the same player who Federer had demolished just a year prior.

This year, it was a bit tougher. Federer fell behind early in the first set, but after salvaging a couple of set points, the Swiss Maestro pulled it back to win the first set tiebreaker. It was a relatively routine win after that, Federer taking the next two sets 6-3, 6-4.

All eyes were on Novak Djokovic to set up a semifinal matchup with Federer, but in a shocking turn of events, Hyeon Chung upset the Serbian – earning himself praise from fans and critics, many likening the Korean to Nole himself.

It was set up to be a battle between the Next Gen and the old guard, but the fight ended quickly. Chung was forced to retire, his feet covered in huge blisters (If you wish to see just how bad they were, Google it at your own discretion.)

Federer had found himself in the Australian Open final once again, and he had done so without losing a single set. Cilic, who had taken out Rafa, was set to be his opponent, and after a poor Wimbledon final, fans were itching for a more competitive matchup.

At the beginning, it looked like Federer was going to steamroll his way to another Grand Slam title. The Swiss took the first set 6-2, and Cilic was completely discombobulated, unable to keep a rally going. But Cilic stormed back, winning the second set. Federer and Cilic would trade the third and fourth sets respectively, and fans were in for a treat – the second straight Australian Open final heading to a fifth set.

With Cilic holding all the momentum, Federer needed to get back on track quickly. And he did, breaking the Croatian’s serve in the second game of the set. Federer would get a double break to go up 5-1, and he would serve out the match for his 20th Grand Slam title.

Federer may have faltered in the final, but he still looked on top of the tennis world; he had just passed an incredible milestone, and it looked like he was ready for another incredible year.

Rotterdam & Return To Number One

After Rafa was knocked out in the quarterfinals of Melbourne, Federer was in the position to reclaim the number one ranking yet again. Seizing the opportunity, Federer decided to enter Rotterdam; in order to return to number one, Federer would have to reach the semifinals. He got to the quarterfinals with relative ease, winning both matches in straight sets.

He would face Robin Haase for the number one ranking, and after losing the first set, the Federer fan base found themselves in panic. Roger was not worried; he took the following two sets 6-1, 6-1. Federer would end up winning the tournament – decimating Grigor Dimitrov in the final.

Just like that, Fed found himself back on top of the rankings, and everything was looking good for the rest of the hard court swing.

Sunshine Double Defense… Or Not.

Heading into Indian Wells and Miami, Federer looked like the best player in the world. He was a huge favorite, and after winning the Sunshine Double in 2017, many were eager to see if he could do it again.

Yet again, Federer got off to a fast start. In Indian Wells, Roger reached the semifinals without losing a set – defeating Delbonis, Krajinovic, Chardy, and Chung (again). Federer had not played perfectly, but he was more than good enough to blow past his opponents.

The semifinal was where Federer first started to struggle. He dropped the first set to Borna Coric before winning the next two 6-4, 6-4. Dropping a set wasn’t so terrible in itself, but it was the way in which he played that raised concerns about the Swiss’ form. Federer was missing left and right; his first serve had failed him and he wasn’t able to break down Coric’s defenses. Roger got through playing a much more conservative game, but alarms were already sounding.

Federer did not necessarily play a poor match in the final. He lost the first set to Del Potro before grabbing the second 10-8 in the tiebreaker. He would eventually succumb to the Argentinian in a third set tiebreaker. But as had become the trend in recent years, Federer failed to convert on two match points, making some questionable decisions in the process. Federer had lost the final, and just like that, his aura of invincibility had disappeared too.

Federer’s performance in Miami was even more concerning. The world number one crashed out in the first round to Thanasi Kokkinakis. He looked flat from the very beginning; his footwork had disappeared, and his typical aggressive game lacked the bite and power that it usually did. Fans attributed it to fatigue, but it would prove to be much more than that.

Federer had lost the number one ranking, and after announcing that he would skip the clay court season for the second straight year, he would head into the grass season with his momentum gone.

Grass Court Struggles

Despite Federer’s poor showings at Indian Wells and Miami, confidence was high in Federer’s return to the grass courts. After all, the Swiss was the greatest grass court player of all time, and he had won Wimbledon comfortably just a year prior.

That confidence was soon confirmed after a solid showing in Stuttgart. Federer had suffered a shock defeat to Tommy Haas in the 2017 Stuttgart Open, but he was more prepared this time. Taking out some great grass court players, Federer defeated Mischa Zverev, Guido Pella, Nick Kyrgios, and Milos Raonic en route to the title. Just like that, all the worries about Federer were temporarily gone; the Swiss was back on his favorite surface, and his serve looked untouchable.

That invulnerability didn’t last long. Federer struggled from the get-go in Halle – his preferred grass court tournament. After defeating Bedene, Federer was pushed to three sets against Benoit Paire, and he had to save a match point before finally fighting off the Frenchman. His matches against Matthew Ebden and Dennis Kudla both progressed in straight sets, but the wins were almost entirely dependent on Federer’s serve.

Meeting a commendable opponent in the final – Borna Coric – Federer finally had a challenge on his hands. His serve wasn’t enough to get him past the young Croatian, and Roger fell in three, Coric exacting his revenge for the Indian Wells loss. Federer lost the number one ranking, and he headed into Wimbledon on an uneasy note.

The draw seemed to be quite favorable for Roger. He had managed to avoid Novak, and after Cilic crashed out early, Federer just had to get through the remaining big servers to reach the final. Federer looked more than comfortable in the first four rounds, breezing past all of his opponents – Lajovic, Lacko, Struff, and Mannarino.

Things were looking up for the Swiss, and if he could just get past Kevin Anderson and Raonic/Isner, he would be in a great position to defend his title at the All-England Club.

After he took the first two sets against the South African, the match looked quite comfortable for Roger. He had managed to break down Anderson’s serve, and he just needed one more set to advance to the semifinals. The Swiss found himself with a match point on Anderson’s serve, but he was unable to convert. Just like that, the whole match was turned on its head.

Anderson broke in the next game and would serve it out for the third set. A struggling Federer was unable to gain any ground on Anderson’s serve in the fourth set, and just like that, we were tied at two sets apiece. In an epic final set, the two players traded service games. Federer was the first to slip up. At 11-11, Federer was broken, giving the South African a chance to close out the match. He did exactly that.

Federer had gone from being up two sets to love with a match point to a dramatic exit in London. One mental lapse and the entire match had slipped completely out of his control. The king of the grass court had been dethroned, and Federer would have to set his sights on the US Open if he wanted to win a major.

Cincinnati Woes & New York Disappointment

After his poor performance at Wimbledon, expectations were relatively low for Federer heading into the second American swing. He was capable of greatness, but serious concerns had begun to sprout about the Swiss’ form. He certainly didn’t look like his old self, and with Rafa and Novak returning to peak form, Federer would have to reach sky-high levels if he wanted to have a chance at the upcoming US Open.

Federer decided to skip the Rogers Cup – not defending his finals appearance the previous year – in favor of the Cincinnati Masters, a tournament he had already won 7 times and a much faster court that suited his aggressive, all-court playstyle. Federer got through the first two rounds in relatively simple fashion, dispatching of Gojowczyk and Leo Mayer.

In the quarterfinals, he found himself facing Stan Wawrinka, his fellow Swiss compatriot who had recently found himself returning to form. Federer dropped the first set in a tiebreaker, narrowly edged out Stan in the second (8-6 in the tiebreaker), and breezed through the third set 6-2 to secure himself a place in the semifinals. It wasn’t the most confident of performances from Roger, but he had managed to get the job done.

Goffin was up next, the same man who had taken him out in the ATP World Tour Finals in 2017. Federer wasted a couple of break point chances early on in the first set, but he would overcome his struggles to take the set 7-6 (7-3). Goffin was later forced to retire due to a shoulder injury, meaning that Federer would face Novak in the finals – the first meeting between the pair since the 2016 Australian Open.

Djokovic had never won the Cincinnati Masters, and he was going up against a seven-time winner. Federer had gotten the better of Novak multiple times in Cincy, and he looked to do so again this time. Regardless, expectations were not too high; Federer was struggling on his return games, and it looked as though the only thing getting him through the tournament was his serve.

Novak took immediate advantage. Showing exactly why he’s considered the best returner of all time, Djokovic broke Federer three times to take the match 6-4, 6-4, completing the Golden Masters (winning all of the Masters events) in the process. Federer was unable to make any real progress on Djokovic’s serve, and he failed to hold his own – playing a pretty poor match overall.

After drawing Djokovic in the quarters of the US Open, Federer’s hopes at winning in Flushing Meadows were cut short. He would have to do what he hadn’t done in over 6 years — best Djokovic in a Grand Slam. He wouldn’t even get the chance.

After winning the first three rounds in straightforward fashion – including an impressive win against Nick Kyrgios, a player who can beat anyone when he’s on his game – he was up against John Millman. The match was set to be more of an exhibition, a training before the grand showdown against Novak in the quarterfinals.

It proved to be a completely different story. Federer started off strong with victory in the first set. While the Swiss wasn’t playing at his best, Millman didn’t seem like he had the weapons to challenge Federer. It turns out he didn’t need to. Obviously exhausted and drenched in sweat, Federer played one of his worst matches in recent memory. Serving for the second set at 5-4, 40-15, Federer was unable to finish and he was broken back, putting the Australian back in the match.

Overall, Federer hit a total of 76 unforced errors. He never seemed to really find his footing. His first serve was gone all match, and Roger finished the match with a pitiful 52% first serve percentage. His strategy was lacking; he repeatedly drop-shotted Millman, perhaps in an attempt to tire his opponent out, but he lost the point more often than not. His groundstrokes were flying all over the court, and his typically impeccable net game vanished, multiple put-away volleys slammed directly into the net

Federer had been sent crashing out of New York, and panic was at an all-time high. What had happened to Federer, and could he recover?

Why Is He Struggling?

Failing Footwork

Many of Federer’s struggles can be attributed to his footwork. Roger has always been known for his perfect footwork, the way he glides around the court almost like a ballerina. This footwork is what allowed him to play his style of aggressive tennis; he could get himself in position to attack on almost every ball.

But lately, Federer’s footwork has been lacking. He no longer takes those quick steps before setting up for the shot, and his movement is more labored, less effortless. Federer is arriving to the ball a bit late, and as such, he is no longer timing his shots correctly.

His forehand and backhand are no longer the weapons they once were, and if you watch Federer closely, he seems to be off-balance when hitting his signature shots. This leads to more shanks and less control over the ball. Simply put, Federer is not striking the ball anywhere near as cleanly as he did last year.

But the thing that makes this so worrying is that there’s no true fix to failing footwork. Federer is not as athletic as he was, and time only makes his feet heavier. We might never see Federer’s perfect footwork again, and it might signal the end for the Swiss Maestro.

Father Time Takes Its Toll

While Federer may seem invincible at times, fans must realize that he is 37 years old. He is far past his physical peak, and even Federer will have to fight against Father Time.

Federer’s physical state is slowly deteriorating. Fans were quick to notice how tired Federer seemed during many of his matches, particularly in his loss to Millman at the US Open. Federer admitted that he felt as though he couldn’t breathe, even wishing for the match to be over.

As Federer gets older, it’s only natural that he’ll get worse. His reactions won’t be as fast, and he won’t be able to cover the court nearly as well as he used to. As a result, Federer has switched to an incredibly aggressive playstyle, but when he comes up against a top player who can defend well, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to break down his opponent.

Federer will suffer with age; it is unreasonable to expect him to improve as the years go by. Even with improved medical technology and training, Federer will decline as he gets older; his footwork, timing, and groundstrokes will worsen, and he will become increasingly reliant on his serve and quick points.

At 37 years of age, Roger might be nearing his retirement. He is not the same player as he was in 2005 or even a year ago, and Father Time might have finally gotten the better of the Swiss legend.

Where’s The Focus? – Mental Struggles

Federer has never been the toughest player on court. Federer fans are more than used to him missing several break points or shanking backhands on crucial points. But as his overall game declines, these mental lapses are occurring more and more often.

We saw how nervous Federer was against Cilic in the Australian Open final; despite dominating the first set, Federer was not the same player in the subsequent sets, even admitting that he was incredibly nervous – perhaps more so than in his entire career.

Most of Federer’s losses have come in matches that he could’ve won. He had match points against both Del Potro (Indian Wells) and Kevin Anderson (Wimbledon), but he was unable to capitalize. When all eyes are on the Swiss, he tends to crumble under the pressure – something you wouldn’t expect from a 37 year-old veteran like Roger.

All too often, Federer can’t slam the door on his opponents; he loses matches that he should win quite comfortably, and there’s always a sense of lingering doubt, even when Federer is in control of the match.

Another issue that might plague Federer is his lack of motivation. When you’ve been as successful as Roger has, it’s hard to remain motivated. He’s already established himself as the greatest player of all time; what’s pushing him to achieve more?

Federer’s mental struggles are a sign of concern; he needs to finish his matches and he needs to rekindle the spark that allowed him to achieve so much in his career.

What Lies In Store For Federer – Looking Ahead

Federer has struggled in the past months. He doesn’t look anywhere near as good as he did last year, and he’s losing matches in which he’s a clear favorite. Federer is slowing down, and he’s showing visible signs of exhaustion and frustration.

This decline was inevitable; Federer has more than surpassed expectations as a 37 year old, and we can’t expect him to dominate the tour when his opponents are almost two decades younger than him and in peak physical shape. Federer is going to continue to slow down, and he will have many more off-days where he just can’t seem to settle into the match.

Nevertheless, we can’t be too quick to rule Federer out. After 2013, many thought Federer was done and dusted, and they thought the same in 2016. Both times, Federer came back stronger than ever and proved all the doubters wrong.

Can he do it again? Can he win another Grand Slam? It’s unlikely, but if anyone can pull off the impossible, it’s Roger Federer.

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