Will London confirm or reverse Federer’s decline??
Roger Federer and Serena Williams are both 32 years old – born just seven weeks apart. But you wouldn’t know that if you looked at their results in 2013 or considered the outlook on them for 2014. Federer, the 17-time grand slam champion, heads into this week’s ATP World Tour Finals in London on the back of his worst season since 2001 when he began his assault into the top 10. Serena, on the other hand, has turned in one of her best seasons – an incredible 78-4 record which makes it the 9th most successful season by any woman in the Open Era.
At 32, Serena is playing the best tennis of her life – in prime physical fitness with a hunger and desire to finally match her mental toughness – dominating the rest of the field like none have since the heydays of the Graf-Seles era. But age has not been as kind to Federer. That loud sound you heard when Federer beat Kevin Anderson in Paris last week to secure his spot in the season-ending Tour Finals was the huge sigh of relief from his fans rather than the applause of the public, long accustomed to taking Federer’s place in the season finale for granted.
For the longest time, Federer was an integral part of the Big Three and then The Big Four. Now, the Swiss has struggled to keep his place amongst the top 8. At the Tour Finals, Federer will not have any matches against lower-ranked players to play himself into form. He will need to be on from the word go. But Federer has struggled might against the top players this year. His win over Juan Martin del Potro in Paris on Friday was only his second top 10 win in 2013 (his first was over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January and Tsonga won’t even be there in London) as compared to 8 losses against the top 10.
Playing indoors has suited his game over the past decade. But half-a-step slower and lacking the confidence from his winning days, London presents an interesting challenge for Federer. If Federer can’t beat the top guys indoors in a best-of-three match, it’s hard to see him winning seven best-of-five matches at the slams. Anything less than a semi-final finish will only confirm that Federer is now truly a member of the second-tier in the men’s game. A deep run on the other hand will provide a platform to build on for the next season.
Federer is the first to acknowledge that his season has been anything but easy. "I'm just happy right now to have made it again. It's definitely somewhat of a highlight of the season for me after having a tough few months to still make it to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. It's great news actually, because it's one of the goals I set myself at the beginning of the season. So it's nice achieving things this year, because many things I couldn't achieve that I wanted to."
In recent weeks, Federer has said that he would like to continue playing till the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. But one would have to wonder if he will have the same motivation, should he continue to lose against the likes of Berdych, Tsonga and del Potro. Without taking anything away from the Australian, it’s hard to imagine Federer sticking around like Lleyton Hewitt has. Once he knows he is no longer able to contend for the grand slams and masters series title, it’s likely that he will walk away from the game. With his legacy as one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all time, assured, London will go play a crucial role in helping Federer assess his place in the game today.