With Roger and England’s exits from their respective competitions still proving tough to get over from, a short reflection piece and a question…did no-one else see this coming?
The false decline
For years between 2013 and 2016 I echoed pretty much everyone else by adopting a resigned view that Roger Federer was so firmly ensconced in his twilight years that we should now simply ‘enjoy him whilst he is here’.
The Wimbledon dream runs in 2014 and 2015 were collectors items and two last hurrahs to allow us to date to dream that he might just pull off one final miracle to bookend his career and begin proceedings in the erosion of the Big Four / Golden Era.
That didn’t happen, and when in 2016 we were left with that lasting image of the great Swiss face down on the Wimbledon grass, about to be outpunched by the really rather average Raonic, such an anonymous end seemed to call time all too prematurely.
Rolling back the years
Then 2017 happened, or more specifically the first half of it. The unthinkable feats achieved by Roger here still hold a dreamlike quality. True time-machine stuff, as if a 28 year old Roger had been unleashed on the tour after years in cryogenic sleep.
The movement was better, the backhand more aggressive and suddenly bullet-proof, all joining the reliable serve and forehand and coated with a confidence that posed with every shot.
The back injury scuppered what was a likely US Open triumph to add to that world-beating Australian title and the near-perfect fortnight at SW19. The twinge in Canada also served as a reminder of the man’s fragility at 36.
Time catches up again for good
In 2018, I have felt alone in my opinion that this fragility has remained in Federer’s game. The movement isn’t there, the groundstrokes are just that little bit weaker and most blatant of all, the confidence is gone.
Australia happened again yes, but this was peppered with good fortune and a less than stellar roster of opponents.
After dabbling with some minor victories to nab that No.1 ranking albeit briefly, Federer failed to defend the sunshine double and faltered in Halle.
Suddenly it looked doubtful for a ninth title, despite some short-sightedness from the Beeb’s team of pundits fawning over Federer and treating him winning as a foregone conclusion.
The first four rounds last week threatened to make me look foolish, but sure enough the first stern test which came from Anderson proved too much.
It wasn’t complacency (which has tripped him up before) rather perhaps a victim of a misplaced hype that maybe allowed even Federer himself to forget his own 37 years.
I can now confidently say again that this time for sure we are witnessing his decline, it may now be swifter than we’d feared, despite that lucrative clothing contract.
We say it again, ‘enjoy him while he lasts’.