Friday May 24, 2024

Is the end close for Federer?

By K Shahid
January 27, 2019

This piece is being written before the second semifinal of the ongoing Australian Open between Novak Djokovic and Lucas Pouille. By the time you read this, the first ever meeting between the pair would’ve been over, and in all probability it would be the World No 1, who would be in his seventh Australian Open final.

Awaiting the winner of that contest is World No 2 Rafael Nadal, who is bidding for his second Australian Open and 18th Grand Slam title. Nadal has been to the Australian Open final on three other occasions, and it remains the only slam that he hasn’t won multiple times and the only slam where he has more losses than wins in the final. A Djokovic-Nadal contest would be a repeat of the 2012 final, which lasted almost six hours – the longest in the history of the game – and saw the Serb come out on top in the fifth set.

Nadal reached the final without dropping a set, and hasn’t in fact dropped his serve since the opening round. The Spaniard beat 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas in what was a landslide semifinal 6-2, 6-4, 6-0. The Next Gen Greek has been the story of the Australian Open so far, reaching his first major semifinal, and gaining prominence after beating Roger Federer in the fourth round after four enthralling sets.

Federer’s loss to Tsitsipas means that he hasn’t been past the quarterfinal stage at any major for the past 12 months, which would see the Swiss maestro drop out of the Top 5 in the ATP rankings. In the 12 months prior to this run, Federer had won three of the five majors, winning back to back Australian Open titles in 2017 and 2018, and Wimbledon 2017.

Federer’s Australian Open triumph in 2017 was his first major title in five years, and rekindled a late resurgence that saw him win three Grand Slam titles on the other side of 35 years of age. As astounding as that feat was, it reinvigorated hope among tennis fans that the Swiss legend would continue to add to that tally as he approaches 40.

That, however, was always going to be a stiff ask for even the most decorated man in the history of tennis.

With Andy Murray, six years his junior, already having hinted at retirement this season, one has to ask the dreaded question: is the end close for Federer?

Many had taken hints of the same even before the Swiss’ Australian Open exit, when he suggested that he would be participating in the clay swing this year, unlike the two previous seasons. Is that decision owing to the fact that Federer feels that this season is going to be his last, especially if he wants to end the most glittering career of all time on a high?

Let’s not forget that like all great champions, the curtain calls have been prematurely drawn on Federer’s career in the past as well. After all, he did go five years without adding to his record tally of Grand Slam titles, with many believing that winning majors on the other side of 30 is next to impossible.

Federer disproved that in 2017 and 2018. Nadal and Djokovic are doing the same in 2019 as well, and look likely to continue to do so for another couple of years at least.

However, even though Federer did not win a major during the years between Wimbledon 2012 and Australian Open 2017, he was regularly going deep in the Grand Slam tournaments and contesting finals as well. That meant that the Swiss was still in the running for the biggest pieces of silverware in the game, which he went on to prove through the triumphs in the last couple of seasons.

At this stage of his unprecedented career, would he be okay with a string of early exits? Federer has already achieved what no one else has in the men’s game and hence it’s likely that he would see little point in going on if he no longer frequents the biggest of stages in the sport that he has dominated like no other.

While Federer has said that he will participate in the clay swing, it is perhaps at SW19 that we’d get the greatest hint about his future. Many of the Swiss’ recent seasons have been geared towards Wimbledon, where he finally won the record eighth crown in 2017.

Only the Swiss would know what his plans for the near future are, but it’s safe to say that the moment Federer believes that he might not win another major, he would hang up the raquet.

Whether that’s the case right now or not, only he would know. But Federer has defied so much over the past 16 years that tennis fans always expect him to continue to outdo himself. Unfortunately, bodies of even the greatest have their limitations.