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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Tennis: Federer's fall from grace

Swiss no longer dominant alpha male of men's game

Mark Hodgkinson in New York

It is not just Roger Federer who has been having to adjust to the new realities of men's tennis, as the locals have been too, with a discombobulated 'New York Times' observing that "there is something about Federer playing poorly or being bested that upsets your sense of Cartesian orderliness".

This is supposed to be Federer's town. Over the years, he has been so successful in New York City that The Carlyle, the hotel where he takes residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side, has a Roger Federer Suite, and this year the Swiss has had his picture painted on the tournament cars.

And yet, for the first time since 2003, he did not reach the final of the US Open, and it sounded as though he was not quite sure what to do with himself after his Sunday afternoon had suddenly cleared.

He was not planning to watch Rafael Nadal play Novak Djokovic, but he wondered aloud whether the shops would be open on a Sunday, so perhaps he ended up spending the day on Fifth Avenue.

While Federer thought about how to fill his day, many New Yorkers were agonising over what is happening with the Swiss, who held two match points during his semi-final defeat to Djokovic.


London went through all of this over the summer, as, when Federer lost in the quarter-finals to Tomas Berdych, it meant that he would not feature in the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2002.

That was the result that showed that Federer, who has won six of his 16 slam titles on Wimbledon's grass, would never dominate that arena again.

Now New York is catching up and discovering what London found out a couple of months ago, that while Federer is not finished winning slams, he will never again be the undisputed alpha male of men's tennis.

It is unlikely that Federer, ranked second, will end the year as the world No 1. Federer's victory over Andy Murray in January's Australian Open final seems an aeon ago.

By Federer's high standards, this has been a poor summer, as he also lost early at the French Open, with a quarter-final defeat to Robin Soderling which broke his run of 23 consecutive appearances in the semi-finals or better at the slams.

What we have been left with is the first season since 2003, the year that Federer won his first major at Wimbledoand when he was still growing into his talent, that he has only appeared in one slam final.

Here, Federer lost after Djokovic saved those match points and then took the fifth set 7-5. Fans were getting so excited about Federer and Nadal possibly playing each other here for the first time, especially after the Spaniard had won his semi by demolishing Mikhail Youzhny, that it was almost as if they had discounted the possibility of the world No 3 beating the world No 2.

Yet that was how it played out, with Djokovic coming from two sets to one down for his victory, for what was Federer's earliest defeat in New York since he lost in the fourth round of the 2003 tournament to David Nalbandian.

Ever since the full flowering of his talent, Federer has reached the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open every year. Well, until this summer when he failed to appear in either final. Federer was the champion in New York for five summers running, from 2004-08, and last year he lost a five-setter to Juan Martin del Potro in the decider.

True, Djokovic played well to dodge the two match points, saving one with a forehand drive-volley and the other with a forehand off the ground, so you could suggest that Federer was unfortunate. But, after taking the third set, Federer had the momentum to win this match in four sets, only to squander it.

This was not the first time this season that Federer has lost after holding a match point, as he also failed to close out a contest with Marcos Baghdatis in Indian Wells, and against Berdych in Miami. In his prime, Federer would have finished those matches off.

Even those Federer groupies who walk around New York wearing baseball caps with a 'RF' logo on the front must surely acknowledge that the 29-year-old is no longer the player he once was. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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