Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is Roger Federer Finished?

At the Sony Ericcson Open we’ve seen something from Roger Federer that was quite shocking. Federer pulled a John McEnroe and smashed his racket to the concrete against in his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic. A frustrated Federer suggested he’s glad the hard court season is over and he’s looking forward to the clay.

After witnessing his meltdown against Djokovic if he doesn’t get his house in order soon future Grand Slams could be hard to come by. Even John McEnroe has offered his services to help the disgruntled Federer regroup. Personally I don’t think he needs a coach. Federer just needs to remember who he was so he can summon the energy to sit atop mountain once again.

Prior to his match against Andy Roddick I asked Federer what was more important to him at this point in his career. Winning Grand Slams or getting back to number one. He stated, “It goes hand and hand doesn’t it? I guess its slams right now, because I’m that close to with Pete’s record. I know if I win a slam, a No. 1 ranking will follow.”

I don’t think Federer’s situation is as dire as some think. It’s not like he’s routinely losing in the first and second rounds to guys who can’t play. He’s losing in semi-finals and finals to young-guns who are at the top of their games like Rafael Nadal and Any Murray.

But there’s no doubt Federer is facing a crossroads. At age 27 he’s reached a point in his career where he’ll have to do some soul searching like some of the greats of the past did.
Bjorn Borg ran off 11 Grand Slams by age 26. But suddenly after the 1981 US Open Borg decided he had enough and quit. His inability to win the US Open and pressures outside the game pushed Borg away at the apex of his career.

John McEnroe amassed 7 Grand Slams prior to squaring off against Ivan Lendl in the 1985 US Open final. McEnroe lost in straight sets to Lendl. As great as McEnroe was who would’ve bet after that loss at age 25 he’d never appear in another Grand Slam final until he retired in 1992?

After winning 3 Grand Slams by age 27 Andre Agassi nearly flushed his career down the tubes. In 1997 Agassi fell out of the top 100. Needing a change Agassi decided to rededicate himself and let the chips fall where may. Brad Gilbert helped Agassi regain his focus and his trainer Gil Reyes provided him with an impeccable training regimen. Five Grand Slams later Agassi got back to No. 1 in the world and eventually retired at age 36.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

Let’s not forget the guy whose Grand Slam record Federer is chasing. Sampras faced a two-year drought after winning Wimbledon in 2000. He seemingly couldn’t buy a tournament win. The experts had written Sampras off. It was suggested his best days were gone with the wind but Sampras thought different. After losing in the finals of the US Open to Marat Safin in 2000 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2001 Sampras outlasted Andre Agassi in the final in 2002 to quiet his doubters.

What does the future hold for Federer?

I think the future is quite bright but I think Federer needs to make some adjustments. I think he’s still playing at an exceptionally high level but the younger guys are getting better and improving their games. Tactically I think he needs to come to net more to take maximum advantage of his skills. Also, getting a bit fitter wouldn’t hurt. He admitted as much in a press conference at the Sony Ericcson when he stated, “So for me, it was a matter of getting back in shape. I feel like I’m about to turn the corner.”

Players like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and are working hard off the court. I think Federer needs to do the same.

IMO (in my opinion) the most important thing Federer needs is to simply remember what got him his 13 Grand Slams. If he mentally resurrects those feelings of dominance he had during his 4 1/2 year run his body will follow.

Federer surely won’t pull a Borg and walk away at the height of his power. He won’t finish the latter stage of his career without sniffing another slam like McEnroe. I think he’ll do what Agassi and Sampras did and that’s get back to the mountain top retreat and in the years to come.

We don’t remember Sampras for his 2002 second round loss at Wimbledon to unheralded George Bastl. We remember Pete for quieting his critics and embracing his wife after winning the US Open. I don’t think Federer will be remembered for smashing his racquet in disgust and allowing history to elude his grasp. I think he’ll be remembered as someone who reclaimed his glory from the not-so distant past to reign once again.

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