After losing the 2008 Wimbledon final, Roger Federer’s critics called it a career. He was finished and wouldn’t win another Slam. That lasted all of 2 months. Federer beat Andy Murray for the US Open title in September. Federer did lose the Australian Open title and broke down in the trophy presentation. Roger fought through the early hardcourt season and had his famous racket breaking in Miami and wouldn’t win his first title until Madrid, beating Nadal in the final. Of course everyone knows that Federer went on to win the French and beat Andy Roddick to win Wimbledon.
Now, Federer loses in the quarterfinals of the French to Robin Soderling, who beat Nadal at the 2009 French. Roger then loses to Berdych in the quarters at Wimbledon. Nevermind that Berdych is a solid player who went on to beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. But Roger? Sorry, his Grand Slam winning days are almost over.
Or are they?
If you look at any of the great players, they all have lapses in play at some point. It is surprising that Federer has been able to win 16 Grand Slams in under 7 years, from the 2003 Wimbledon to the 2010 Australian Open. It’s also why Federer is being questioned now. After reaching 23 Grand Slam semifinals, losing in the quarterfinals of 2 in a row seems catastrophic.
Let’s take a look at a couple of other all time greats who managed to go a few Grand Slams without winning but managed to pull themselves out of it.
I consider Steffi Graf to be the greatest player of all time. Martina Navratilova was great, no question, but for reasons I won’t go into now, Steffi is who I consider to be the greatest. She won a total of 22 Grand Slams but even she managed to struggle and go over a year without taking a Slam title. Steffi won the 1994 Australian Open 6-0, 6-2 over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. It wasn’t so much a romp as a complete and utter beat down. It was also Steffi’s fourth Australian title and it seemed like nothing would stop her from winning a second calendar Grand Slam.
Then it went completely weird. Steffi was ripped in the semifinals at the French Open 6-2, 6-2 by Mary Pierce. At Wimbledon, Graf was beaten in the first round in a historic upset by Lori McNeil 7-5, 7-6. Sure McNeil reached the semifinals and nearly made the final but still, Graf had won 5 of the last 6 Wimbledon titles including the previous three. It was ridiculous that she would lose in the first round at any major, let alone Wimbledon. Steffi went on to lose in the US Open final to Sanchez Vicario. Because Steffi didn’t play the 1995 Australian Open due to injury, Sanchez Vicario would go on to take Steffi’s top ranking in the spring on a few occasions.
However Steffi was able to come back to top form. She won the 1995 French, Wimbledon and US Open titles, a feat she repeated in 1996. She also won the French Open in 1999 after battling numerous injuries.
Of course Steffi isn’t the only great player to suffer a few losses in Grand Slams before returning to top form.
After taking the Wimbledon title in 1994, there seemed little that Sampras couldn’t win. He was the obvious favourite to take the US Open later that summer but was stunned in the fourth round by unseeded Jamie Yzaga in 5 sets. Sampras did manage to reach the final of the Australian Open in 1995 but lost to Andre Agassi. His top ranking was also gone, Agassi became the number one ranked player in April and held it until November. Sampras of course didn`t fare well at the French Open, losing in the first round. Of course he did rebound to take the Wimbledon title, his first Grand Slam win in a year.
Can Federer Recover?
Of course he can, if he wants to. Now it’s about dedication. He’s a father and it’s been obvious for a couple of years now, the weekly events don’t matter much to Roger. Unless he crashes out at the US Open before the second week, there is no need to panic and even if he does, it isn’t the end of the world. People will argue that Sampras and Graf were still in their prime when they had their Grand Slam droughts. Is Federer out of his prime? Hard to say until his career is over. Graf was a veteran player when she was struggling. Rivals weren’t a big problem to her, Seles was still out from her stabbing. Sanchez Vicario wasn’t a big rival to Graf and neither were others like Martinez or Novotna. Sampras was very much in his prime during his drought.
What Federer has going for him is this: he’s still injury free. Rafael Nadal is injury prone and the health of his knees was questioned once again at Wimbledon. It was said that he will have to undergo some mystery procedure in the summer and it’s hard to say if it will work, and if it does, how long it will work for. Nadal typically checks out in the summer, having put so much effort into the first half of the year. Hopefully he has a great showing at the US Open where he hasn’t yet reached the final.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are hardly contenders for Slams and are prone to choking when they get their chances. Only Djokovic has a Grand Slam title and that was 2 1/2 years ago.
Federer’s issue seems to be with the tall, heavy hitters like Del Potro, Soderling, Berdych and others. Roddick is almost a nonissue at this point and hasn’t beaten Federer at a Grand Slam.
The most important thing for Roger now is to work on his fitness to stay healthy. Injuries late in a career are disastrous, just as Steffi Graf who missed almost a year and a half. Dedicating himself to the game will be hard with a wife and twin baby girls. More Grand Slams are waiting for Roger Federer, it’s just a matter of how much does he want them?