« Does History eternally repeats itself ? ». If the question can be used as a topic for a philosophy essay, it has found a perfect example in the world of sports with Roger Federer, who, at 35, has started the 2017 like he used to when he was at the top of his game. However, in the last 10 years, the whole world has announced his decline more than once. Here’s a Top 10 of Federer’s early burials.
Miami 2007, defeated in the fourth round by Guillermo Canas 7/6 2/6 7/6
While he was looking to break Guillermo Vilas’ record (46 wins in a row in 1977), Roger Federer was stopped at 41 wins by Guillermo Canas, then the world number 60th. Having just gone back from a fifteen month suspensions following doping allegations, the Argentinian hammer defeated the world number 1 in the first round at Indian Wells, before doing it again, ten days later in Florida, this time in the fourth round and in front of a crowd devoted to Canas. A huge blow for Federer, who, for the first time in ages, seemed affected in the post-match press conference. « I was looking to win. It’s one of those matches which I shouldn’t lose. » The end of a peaceful reign ?
Wimbledon 2008, defeated in the final by Rafael Nadal 6/4 6/4 6/7 6/7 9/7
A quarter of a century after one of tennis’ biggest feats, Roger Federer was one match away from surpassing Björn Borg : by winning Wimbledon six times in a row. But a month after having destroyed him in the final of Roland-Garros, Rafael Nadal once again won the trophy after a 4h48 masterpiece, ended at sunset. Having taken part in one of tennis history’s greatest moments was only a poor consolation for Federer. « Rafa is the worst opponent on the best of all courts. » For the first time of his life, he mentioned a « catastrophe ». And according to Mats Wilander, if he didn’t go through a burn out like Borg, he was likely to develop a ‘Nadal complex’. « Starting from now, in Rafa’s mind, he will be the favorite in all their confrontations. Regardless of the surface ! » The beginning of a new era ?
Roland-Garros 2010, defeated in the quarter finals by Robin Söderling 3/6 6/3 7/5 6/4
It’s hard to set yourself new goals once you’ve achieved everything. « Losing hurts a little less than it used to because I’ve won so much ! ». Before we were able to understand that these were just empty words, (Federer has recently said that he would like to win 20 major trophies), we thought that the Swiss was getting bored after having (finally) won Roland-Garros in 2009, the last major tournament that was missing in his unbelievable trophy cabinet. This wrong impression was confirmed in 2010, when he lost his Parisian title in the quarter final against the « boxer » Robin Söderling, who knocked him out in four sets. Since 2004, « Fed » had always qualified for the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament, that is twenty three times in a row. That evening, France Soir, asked a simple question on its website : « why is Federer done ? ». And as things could only get worst, he let Rafael Nadal take his world number 1 spot…
Wimbledon 2013, defeated in the second round by Sergiy Stakhovsky 6/7 7/6 7/5 7/6
Triple humiliation. In 2012, Sergiy Stakhovsky criticized Roger Federer’s attitude when most professional players united to demand an increase of earnings in the first rounds, « He didn’t says anything. He’s scared to torn his image. » A year later, in the second round of Wimbledon, the Swiss was incapable of taking revenge for these comments, and registered his worst defeat since 2002…Even his buddy Jürgen Melzer had a go at him after defeating the Ukrainian two days later in four sets. « My goal in this match was to show Stakhovsky that I’m not Federer, and that I’m capable of returning his serve and having him play difficult volleys. » The beginning of the end ?
Gstaad 2013, defeated in the fourth round by Daniel Brands 6/3 6/4
What has been Roger Federer’s worst idea these last few years ? Trying to console himself on clay after a premature defeat at Wimbledon, or changing his racquet in the middle of the season ? During the summer 2013, the world number 5 made these two mistakes at the same time, and payed for the first one on Hamburg’s heavy and humid clay, where Federico Delbonis became the first player born in the 90’s to defeat the master. Six days later, in Gstaad, the Roy Emerson Arena was filled to see him in the Bernese Highlands for the first time since 2004, but he was humiliated in 1h06 by Daniel Brands (6/3 6/4). « This new defeat has shown the limits of a player who is now clearly lacking confidence », wrote Le Matin at the time. His short stay in Gstaad has pushed him deeper in his crisis. » The start of bankruptcy ? Seeing him, Nick Bollettieri even advised him to go back to a two-handed backhand… « If Federer wants to come back in the big 4, he has no other choice. »
US Open 2013, defeated in the fourth round by Tommy Robredo 7/6 6/3 6/4
One of his toughest defeats. Two months after his Wimbledon failure, the Swiss sunk against a Tommy Robredo who he had previously defeated ten times in ten confrontations. Was the Spaniard at the top of his game ? « No, he didn’t do anything different. No surprise. He played his game, very simply. » Playing on the Louis-Armstrong court for the first time since 2006, Roger Federer made 43 unforced errors, and faltered his usually superb attacking tennis, leading the French newspaper L’Equipe to criticize him. « His legwork was agonizing from the start of the match, he tried to stake everything on his volleys, but you don’t become Patrick Rafter in a day. » On the French radio RMC, Patrick Dominguez didn’t recognize the player : « He’s slower than before, his shots are badly aimed, he’s often late on his right side. His serve is not as good as it used to be. There is less confidence in everything he does. »
Roland-Garros 2014, defeated in the fourth round by Ernests Gulbis 6/7 7/6 6/2 4/6 6/3
« Gulbis’ intelligence was shown by taking advantage of Federer’s tireness » analyzed L’Equipe after another proof of Federer’s inability to compete in five sets on clay. « This defeat is the sign that on such a difficult surface for the body, the Swiss doesn’t have what it takes anymore. » In the last set, the Latvian ex-smoker (he says that he quit in 2014) was clearly in much better shape than the man who won 17 major titles. And even in front of the man who had described him as « the most boring player in press conferences » a year earlier, Roger of showing a surge of pride. Had the monster become too nice ?
Open d’Australie 2015, defeated in the third round by Andreas Seppi
His worst start of the season since 2001. In fourteen years, never had Federer lost so early in Melbourne. And nobody imagined that the Italian would defeat him in four sets. In their first 10 confrontations, Seppi had only won one set against the legend…Disorientated, the Swiss tried to justify himself by mentioning the weather conditions. « The conditions were difficult, there was a lot of shade. » Time to call it a day ?
Wimbledon 2015, defeated in the final by Novak Djokovic 7/6 6/7 6/4 6/3
There is absolutely no way that this final can be compared to the one against Rafael Nadal in 2008. But for the second time in a row, the Swiss lost the last match in London, against Novak Djokovic again, after a remarkable fortnight, which saw him produce an unbelievable performance against Andy Murray in the semi-final. According to many, Federer didn’t have what it takes physically, at 33, to compete against another member of the « Big 4 » once the match duration exceeded 3 hours. Too old ?
Halle 2016, defeated in the semi-final by Alexander Zverev 7/6 5/7 6/3
After having withdrawn from Roland-Garros because of an injury, Roger Federer looked completely different when he returned at the start of June. He was firstly knocked out by Dominic Thiem in the semi-final of the Stuttgart tournament, before being completely outclassed in « his » tournament, Halle. Still in the semi-final, the « kid », Alexander Zverev, became the first under-20 player to defeat him since Andy Murray in Cincinnati in 2006. Eight-times winner of the tournament, Federer hadn’t lost before the final since 2002. On the sporting websites, the fans’ comments were pretty harsh… « I feel like Federer is done. » « If he carries on playing, while not scaring anyone anymore, it’s probably because he’s bored at home. »…Should he quit, while there is still time ?