The Rise and Fall of Roger Federer

December 09, 2016

- Grant Whittington

While Andy Murray may have been imperious during his season-ending victory at the ATP World Tour finals in London last month, there was undoubtedly something strange about the showpiece occasion at the O2. After all, it was the first time in a decade that neither Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal had graced the event, as a new wave of stars staked their claim to be the crowned as the best player in the world.

This was a common theme throughout 2016, as the ATP tour was dominated by a sense of change and a shift in the established order. Andy Murray’s ascent to world number one ended the seemingly inevitable dominance of Novak Djokovic, for example, while both Federer and Nadal (who have won a staggering 31 Grand Slams between them) struggled manfully with injuries and poor form.

The Rise, Fall, Rise and Fall of Federer

In the case of Federer in particular, this decline seems like it may be permanent. Now 35, he has endured a catalogue of injuries during the last year, while October saw him drop out of the world’s top 10 for the first time in 14 years. He is now on the verge of dropping out of the top 20 too, although he is set to return in time for the Australian Open in January.

While it is increasingly difficult to envisage Federer reclaiming his spot as the world’s best player, however, to discount him completely would be to ignore his incredible career. The most successful and arguably the single most naturally gifted tennis player of all time, Federer’s haul of 17 major honours may never be beaten while he has also won on every available surface. He also retains an incredible affinity with grass, having won his last major at Wimbledon in 2012 and lost narrowly in the final to Djokovic in the same event in both 2014 and 2015.

The timeline of Federer’s success is relatively insightful, however, as 16 of his 17 slams came in eight glorious years between 2003 and 2010. Since claiming his fourth Australian Open title in January 2010, however, his sole success at Wimbledon four years ago remains the only major he has won since, as he has struggled to compete with the incredibly fit and tenacious trio of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. While he enjoyed a brief renaissance in 2015 (when he adopted a new, ultra-attacking approach and narrowly lost to Djokovic in the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), inconsistency, injury and an increasingly competitive ATP Tour have gradually taken their toll.

Is This the End for the Swiss?

All things considered, it is hard to see Federer defying the odds and once again rising to the pinnacle of the men’s game. You can already get incredibly long odds on Federer to win the Australian Open, for example, while a perceived lack of fitness and match practice is sure to hinder him at the beginning of 2017. Even if he can recover and build some momentum in the New Year, he must overcome a number of incredibly talented players (outside of Murray and Djokovic) who are performing at an exceptionally high and consistent level.

Of course, we cannot discount the great Federer, even if the odds of his replicating his previous successes are growing longer by the day. Even though he remains a threat on grass and, to a lesser extent, hard courts, he is surely running out of time if he is to win that elusive 18th Grand Slam.

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