Roger Federer: the amalgamation of tennis beauty and brutality

The 17-time grand slam champion’s latest meek ejection from a grand slam suggests perhaps his time at the very top of the game is up. However, Roger Federer has earnt the right to determine when the curtain does finally fall on an illustrious career.

 

Roger Federer’s most recent exit from a grand slam, a straight sets loss to Tommy Robredo in the US Open, is hugely significant. A lot has been made of the great Swiss man’s decline from his peak, as both age and the new generation of players inevitably catch up with his weary legs. However, what makes his latest exit from one of the major tournaments so significant is that with this result, 2013 will be the first year since 2002 in which the former world no.1 has not featured in a least one grand slam final.

This statistic is shocking in two respects. To some it confirms what has become increasingly apparent over the last year and a half: Federer has slipped a level below the top three of Murray, Djokovic and Nadal. However, the statistic also confirms how firm the 17-time grand slam champion’s grip over his sport had been for over a decade. Only now has his grasp finally loosened.

Between 2004 and 2010, Federer reached at least the semi finals of all the grand slams an incredible twenty-three consecutive times. His consistency in what has over the years become an increasingly brutal and physically demanding sport is nothing short of staggering. Since 2010 he has featured in at least the quarter finals of all grand slams up until this year’s Wimbledon, with his second round defeat to world no. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky as well as his fourth round US Open defeat at the hands of Robredo.

His most recent loss was perhaps his worst in recent grand slams. He looked sloppy, incapable of stamping any sort of authority over his opponent. At least in his upset against Stakhovsky he could take comfort in rallying to take the nervy Ukrainian to a fourth set. Against Robredo, Federer’s devastating forehand, one of the greatest weapons ever let loose on a tennis court, was erratic and unreliable. A sign, perhaps, that the former world no.1’s ever presence at the business end of majors has finally taken its toll on his body.

Federer, aged thirty-two, is five years (Rafael Nadal) and six years older (Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) than his famous rivals. This constitutes more than a generation in tennis years. Being able to keep pace with his younger rivals has been a challenge, and one that he has been capable of keeping up with, until now. As men’s tennis has become more about endurance and bullying your opponent on the court, Federer’s game, mixing beauty with brutality, has stood the test of time.

Finally falling back now is no shame. The likes of Murray, Djokovic and Nadal will one day experience the same fate.

This might seem like a glorifying tribute of Roger Federer. However, the man’s career hasn’t been whiter than white. As a youngster Federer was a hothead, with people unsure whether he would ever fully realize his potential on a court. On court throughout his career he has berated officials, sworn at umpires and become tetchy with reporters. But let’s be honest, what professional player hasn’t? Plus, who could forget some of the quite frankly ridiculous wardrobe choices that we were treated to during his reign as the king of SW19. It must be said, his style of clothing does not stand up against the panache of his polished on-court performances.

If Federer is destined never to feature in a showpiece final again, I will have two abiding memories of the Swiss maestro. Firstly, his majestic backhand. His forehand and his serve may have been his most potent tools for dismantling an opponent, but it was the backhand that held all the grace. Secondly, in an age when  grunting has become an increasingly audible issue in both male and female tennis, Federer would always go about his business in deadly, stealthy silence; something that viewers both court-side and at home will have grown to appreciate.

With his hold over the major prizes in tennis seemingly ending after more than a decade, the inevitable questions over retirement and legacy have followed. Federer, already down at world no.7 and struggling to reach this year’s ATP World Tour Finals in London, has not bothered himself with the talk of putting down his racket for the final time. He loves his sport too much. Rankings and finals are now insignificant to a man who only cares for playing under the big lights.

At this year’s French Open, the Latvian wild child of tennis Ernests Gulbis was quoted as saying that Roger, as well as the other big three names of tennis, were “boring”. As well as being wrong, Gulbis perhaps should have remembered that having won 17 grand slams, Roger Federer has earnt the right to behave however he wants and to leave the court whenever he decides.

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