Federer's Slams look secure

2011-07-06 09:05

Rob Houwing

In the afterglow of Wimbledon 2011, people could not be blamed if they suspected Roger Federer’s time was up in terms of Grand Slam conquests ... more specifically, that he may struggle to add even one more to his personal quest to advance from 16 to 20 singles titles before he calls it a day.

Federer, who tellingly turns 30 in August, unexpectedly exited Wimbledon this year at the quarter-final stage, undone by crowd-pleasing Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from the commanding position of a two-set lead.

I am not saying he would have gone all the way to the title or final in a particularly luminary field of candidates this year anyway, but I thought the Swiss machine had looked pretty much as imperious, commanding and precise as ever until his crash to earth – it may just be that a touch of highly unusual complacency invaded his play against Tsonga and he simply could not claw back as his opponent got his tail up more and more on the day.

His departure must have irked him much more than he let on publicly afterwards, yet as the dust settles over SW19 his position atop the all-time greats’ leaderboard for Grand Slams, curiously, remains more sturdy than ever, by my book.

And that is because of the manner in which Novak Djokovic genuinely announced himself as the next big thing, winning Wimbledon for the first time to nose his “Slams” tally up to three at the age of just over 24.

The Serb, so deservedly stationed at No 1 in the ATP rankings, shook the tennis world in the consummate manner by which he dismantled Rafael Nadal in the final, extending his run of 2011 triumphs over the Spaniard to five.

All this has proved a bit of a turn up for the books ... and it must quietly suit Federer down to the ground, even as he labours himself to advance off the “16” mark.

For there was a lengthy period, remember, when it seemed Nadal, some five years Federer’s junior at 25, was rip-roaringly on course to eclipse the latter’s record, especially as the Majorcan-born left-hander generally kept rubbing in his head-to-head supremacy between the two.
But Nadal, following the latest Wimbledon, stays six Slams adrift of Federer on 10 ... and that gap may be wider than it seems on paper, due to the arrival of Djokovic as a force to be reckoned with in the highest men’s echelons.

Although he is probably not petty or malicious enough to actively wish it, Federer will know comfortingly deep down that Djokovic is quite likely to severely put the brakes on Nadal’s march over the coming months and years. He has made some deep psychological inroads in their particular duel, hasn’t he?

In a sense, thus, these two – presently the one and two on the planet with Federer tucked in third – may keep “eliminating” each other in the battle to squeeze ahead of Federer’s unprecedented achievements.

Certainly if the most obvious veteran of the three can still nip in for another Grand Slam or two, he will become even harder to rein in: Federer, after all, remains blessed with good health and fitness and a terrific work ethic and appetite.

There may be occasions where dangerous customers just outside the blue-chip ranks, like Tsonga, upset the Djokovic/Nadal apple-carts at advanced stages of tournaments and Federer is thus in a stronger position to cunningly strike for another Slam, here and there.

Of the fairly recent icons of the men’s game, Andre Agassi is a good inspiration to Federer to keep the fires burning: the American won four Grand Slam titles after turning 29 and his eight, in total, came over an elongated, 12-year period – between 1992 and 2003.

Pete Sampras, meanwhile, still the nearest player to Federer (14 Slams) got his over the course of 13 admirably durable years: the Swiss has achieved all of his over just eight massively productive years between 2003 and 2010.

Before this year’s Wimbledon, there was talk of men’s tennis being dominated for some time to come to by a quartet of players, the extra element being the undoubtedly talented Andy Murray.

But after another wretched fall at a crucial hurdle at Wimbledon – trounced in the semis by Nadal after playing some cracking tennis at times in a victorious first set -- the three-time Slam finalist rather showed his emotional frailties once more, I thought.

When things begin to turn against him, Murray looks haplessly up to his entourage for inspiration; the Scot does not seem capable of mustering it very emphatically from within.

No, famous last words, perhaps, but short- to medium-term interest in men’s tennis is going to be centred very much around the fascinating, ongoing fortunes of Messrs Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


  • patrickb - 2011-07-06 10:25

    totally agree.......

  • sierra mo - 2011-07-06 11:59

    Great article.very subjective and an great sense of truth in these words.go Roger

  • Kleinboet - 2011-07-06 12:16

    Another thing: Nadal is prone to injuries because of the way he moves over the court. He is not going to make old bones, like Federer. Djokovic? Now that may be a horse of another colour! Suddenly he believes in himself and seems unbeatable. How old is he?

      Kleinboet - 2011-07-06 12:18

      Sorry, I misread the article - he is 24 already. He does not have enough time left to better Federer's achievements.

      Larry - 2011-07-06 13:34

      Kleinboet, I must say your comment is definitely not from a "kleinboet"...kwaaaa!! I totally agree man, Nadal has to work his body @such a heavy workload that he ends up on the injured list. The only way he has kept up 2 Federer's pace is to work twice as hard, on/off court. Djokovic & the forgot man del Potro will prove to be Nadal's undoing. Long live the FEDERER EXPRESS!!

  • Martin - 2011-07-06 14:24

    I don't think I have seen Nadal beaten as badly as he was by Djokovic at Wimbledon 2011. It was an astounding display, and I am very happy that Djokovic performed as he did. It's a pity he lost at the French Open this year, otherwise this would have been one of the most spectacular runs of tennis in history. Still, only one match lost this year...incredible.

  • crespin79 - 2011-07-06 18:12

    Del Potro is another tennis player who will cause problems for Nadal. I believe that he will be #1 in 2013 or so.

  • Shivaskar - 2011-07-06 20:14

    Depends on the grandslam draw for Nadal. Delpo and Murray can beat him at US and AUS. Clay, it's only Djokovic I think. Grass, maybe Federer (if he really wants it) and Djokovic. His odds aren't bad, but I think Federer can win two more grandslams (AUS, WIM, or US) before he retires and Djokovic is going to get to the US final unless Murray does a miraculous. Injury wise and longevity, Nadal not looking good because he puts so much work into every match, it's gonna catch up to him. Nadal will definitely lead the ATP 1000 titles record though.

  • Shivaskar - 2011-07-06 20:17

    If Delpo gets to where he was at the US 09, then he can beat Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych, Gasquet and Murray may provide an upset or two.

  • RedHotRed - 2011-07-06 23:05

    To put it into perspective for you....Roger Federer's most productive years as a tennis player took place between the age of 22 - 26 (2003 - 2007) his 26th birthday, Federer had 12 Slams. Rafa will have to win the next three Slams to surpass that by the time he turns 26, which now seems very unlikely,but possible. What is also obvious is Federer's total domination of both the US Open and Wimbledon during a five year period...Rafa has never really dominated the Slams on the faster surfaces....Roger also dominated the top ranking for most consecutive I would agree with Rob and say that Roger's Slam record, amongst others, is relatively safe for now.

      Michael Guo - 2011-07-15 15:35

      I guess you can also count 2008 in the 'most productive years'. Fed underperformed in 2008 due to mono. I'd say his first half of 2008 was largely affected by the disease. Semis at the AO, finals at the FO and Wimbledon is pretty awesome for someone who's unhealthy.

  • Rohan - 2011-07-07 10:18

    I am reminded of the maxim 'One swallow does not a summer make!' In time all the speculation about who is the greatest of all time will only be determined in time. Undoubtedly we are living in an exceptional era of tennis, history might still suprise us on this score.

      Kleinboet - 2011-07-08 16:04

      Rohan, I hope it does surprise us! Just think what fantastic tennis we will be able to watch! But for the forseeable future, I believe Roger Federer's record is safe … There are quite a number of youngsters who are starting to make their mark, and it promises good viewing.

  • gazzaz - 2011-07-08 12:49

    here here. Long live KING ROGER.....!!!

  • radar - 2011-07-09 08:49

    From a former pro player, a well written accurate article frm Rob Houwig. As articulated, the odds are against Federer , but he still has the capability of winning a couple of Slams. His biggest challenge is remaining focused given that he has family responsibilities and duties to attend to (twin daughters), which I can assure you saps a lot of energy and creates distractions from what is a "single mans" game nowdays.

  • baika - 2011-07-10 11:46

    It is great to read comments from tennis fans who can argue points without getting personal and give intelligent responses . Not like you find in some other sport

  • barbara.collett1 - 2011-07-12 16:10

    What an interesting article. I agree that Nadal will not last. He has to push his body too hard. Federer is by far the most talented elegant player. I agree it was nice to read all the comments. No ugly remarks like you get in articles on cricket, rugby etc.

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