Johannesburg - After winning multiple titles - including two grand slams – last year, Roger Federer’s form seems to have faded away this year.
READ: Djokovic eyes Sampras mark in Del Potro duel
He managed to win a record 20th grand slam early this year at the Australian Open – his sixth – and equalled the record held by Australian legend Roy Emerson and 13-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic.
Federer stretched his lead ahead of Rafael Nadal, who had 16 at the time and now has 17 after winning the French Open.
Since then, Federer has managed to win the Rotterdam Open and the Stuttgart Open. This means that he has only managed to win three singles titles this year as opposed to last year, when he won six singles titles, including the Austrian Open and Wimbledon.
After skipping the entire clay season, his loyal fans – who are usually in his corner – believed he would come back stronger and replicate what he did the previous year by winning Wimbledon.
But that didn’t come close to happening as the 37-year-old Swiss legend succumbed to South African ace Kevin Anderson in the quarterfinal thriller.
The signs that he may not go far this season were starting to show at the All England Club, where he failed to defend his Halle Open title by losing to Canadian Milos Raonic.
The tournament is used as a warm-up for Wimbledon. This loss meant that he failed to win his 10th Halle Open crown.
However, his reputation made pundits believe he would go all the way at Wimbledon. He was even seeded first – ahead of world No 1 Nadal.
Djokovic’s return from an elbow injury that sidelined him for the better part of last season may be one of the reasons Federer is struggling. Djokovic stood in Federer’s way and he beat him in the final of the Cincinnati Open 6-4, 6-4 in August.
And when Federer failed to defend his Wimbledon championship, Djokovic took it.
When he lost to Anderson, his fans started calling for his retirement, saying it was disappointing to see one of the world’s greatest athletes performing so badly. He blew a two-set lead, but ended up losing 2-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 13-11.
This week, he produced an erratic display in the last 16, losing to world No 55 John Millman. It was Federer’s first loss against a player outside the top 50 in 44 matches at the tournament. His hopes to win the US Open for the first time in 10 years were destroyed.
The five-time winner at Flushing Meadows should consider retiring while he is still on top. It seems that, with Djokovic on fire, Nadal still the world No 1 and Andy Murray making his way back from injury, he will have a hard time beating them with age no longer on his side.
Federer has no injuries, but is failing to maintain his level of success.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash this week also suggested that he should either play more games or consider retirement.
Federer has been picking which tournaments to play.
Cash was quoted on the BBC website saying that the strategy catches up with players sooner or later.
“Eventually, it catches up with you and you get unexplainable losses and bad performances.
“It will happen once in a while, and then a little bit more and a little bit more. Then you say, either play a little bit more or retire,” said Cash.
“He may or may not make that decision this time. I’m not saying retirement is imminent, but he might think enough is enough.”
Few tennis players can continue to win titles at Federer’s age – and he has proven that. He has broken countless records and has 98 titles to his name, but he may be eyeing his 100th win, which would be a great sendoff for the legend. It is also possible that he is chasing the record set by Australian Ken Rosewall, who clinched the Australian Open grand slam title at the age of 37.
Leaving what you love is definitely one of the most difficult decisions to make, and for a player who has achieved as much success as Federer has, it must be tempting to keep believing that there’s more glory to be had.
However, overstaying has also proven to be the biggest nemesis of many great people in sport.