By Charles Bricker
His eyes were red (had he cried again
after this 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 semifinal
defeat?) and his ostentatiously
monogrammed baseball cap was pulled down
tight over his forehead as Roger Federer
delivered a lot of predictable answers
in his post-match press conference
Predictable for the most part. All but
one answer. And it was an answer that
left me blinking. " . . . thank God the
hardcourt season is over."
Or, to put it in complete context: "No,
look, it's been a tough last year or so,
especially in the hardcourts. My game
never really clicked, you know, except
for the U.S. Open, where I thought I
played great. I think when I was finding
my form again (in 2008), it hit me with
the back problem. It was unfortunate,
you know, but thank God the hardcourt
season is over."
Say that again, Fed.
". . . thank . . . God . . . the . . .
hardcourt . . . . season . . . is . . .
Here's a guy who forged his career on
hardcourts and grass saying he's glad
the hardcourt season is over? Why? So he
can move onto clay to compete on the
only Grand Slam surface he hasn't
"It's the end," said Federer, closing
out the January to early-April hardcourt
season. "I don't care anymore. I'm
moving over to clay, a new chapter."
He's locked into playing just two clay
tournaments before the French. "Yes,
it's going to stay that way," he said.
But then, he caught himself. "Nothing is
set in stone. You never know. I don't
So where in his career is Mr. Monogram
(he also carries a script F on his shirt
sleeves and the back of his shoes,
though it isn't known if he also has a
monogram F on his underwear or his
velvet smoking jacket) as he struggles
on to find that record-tying 14th major
I've been marking his slow decline since
he was pushed to a fifth set at the 2007
Wimbledon by Rafael Nadal, though the
legions of Federer worshippers have been
in denial for months about his retreat
from No. 1.
Two things are gone from the game that
carried him to dominance for nearly four
years -- the effectiveness of his
running forehand, which was a signature
shot, and his mental strength in
deciding sets. I chronicled just
yesterday how he's now lost 10 of his
last 16 deciding sets since Nadal
whipped him 9-7 in the fifth at the 2008
Why has he declined in those areas?
You'll hear people tell you he needs a
coach. You'll hear people tell you he'll
be just fine once he gets over his
injuries and/or illnesses. Federer needs
a coach like Mozart needed a music
teacher. Nick Bollettieri thinks he
needs a coach to kick his butt, to tell
him to just go out there and beat the
crap out of Rafael Nadal. That sounds
silly to me. The guy's got 13 Slam
titles. He knows what it takes to win a
major. As far as the injuries are
concerned, I've heard enough about
mononucleosis and especially about this
year's big excuse, a bad back.
We're three months into the season and I
can tell you there isn't a top 20 player
out there that isn't hurting somewhere
-- a wrist that is painful when you hit
with too much top . . . a shoulder that
stings when you try to crank up a 135
mph serve . . . a knee that tweaks when
you pivot just the wrong way. But I
don't hear anyone except Federer
constantly mentioning injuries.
If you hurt, guess what. It comes with
the ATP territory. Or does Federer think
he's the only player out there who is
handicapped in some way by a lingering
You can't stay at the top of your
potential forever, but that's not the
only reason Federer is probably only the
third-best player in the world and maybe
the fourth. He's now lost a collective
10 straight to Nadal, Novak Djokovic and
Andy Murray. There also are his
competitors. He's 27 years old and he's
not going to get significantly better.
He's topped out his skill at an
extremely high level while Nadal (22
years old) and Djokovic and Murray (both
21) still have upside. Nadal's second
serve can still get better . . .
Djokovic's mental strength can get more
solid . . . and Murray could use a much
better second serve. They're young and
they're still improving. Federer is not
going to improve. Figure it out.
That racket smash in the third set
against Djokovic on Friday? It was
significant only as a sign of just how
tortured Federer has become by his
inability to play at his 2005-07 level.
Time marches on, people. Maybe Federer
still doesn't believe that applies to
him, but it does.
Charles Bricker can be reached at
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