He may have been everyone’s favourite to win Wimbledon over the first week and after two sets yesterday it looked like it was plain sailing, so much so John McEnroe said Murray better be ready to be on court after only 1 hour 30 mins.
Then something changed. Tsonga to his credit started playing lights out tennis, and Federer just switched off and went in to this world where he just expected Tsonga to roll over and capitulate. Unfortunately for Federer this did not happen, and then Tsonga played three of the best sets of tennis of his life, to oust the great Swiss.
Federer did not have any answers when everything clicked into place for Tsonga, he was blown off the court in many ways, he never broke his serve apart from the first game of the first set, and honestly never really looked like breaking it again. Federer seemed to have nothing in the tank to step it up and take it to the next level, like he would have done in the past. There was one break of serve where Tsonga’s blistering, shot making fury, destroyed Federer’s serve, like a tornado destroys a house.
Now you start to wonder whether if you were in Federer’s shoes; would you decide to retire, to end on a relative high, maybe after the US Open. Or do you plug away in the vain hope that it will all come good again, like so many aging great champions of sport, sometimes try to achieve.
Let’s be honest here, Federer is not exactly in a dire position, he still has the tools and the game to win Grand Slams, but does he now have that mental capability, the extra desire, the want or need, to go that extra step like he needed to do against Tsonga, yesterday. Or when he was serving for the set against Nadal, in the French Open final; or when he had two match points against Djokovic in last year’s US open, it is unlikely to happen. And if it did how many less than good results will fall before it happens.
The problem is never an easy one when discussing the greatest of the greats, near the end of their supreme powers, because generally they are still way better than everyone else. But Federer has now not won a GS in six attempts; he has only made one final, and has now lost in three quarterfinals. And this time at Wimbledon, his favourite surface, the one everyone said was going to gain him his seventh title, and his seventeenth overall, he was found wanting again. This time though he cannot use the excuse he has a bad back, or any other complaint, it is just that he has lost that little something that made him so special for so many years.
Does he want to continue playing tennis and be like everyone else, hoping to win another Grand Slam, accepting that a quarterfinal or semi, is as far as he will go in a championship. Slowly but surely diminishing his status as the greatest player ever. What does he do if he does not win another slam by the end of 2012, maybe, that is what he is holding on for, a last hurrah at the home of tennis, winning the one tournament he does not have, the Olympics?
It is always a shame when you see someone like Federer starting to fade away, even if it is only slight, when you have achieved so much and been as great as Federer I suppose it is hard to realise when it is over.