This has been on the mind of many a Roger Federer fan for the past few years. When will he retire? How will he retire?
Although there is no inkling that he will be calling it a day anytime soon, there is a feeling that it will come at a time where no-one will expect it.
For so many Federer fans, the dream is to see Roger hold an 18th Grand Slam title aloft and then quit the sport which he has graced ever since his debut season in 1998. That would give the living legend a fitting farewell that he deserves. But fairytales rarely occur, even for sporting gods such as Federer.
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Injury, loss in performances, lack of motivation after dominating for so long. These are the usual ways in which sportsmen and sportswomen leave the game, whatever the sport may be. Could Roger’s end come in a different form, a lack of confidence?
Before looking at how his career may come to a close, it is worth acknowledging how well he has rejuvenated his game in recent years. After winning Wimbledon in 2012, commentators and fans alike felt that Roger could go on to dominate for a few more years and really kill off any doubts about his place as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
However, a drop in performances and a back injury ruined his 2013. Consistent losses against the world’s top 10 that year made many people doubt his ability to continue. For a lot of fans, they had a mixture of emotions. Part of them wanted him to retire so that they would not have to see him suffer losses to the minnows of the game any longer.
But another section of his support wanted him to rediscover some form and end on a winning note at one of the majors. The main thing that everyone should know is that you should never write off champions. They can have losses just like the rest of us, they are humans at the end of the day. But they will rise up and any doubters only spur on the motivation for these sportsmen.
His 2014, compared to the 2013 season, was like night and day. Confidence, a new style, revived power were all the characteristics of a stellar season for the Swiss, as he ended the year as the leading match winner on the ATP World Tour. In 2015, he continued to have exceptional performances and great results throughout the season. The win against Andy Murray in the semi-final of Wimbledon was one of his five greatest performances, right up there with the dismantling of Andy Roddick at the Australian Open semi-final in 2007. Despite these successes, one thing has eluded him in the recent past - a Grand Slam title.
Through the years of 2004-2007, Federer won 11 out of the 16 available major titles. This was something unheard of before he arrived on the scene, but he made it look so easy that people expected that to continue for each year he would play. But that is the beauty of sport. We as fans should expect the unexpected.
A certain Rafael Nadal, after two years being the world number two, upped his game and stepped up to the major moments. That magical final at Wimbledon in 2008 reiterated that Federer would no longer be a certainty to win every major.
However, one thing to note is that he suffered from mononucleosis for the majority of the year and that will have been a definite factor in his dip in performances. A revival in 2009, where he became the most decorated male tennis player at Grand Slams, made people realise what a special player he was.
For many of us, when we watch Federer, we feel privileged to live in this era where we can watch the exploits of this sporting icon. Even though this emotion has never left tennis lovers, the Grand Slam titles have dried up in the Federer trophy cabinet. Since the end of 2009, only twice has Roger Federer ended a Grand Slam fortnight as the champion. Why?
One major reason is the presence of two other all-time greats in the same era. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have improved in all parts of their game and have delivered magical performances to dominate the Grand Slams since 2009.
Stopping Federer at semi-finals or finals had become almost second nature to them as the Swiss maestro could not get over the line like he once could.
These three players have made each other better and their matches are amongst the best of all time. We again are truly privileged to live in this era to witness the brilliance of these sportsmen.
Furthermore, another major factor in Federer’s “decline” is his age. At 34, Roger no longer has the explosiveness in his legs to overpower his contemporaries. A recent knee surgery in 2016 does not comfort Federer fans, who hoped he could rediscover his Midas touch.
Let us hope he can prove us all wrong again, like he has done throughout the past few years. Not many players have played till 34, let alone win Grand Slam titles at that stage of their careers. Many legends of the sport, such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe enjoyed their last great years at 30.
It would be unreasonable to expect Federer to dominate at almost 35 years of age, there is still hope he can. Many pundits and commentators have the belief that even though there may have been better players in history, such as Rod Laver and Sampras, there has been no one who has played the sport better.
Moreover, other than age, a lack of confidence on the big points has seemed to creep into the Federer game. Jim Courier made a fascinating point on commentary recently. When asked about whether Roger’s decline was down to a loss in fitness, he said that there was no difference in the movement of Federer on the court. Only his confidence had wavered when approaching the net or when dominating a point. This seems to happen to all sporting greats at some point. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid faced these moments in cricket, so it is somewhat normal to expect Federer to go through this as well.
As we enter the European swing of the 2016 season, it will once again be enthralling to see how Federer performs. With the added motivation of a Rio Olympics Gold medal, Roger will hope he can add that as a crowning jewel to his career. He has recently stated that he would like to play until 2018, when a new stadium opens for his home tournament. Whether he can remains to be seen, but it is another credit to his character that after everything he achieved he isn't prepared to go out with a whimper.