Perhaps the most amazing part about Roger Federer’s quarterfinal defeat at Wimbledon on Wednesday was the fact that he didn’t play that badly.
True, he wasn’t at his very best, the supreme magnificence that earned him the deserved reputation as the greatest player of all-time.
But he also wasn’t that far from it, and yet he still lost, again.
Federer took his record 16th grand slam title at the Australian Open at the start of last year in what was his 18th final in 19 majors.
Since then, he has not only failed to lift a grand slam trophy, but he has also reached just a single final.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga deserved to beat the Swiss master 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6- 4, 6-4 on Centre Court on Wednesday, just as Rafael Nadal did in the Roland Garros final earlier this month.
Novak Djokovic’s wins over Federer in the recent semifinals of the Australian and US Opens were equally fully deserved, as was Tomas Berdych’s victory in last year’s Wimbledon’s quarterfinal.
You get the point.
Federer is still playing well.
He just isn’t playing well enough.
It is not that he is losing to one particular player time and again, like he did against Nadal at a certain stage in his career.
He is losing to different players on every surface, falling to five different opponents in the last six slams.
But the greatest indication to the waning of his powers is the fact that he is losing in matches he is playing well in, as was the case on Wednesday.
“Except the score, many, many things went right. I thought I played a good match myself. I’m actually pretty pleased with my performance today,” said Federer, who was a perfect 178-0 in grand slam matches in which he took the first two sets until Wednesday.
“It’s kind of hard going out of the tournament that way, but unfortunately it does happen sometimes.
“At least it took him sort of a special performance to beat me, which is somewhat nice.”
Hearing Federer speak so serenely about an early (by his lofty standards) grand slam exit was almost incomprehensible.
There is no way that he has lost his hunger for success, but perhaps he is just not as starving as he used to be.
“I think this one for some reason’s gonna be easier to digest than last year’s defeat,” he said. “Even though this one was in five sets and I was up two sets to love, I don’t really feel like I lost from two sets to love up.
“I can’t blame my poor returning or my poor serving or my poor movement or anything like that in this match, and that makes it, I think, a bit easier to digest.”
Federer does not feel that too much should be made of Wednesday’s defeat, but combined with all of his recent losses, it would be wrong to ignore it.
“I think it’s pretty tough for anybody right now to win grand slams,” he said. “This wasn’t a shocker second-round loss in straight sets, some stupid match I played. It was a great match, I think, from both sides.
“To talk bad about this match would be unfortunate, I think. I really did play well, and I also thought Jo played an amazing match. You can only respect that. I do that. That’s why there’s no reason to look too far ahead, to be quite honest.”
Federer is clearly still good enough to win at least one more grand slam
title, it’s just that he is not consistently good enough to win them on
a regular basis as he used to.
“I thought my game was plenty good enough this year to win the
tournament,” the six-time Wimbledon champion said. “Unfortunately
there’s only one that can win it, and the rest go home empty-handed. But
the game is there. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I feel much better than sort
of a year ago. That’s very encouraging really. Even though I took a
tough loss today, I don’t feel discouraged in any way. I think that’s
key right now, to not let anything get to me.”
Federer remains optimistic of future triumphs, but what once seemed like a dead certainty is now shrouded with doubt.
It would be foolish to discount the Swiss in any grand slam he enters
until the end of his career and surely he will add to his tally of 16.