PARIS – Roger Federer’s post-match press conference at Roland Garros following his quarterfinal defeat to Robin Soderling on Tuesday night had the eerie feel of a funeral.
It was as if the media had gathered to accompany the Federer legend to its final resting place.
It took the world number 1 an uncharacteristic two hours before he addressed the gathering journalists, and when he finally did he was still visibly shaken from the stunning defeat.
That should come as little surprise.
Not only is Federer known for his emotional reactions to victories and defeats alike, but Tuesday’s loss was doubly disappointing because it had also ended his mind-boggling streak of consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, a run likely never to be equaled.
Since his third round exit at the 2004 French Open, Federer had reached at least the semifinals of the following 23 Grand Slam tournaments, more than double of the second-best streak of 10 held by Ivan Lendl.
To put it into perspective, consider this:
Pete Sampras, a winner of 14 Grand Slam titles (second only to Federer) and undoubtedly one of the greatest players of all-time, made no more than three straight major semis during his illustrious career.
As Federer put it: “I was proud to have that streak, and it’s probably one of the greatest ones I have in my history books.”
The upset by Soderling may finally give Federer’s amazingly underrated streak the credit it so deserves, but it is now a thing of the past.
As he said in a rare moment of laughter on an otherwise somber occasion: “It was a great run. Now I’ve got the quarterfinal streak going, I guess.”
That leaves us with the unavoidable question that arises from the quarterfinal defeat – where is Federer’s career heading from here?
Was this a one-off upset to be followed by at least a couple more Grand Slam triumphs, or was it, perhaps, another significant piece of evidence that his career is entering the steepest part of an inevitable decline.
Federer, who has been losing more and more in non-Grand Slam events in recent years, had no doubt that Tuesday’s loss wasn’t further proof of what would be a worrying trend for him.
“You can’t really practice with these kinds of conditions. You just take them the way they come. That’s why it’s disappointing,” said Federer, who complemented Soderling on his great tennis.
“And honestly, I don’t look too deep into why I lost today. For me, it’s very clear very quickly. That’s why I think I can move away from this rather fast and concentrate on the grass season coming up.
“I mean, I respect everyone, but I’m honest enough to myself that I know I can win them all. I felt confident going into the match knowing that if I play well, if I play solid, I’d probably win this match. But at the end of the day, he deserves credit. He played incredibly well from the beginning to the end and in very difficult conditions.
“So it’s a bit of a shame. The conditions were what they were, but he deserves it. He played very well.”
You wouldn’t expect Federer to think any differently, after all, his incredible self-belief, some might even say arrogance, is a significant part of what makes him such a great champion.
However, as much as I, and many others, would like to take his word for it, the only real answer regarding the implications of his shocking loss in Paris can be given out on court.
One of the amazing aspects of the world of sports is the way its heroes rise and fall at a remarkable speed.
Federer has by no means fallen. Slipped-up on the Paris mud would perhaps be more accurate.
He was, after all, nothing short of sensational in the first set
against Soderling and played some excellent tennis even when the Swede
had the upper hand.
However, another early exit at Wimbledon and the eulogies to the
greatest career in tennis history will be written faster than you can
There is only one way in which Federer can prove Tuesday wasn’t the beginning of the end and that is by winning Grand Slams.
It is quite fortunate then that his favorite tournament, one which he
has won six times, gets underway at the All England Club in less than
three weeks time.