from London, the director
I had met Gentleman Tim Henman, "true Brit"(Not like Greg Rusedski!), Four-time semi-finalist at Wimbledon (and four others in the quarterfinals) and he, born in 1974, former No. 4 ATP who had played 13 times with Roger Federer losing the last 6 before retiring in 2007, seemed not to have the slightest doubt.
"Now that I'm out Djokovic and Nadal, the natural favorite of the tournament, also for how he played against Djokovic, serving two first balls out of three (73% overall, after a first set even 83%) it's certain Roger Federer. I will say indeed – he added to Stuart Fraser of the Times – that I was a little disappointed by our own comments on TV, because due to the fact that Nadal and Djokovic split the four Slams this year, we exposed ourselves too early to consider it out of play for a final statement in these ATP Finals, as soon as we saw him lose from Thiem … and for the third time this year. Instead, on a fast indoor surface like this, we should have been more careful and … respectful of a champion of his immense talent and pride. The way he played against Djokovic was impressive in all respects … the extraordinary quality of his services, consistency. It constantly beat 6 or 7 miles faster than Novak (About 10 km) putting a lot more inside, it seemed definitely even faster than one of the fastest players that exist, and while always taking the initiative, taking great risks, it has done nothing but very few free errors (five!). It was one of the best performances I've seen. And now, reach the semi-finals again (for the sixteenth time on 17! N.d.UBS) will have confidence in the stars".
Sic dixit Tim Henman. And it seemed hard to disagree with him.
So I found myself then at the table of media restaurant of the 02 Arena yesterday morning, an hour before Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas took to the field in what was certainly the most awaited semi-final, to share those feelings expressed by Henman. A lot of Swiss were sitting at that tablei, from the former Barcelona 92 Olympic champion Marc Rosset, former Davis captain, former player and Davis captain Claudio Mezzadri, to the journalist of a Swiss publishing group Mathieu Aeschmann, to the envoy de l'Equipe, the French Julien Reboullet, to Herve Borsier of Radio Swiss.
"Roger ready now?"I caused the diners a bit, all federerians hyper-convinced from their feet to the tip of their hair. And there, but I don't know how much it was for good luck, Mathieu Aeschmann, a former junior player of the same age as Roger, showed unexpected caution: "Attention Ubaldo, if Roger lost the 2017 Masters here, when the other three semi-finalists were Sock, Goffin and Dimitrov, anything can happen".
Indeed that had been a resounding surprise: Roger boasted 6 wins to zero against his semi-final opponent Goffin and 6 wins to 0 also with Dimitrov, probably the finalist having to face the mediocre Sock. Well, Roger quite unexpectedly lost from Goffin 6-4 to the third. Even more incredibly, because he had dominated the first set 6-2.
Well, by now you know how it went between Federer and Tsitsipas (6-3 6-4). And you will remember that a year ago Federer also lost the semifinal with Zverev (7-5 7-6) in two sets. in conclusion for three years in a row Roger lost here in the semifinals, when most were the favorite. Of the match and the tournament. A case? I suspect not. Addolorandomene.
I imagine that it is enough to pronounce this "I suspect not, I fear it is not a case" to arouse the rejection of Federer's fans. "Here is the director of Ubitennis who one day describes Roger Federer as a timeless phenomenon that never ceases to amaze … and the next day, because Federer loses from an excellent Tsitsipas, he speculates about his decline, underlines his 38 and a half years well unlike the day before ". "The 38 years are falling on him all at once – etc. etc. – the usual journalists of the hindsight". Here, yes, I imagined that a huge Federer fan reasons so.
But since there are also Federer fans, among the millions, even more detached, serene, I turn to them remembering what I have always been able to observe on the samples, the really big ones, numbers one, which are no longer kids. And I give an example that I consider significant: Stefan Edberg class 1966, at the beginning of 1996 – when he celebrates just the thirtieth birthday that for a dozen years he has always performed during the Australian Open with a lot of cake in the press room – he announces, that is enough. That will be his last year of tennis.
They will be 12 months with a farewell catwalk after the other, one more moving than the other, from one city to another, for a great champion of serve & volley, a number one on the field and out, "mister Fair Play" admired by everyone, even by the beckeriani where he brought so many pains, particularly with the two finals at Wimbledon 1988 and 1990. And coach for a couple of years just for Roger Federer.
Still top-10 in February 1995, after being No. 1 in the world for 72 weeks, Agnolo Biondo begins 1996 from n.23. He has not forgotten how he knows how to play, he has not lost his talent, he can do and still win extraordinary games and lose horrible ones. It slides to 54, but then goes up to 14. But beyond the rankings, are the opponents that beats and those from which he loses, which explain very well to me what is happening to Roger Federer that remains a phenomenon because it lives between highs and lows, from one day to another, as Edberg and dozens of great champions have lived with eight years less.
If you don't want to go over the detailed 1996 report by Edberg with all its highs and lows, go on to the next paragraph.
1996 by Stefan Edberg
Stefanello, as Clerici kindly called it, in the year of the song of the blond swan he goes to Melbourne, he beats the n.30 Novak (not Djokovic!) to lose from the n.154 Fleurian. In Doha it loses from Prinosil, which is not an ointment but the n.50. In Scottsdale he leaves 7 games to Todd Martin n.17 in two sets, but then he loses from Sandon Stolle n.125. After a few tournaments without infamy and without praise, in Munich he leaves 5 game to Berasategui n.32 and two years before finalist at Roland Garros, to give in to the following round to the modest Karbacher, n.59. Here he is in Rome: he beats Pioline 19 and Ivanisevic 6, but loses against Krajicek 25. In Paris, he who had surprisingly lost with the miraculous Chang in the 89 final, leave 4 game to Moya 20 and take revenge with Chang 4, to lose to Rosset 15. At Queen's Edberg he found a way to beat two herbivores like Ivanisevic 7 and Martin 18 (who two weeks later will be in the semifinals at Wimbledon) before reassembling Muster n.2, always joked by Edberg (10-0 in direct clashes at the end of his career). Comes to Wimbledon in the wake of those successes and what does he do? Loses from Tillstrom n.58. In Stuttgart from the recently deceased Volkov, 87. He manages to do worse: ko with Caratti 141 in Cincinnati, with Roux 112 in Indianapolis.
Come on, it's over now! Useless! At the US Open Stefan beat Krajicek n.8 two months before Wimbledon champion, Hharhuis 26, Henman 39 in the second round. He beats Korda and Vacek in Davis, but in Basel he gives in to Goellner 79. Play his latest Masters 1000 (still not called that) centering the quarters: he beats Stich 17, the usual Muster 6 victim, to give way to his compatriot Enqvist. The last two career defeats will come at home, against compatriot Kulti (71) on the Stockholm indoor and in the opening match of the Davis final against Pioline (21), lost as the whole MalmO challenge by the Swedes, who surrendered 3-2. In that last match Stefan also hurt his right ankle in a serve & volley attempt, but still managed to complete the match.
Federer as Edberg?
What did I want to demonstrate in detail? That what is missing at a certain age is continuity. Can play and serve as a fairy tale against Djokovic and two days later put just over one first out of two (56%) and so the rampant Tsitsipas that he had not had any awe in Melbourne, but that he had not been able to win a single break ball against Rafa Nadal the day before, he tears up his service three times and risks making a fourth.Federer's fans must resign themselves. His tennis will always be worth the ticket price, even at 40 and beyond, but when he faces opponents in the top 10/15 today, between the first 20/25 in a year, will always lose, while giving show.
The game that gave the first set to Tsitsipas on 5-3, 22 points and with the seventh set point that was the good one after Roger had missed 2 break points, was full of suspense, spectacular exchanges, magnificent points (although there was also some mistakes). But if then in the second set Roger plays an obscene batting game marked by four really free errors, what can be attributed to the fault if not at the age that makes you discontinuous? Reacts with the blaze of the champion and resumes the break, but in the next game he hits two smash "As I don't think it ever happened to me"- he will then say – and a second break to an increasingly gassed Tsitsipas does not even recover Federer despite the two break points for the five that could have reopened the game.
In short, the regrets for the Federer that had been two days before, which could have been and was not, will never end, but will be repeated in the coming year. More and more. It's sad but it's inevitable. Federer will never collapse, at least for a while, losing one first round after another. I'm sure. Also because at that point he would be the first, proud as he is to want to quit. But now he doesn't even think about quitting. And because it still has fun. And because he still earns a mountain of money every step. Were it not like that, he would not do five / six performances in South America with Zverev next week and another four at the end of the year in China. Probably his managers squeeze it like a bunch of grapes. I in his place – hear what I tell you! – I'd be more with Mirka. I don't think if you bring it with children in South America, where they play in a different place every day. And in China … mah!
Let me be clear: far from lacking respect for a great champion like Roger who has every right not to give up at the age for having been twice to a point from still triumphing at Wimbledon – who knows for how long he will regret them! He and his fans – but also for having just taken a wonderful revenge with Djokovic here in London, preventing him from returning # 1 in the world for the sixth time … I believe, however, that Roger's signs of decline exist and are also quite evident, even if he wins the Basel tournament for the tenth time.
In the cross-border exchanges, on the spectacular diagonal of the two one-handed reversals, Roger was almost always in trouble, late. Tsitsipas played much deeper, with more power, before leaving a longline tracer that left Federer dry. And when Roger, almost desperate for the impossibility of finding a way out in the dribbles, tried to jump into the net, the Greek from Athens stabbed him like a thrush. Then there were those flashes of genius typically federeriani that made you hope in the third set, a pair of muffles that seemed to have been put over the net by hand, but they were fires of straw.
Let's face it: the best Federer would have been able to transform some ball breaks into more – he had as many as 12, but he managed only one break – especially when Tsitsipas (only 6 aces, but several effective first few bars) had to resort to the second service. To those Roger he responded worse than to the first ones. Why the reflexes were still there, the legs for the shifts less. Seeing him miss all those opportunities for a break, I came back to mind the failed match points at Wimbledon. Same syndrome? Not random? Well, it is said badly when a couple of centimeters decree a verdict. However if those two centimeters are missing, Federer is more and more often …
In short, to finally conclude, wishing myself, before he and his fans, that he denies me, I believe that a Federer still winning in the Slams, in big tournaments, we will not see him almost anymore. True that we all thought it already in 2016, but the time that passes does not play in its favor.
And Tsitsipas? Well he'll see it again, getting stronger, more and more decisive. It can also very well lose tonight fromgreat Thiem which is considerably shortening the opening of the obverse and is making progress all over the place, but – and not only because Stefanos is five years younger than Dominic and the same registry gap exists between Nadal and Federer (me si pass the double comparison, but in the coming years this is a rivalry that will live several episodes) – I have the impression that Tsitsipas has the potential to become the No. 1 in the world. Above all, when Djokovic, whom I saw partially extinguished, will also give him the green light. In two years? In my opinion there is. And it is also desirable because it is a nice character, as a tennis player and even not. Frankly more than Thiem and Medvedev. That said though – and here I agree with Zverev – that all the four Slams in 2020 end up on the bulletin board of the usual four I don't think so.