When Roger Federer won this year’s Wimbledon final , tennis fans hoped that he had somehow found the Fountain of Youth . Playing at close to his best , he came back to beat Andy Murray in a hard-fought final and notched his 17th Grand Slam win. However , his performance the rest of the year has brought us back to earth. While Roger is still playing at a high level and is a dangerous opponent on any surface , he does not have the aura of invincibility that he once had . Also , at age 31, he does not have the stamina to consistently win tough fivesetters against younger opponents like Novak Djokovic , Juan del Potro or Andy Murray. I would love to be wrong but I think he’s won his last Grand Slam . Going forward, his best chance would seem to be at Wimbledon next June ; it’s his favorite surface and the event where he’s been most successful.
After the high of watching Federer win the Wimbledon final , I settled down to watch the Olympic Final , secure in the expectation that it would be yet another win over an opponent that he had demoralized less than a month earlier. Never could I have anticipated what followed. Not only did Fed lose but he was never in the match as Murray galloped to a straight-set victory . For a few brief moments I wondered whether Federer threw the match . Then common sense asserted itself . Firstly , he had too much integrity to do anything like that and, for another , he badly wanted to win the Olympic gold medal , an honor that had eluded him in spite of his having dominated tennis for more than a decade.
Casting about for reasons why he might have lost , and that too so tamely , I could only think of the toll the semifinal had taken on him , both mentally and physically. In that match he had beaten Juan del Potro in an epic three set tussle , with the pressure packed final set ending 17-15. That match had as much drama as the five setter he’d lost to Nadal at Wimbledon three years ago.That Olympic final was when I first realized that Roger too was mortal and that his Wimbledon Grand Slam victory might have been a last hurrah. It’s possible I’m being too pessimistic ( I’m that way about my favorites) but, from here on in , I can’t expect Roger to win every time he steps on the court. However , win or lose , we tennis fans can be happy that he will be around for at least another year or two and that we will be able to revel in the fluidity of his movements and the sheer grace of his all -court game .
At 26, Rafael Nadal is five years younger tha he too seems to nearing the twilight of his career though for a different reason. In his case , his muscular style of play has taken its toll on his body and the injuries have begun to mount.He swings hard on every shot , often seeming to swing from his boot tops , and puts great stress on his body .Unlike Federer who seems to be wielding a rapier, Nadal seems to be swinging an axe or a bludgeon. He has a heavier frame and that puts added pressure on his knees . His long , relentless practices and his packed tournament schedule don’t help either. Mindful of these facts , Nadal has been doing what he can to cut back his tournament schedule and change his style of play but he is still at heart a clay court player. His game is based on retrieving every shot and breaking down his opponents physically and mentally and this results in long rallies and long matches , not good for his body.
This year , Nadal lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals , beat him in the finals of the French Open , was shocked in the 2nd round at Wimbledon and missed most of the hard court season including the U.S Open due to injury . He was side-lined for a good part of the year and one wonders what this augurs for the future.Nadal has tremendous fighting spirit and great mental reserves but will he be able to bounce back from injury and stay healthy ? That remains to be seen and ,while I wish him the best of luck , I can’t help thinking that this year’s campaign was a precursor of the future. He will be the favorite in the French if he is healthy but at all the other Grand Slam venues he will be more like the dangerous foe that will trouble the rising stars , Djokovic and Murray. I feel safe in predicting that beginning next year , Djokovic and Murray will win more Grand Slams than Federer & Nadal. This is as much a recognition of the mortality of our icons as it is an acknowledgement of emerging stars .
Actually , Novak Djokovic is not an emerging star ; he has already reached the top . In 2011 , he won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments and was runner-up in the fourth , losing in the final to who else , Rafael Nadal. In 2012 , he won the Australian Open, lost to Federer in the semis at Wimbledon and was runner-up at the U.S . Open . Not as a good year as 2011 but one that anyone would be happy with . His record against Federer and Nadal has improved in recent years and will only get better barring something inexplicable . Murray , also 25, has been knocking on the door for a long time and the installation of Ivan Lendl as his coach seems to have had the necessary effect in getting him over the hump. The knock against Andy Murray has always been his fragile psyche.Lendl , known for his mental toughness when he was a player, seems to have been able to instill some of his steel in his protegé; witness Murray’s demeanor during the finals at Wimbledon ( when he lost to Federer) and the U.S. Open ( when he held on to defeat Novak Djokovic). The Murray of last year would not have fared as well. Now that he has won his first Grand Slam and got the monkey of his back , he should be more relaxed, more dangerous opponent in the future.
The next couple of years should be very interesting as Djokovic and Murray will be at their peak and Federer and Nadal try to maintain their slipping place at the top. Whoever they support , true fans of tennis will be treated to some intense , fascinating battles among these four .