French Open is on its way. As usual, Rafael Nadal is the favorite to win and equal Björn Borg’s record of six titles at Roland Garros. But Novak Djokovic is not far behind. The Serb hasn’t lost a single match this season and goes into the tournament with a 37-0 win/loss score. More significantly, he has defeated Nadal four times (twice on clay) this year which is a feat in itself considering Nadal’s unprecedented dominance since he overtook the No.1 ranking from Roger Federer last year. And that brings us to the guy in question.
The trouble with being Federer is that no one expects you to fail. But he is failing terribly. Come to think of it, Federer has created a monster of sort for himself. And that shows, especially when he suffers against unhailed opponents. He is currently No.3 after losing his No.2 ranking to Djokovic in March. To top it all, he has won just one title this year at Qatar which is nothing less than a bad half-season for a player of his stature.
Critics love to write Federer off. They’ve been doing this for a long while now. Age is definitely not on his side. At 29, he is among the oldest in the top-10 league. Of course, his remarkable 16 Grand Slams and 17 Masters Titles can’t be overlooked at any cynical cost. You don’t teach Federer how to play tennis nor can you beat him at it. Only Federer can defeat Federer. Or rather, only Federror can defeat Federer. Lately, Federer has been lacking focus and committing errors thanks to desolate second serve and misplaced forehands. Even psychologically, he appears faded and a dark shadow of his former self.
For the record, if Djoko makes it to the semis, Nadal’s No.1 is still at peril even if he wins the GS. Nadal’s recent slip-ups prove that no matter how great a specialist you are, you are bound to slip on the clay sooner or later. This is a lesson in denial for Federer. He can pick up a thing or two from Djoko’s attitude towards game which is based on one principle: Be positive till the very end. Ironically, Federer’s Achilles heels lies in his head. He gives up long before the match ends.
For instance, in the semifinal match in Miami, Nadal totally overwhelmed him. Federer was hardly playing. It was like a worthless stroll across the court. Something Federerphiles are not used to but sadly are getting used to. Fortunately, Federer showed some grit when he met Nadal again in the Madrid semifinal by dominating the first set but Nadal fought back and won the match. Interestingly, if everything goes according to the rankings’ script, Federer will be facing Nadal in the semifinal for a spot in the French Open final. Let’s wait and watch.
Have to admit no one is bigger than the sport. Not even Federer. He aims to collect at least 20 Grand Slams before he hangs up his racquet for good. Going by his contemporaries’ current form, it seems like a distant reality. Every great champion has a crest followed by a trough. We are witnessing Federer’s trough much against our wish. Federer lost to Tomáš Berdych in the quarterfinal match at Wimby and it’s been a downhill since with a sliver of inconsistent revival every now and then.
Whatever be the case, my money is on him. Between Nadal and Djokovic, Federer will always be the in absentia winner. Snatching the French Open under the victorious nose of Nadal-Djoko duo shall be a perfect rejoinder to all the questions about his downfall. Hopefully. May the phoenix rise and rewrite the tennis mythology!