July 6th, 2010
05:27 PM ET

Is Federer's shining star finally on the wane?

This week, for the first time since November 2003, Roger Federer gets third billing among the musketeers at the top of men’s tennis.

After losing at the quarterfinal stages of the last two Grand Slams Roger Federer is now world number three.
After losing at the quarterfinal stages of the last two Grand Slams Roger Federer is now world number three.

The 28-year-old Swiss, who was already second in the rankings to Rafael Nadal prior to Wimbledon, even though he was seeded first because of his grass-court pedigree, is now the third-best player in the world according to the ATP rankings, having leapfrogged by Novak Djokovic.

The question is now, is Roger on a permanent downward spiral or is this just a blip on the resume of a player who’s still the highest achiever the game of tennis has ever known?

Inevitably, in the immediate aftermath of his quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, the critics and experts - who’d once elevated Federer to demi-god status - were talking decline.

He’s not the player he once was, as seen by his increasing vulnerability on court. He’s not the man he once was – I mean, look how he came up with previously unmentioned excuses for his early exit (his back, his leg) and how petulant he was when asked who might win the title in his stead. His snippy answer: “I don’t care."

Yes, not so easy now you’re not invincible is it, Rog, so the criticism goes. Welcome to the real world.

Even people closer to the mountain top than those media critics seem to be tacitly writing him off. Andy Murray said that his semifinal conqueror Nadal is his favorite player to watch, while tennis legend John McEnroe believes that Rafa - the reigning French and Wimbledon champion - can go on to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. That would mean the Spaniard taking Juan Martin Del Potro’s U.S. Open crown in September, and Federer’s Australian Open title in January.

The unspoken message is that the fear factor of facing Federer is gone. The Terminator has been permanently usurped by the Terminator 2.

Well, I would like to disagree. Peaks and troughs are part of sport, and not necessarily evidence of a terminal decline. After all, even at only 24 years old, Nadal has suffered undulations in his own career, largely due to his suspect knees. And where did he go less than 24 hours after winning his second Wimbledon? Off to a clinic near Bilbao in Spain to have some maintenance work done on said knees.

So, you see, one wrong tweak and the door could be open again for Federer, who, as we can gather from his post-match petulance, is still hungry, somewhat angry at his own failings, and will be primed to barge right through and take what he believes is rightfully his again.

And he is still the automatic choice to fill Rafa’s shoes in the event of such an injury absence, because the other contenders are not yet in Roger’s league.

Djokovic has service issues and is beset by indecision that makes him mentally fragile. Murray is finding the pursuit of his first slam title, let alone Britain’s first men’s Wimbledon crown since 1936, an increasingly heavy cross to bear. And from fifth-ranked Robin Soderling downwards we’re looking at freak winners who might claim a slam if all the planets align, but who otherwise would be a dangerous punt for all but the most profligate of gamblers.

So Fed is the next best thing to Rafa by default if nothing else.

Therefore, I believe that while he’s in a slump, and while he’s dropped to third in the world, there are more Grand Slam titles in him yet. Not least of all on the hardcourts of the U.S. Open where Nadal is still an underachiever. Granted, Federer will never reach the dizzy heights of domination he once knew, but one step down from invincible still ain’t half-bad is it?

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  1. Chris Ross

    Very well written article. I sure think it is and even though I thought that this year’s wimbledon was very exciting and was happy to see Rafael Nadal take home his second title. I still would have loved to see a federer nadal final. With regards to Nadal you have wonder if his injuries are going to catch up to him. I’m worried for how his career is going to pan out because of the injury problems considering it could be an unbelievable career rather than just very good. Also, you think you could check out my blog? I really want to know what your opinion is on my thoughts. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/nadals-last-chance/

    July 6, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  2. mikies

    Fed has the talent, Nadal the will and power , i love to watch him play
    such a great player , full of passion , love the spanish fire!!! not the boring federer.......and no i am not from spain

    July 6, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  3. gkedpage

    I agree with you Terry. Roger is no longer the invincible but he is still better than most of the players out there. Yes, it is really hard for him to beat Rafa, but other than him the players who can really come close to him are Murray and Djokovic. Now that he has all four grand slams under his belt, he can play just for fun because hard court is still a place where Rafa struggles and that can give Federer another Grand Slam.

    July 7, 2010 at 12:52 am | Reply
  4. Boy Situmorang

    I absolutely agree with you Terry and gkedpage, Roger is not finished yet. I am sure he can still be one of the dominant tennis players and become the biggest threat to Nadal at least until he is 30 and win more grandslams. Even though I'm one of the big fans of Nadal, but I don't think Nadal could reach what Roger had achieved, especially about the number of grandslam win.

    July 7, 2010 at 7:10 am | Reply
  5. Margeux Yee

    I believe Roger Federer has proven himself enough. So far he is the greatest player of all time.As a well-rounded player in the tennis circuit, he exceeded far beyond the expectations of those who admire and criticize him. He has the class of supremacy on the tennis courts, from the grass courts of Wimbledon to the rugged clay of Paris, indeed he stands alone as the Greatest Player of All Time.

    July 7, 2010 at 8:55 am | Reply
  6. Margeux Yee

    Even though Roger Federer is in the twilight of his career now, what is important is that he has proven himself as an exceptional talent in tennis. He maybe in his late 20s now but he can still deliver the best tennis for those who emulate him. Rankings may be surpassed, records may be broken but what Roger has established will leave a mark in sports history.

    July 7, 2010 at 9:05 am | Reply
  7. carlo

    The real standard of a great champion is who he has conquered to get the crown. One can just check on players Roger has defeated and you will note that Rafa has defeated much better players ( including Federer himself) than the ones Roger had.

    Roger is such a poor sport and now that he is on a decline, it shows much more that ego that poor champions keep. HUBRIS.

    Rafa displays such admirable humility in both losing and winning. He is such a real hero of the sport.. He is 24 and he has had 2 more crowns vs Roger at the same age. He is a true champion and a great example to all the young people around the world. Rafa will win more grand slams in the future.

    July 7, 2010 at 9:13 am | Reply
  8. jorgen friis

    no question RF has lost the aura of invincibility. Unlike before when he
    dominated the tennis world players of tdy arent afraid of him which can be seen from the results sofar. Whether Roger can recapture his form re- mains to be seen. However, I suspect fact that he now has wife and child- ren may hve changed his focus. Hes not coming accross as being as hungry as he once was. There is nothing more to prove. He was the best, better than all the rest, for years. Rafa will burn himself out. His style of play will wear his body out and I find it doubtful he will be able to make a sustained challenge to Roger's legacy. Rafael's knees are his achilles heel and that will bring him down, ultimately.

    July 7, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  9. John Walker

    Would Roger Federer have 15 Grand Slam titles if he played during the same time as Sampras, Becker, Agassi, and Edberg?

    Don't get me wrong, I believe Roger is a great player!

    Would he have these titles during the McEnroe, Bjorg, and Lendl era?

    I think not! With only a couple of exceptions, I believe that great players during this era is in rare production.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  10. mengo-messi

    very very nice piece.i/ve been watching sadly how the Fed fan base has been dwindling.i was appaled at his reaction when Rafa beat him in Madrid.he couldnt have cared less.its starting to look like hes getting forced to go to the pitch.the Roger of three, four years ago was hungry, mad-pasionate, u couldnt help beilieve in him and raly beind him as he goes to capture the world.now his attitude is just a bit offhand.
    i believe he is the greatest player of the sport, but i think hes just a bad loser.but i believe he still got a few more grand slams left in him.
    i admire Ndal.that man has drive.and mad willpower.he is such a hard worker, i involuntarily like him.and he was the first to show us that Fed is not a demi-god like we all believed. but his injuries are beginning to be worrying.especially at his age.hopefully they wont drag him down.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  11. Jacques

    I think you may have misread his putulence in the post match interview – saying "I dont care" who wins it if he doesnt, does show hunger like you said, but not sure about petulence, just an attitude of "if its not me, then i dont care" which is fine

    Also, Nadal is absolutely amazing, and in any other time would have been absolutely dominant for many years, but the fact is, from the age of 17 he had to destroy himself, to just keep up with Fed, and yes hell pay the price of a short career, whilst fed has maintained dominance without tearing his body apart

    Personally I think forcing the second best player the world has ever seen to destroy himself in 4 years just to stay close is a testament to just how amazing fed is

    July 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  12. toddsaed

    Beyond tennis, Rafa and Roger are role models for the ages ,
    with the consummate blend of sportsmanship, compeitiveness , graciousness , style, and the whole package. Roger will win more, but tennis , us , future generations, and life are the bigger winners. It is not common knowledge that Rod Laver could have won twenty five championships without shamateurism in pre Open days, and Pancho Gonzalez at age 40 beat Rod Laver in 1970, after Rod was , and remains the only one to win two Grand Slams, Pancho was professional champ in the fifties, and Bud COllins said he would bet on him against anybody. Pancho himself said Lew Hoad was the best ever, Rod Laver said Pete Sampras could beat him, Sampras and others say Federer was best ever, but the best of an era could be more correct, computer simulated matches have put Pancho and Tilden with best serves ever, I think Pancho was the best ever. THe long schedule needs to be reduced, even consider wood rackets, Pancho had a 130 MPH serve, 70% first ones in , with a wood racket.
    He also played , at the time , the longest match at Wimbledon at age 41. Tennis is the best sport for all ages to play all your life without injury, to socialize, play in your nineties , socialize, 100 million players, 1 million courts in the world, bring health, the animal joy of hitting the ball often, in the zone, not waiting all day for the ball like team sports
    SO tennis on the moon with low gravity may replace religion, metaphysics, and politics in the future, Roger will certainly be in at the top of the hagiography.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  13. GripeVine & Donah

    You´re right Terry.... we all have our ups and downs and with age we just don´t come up anymore.... But Fed is still a long way off his declining years.... At least I do... I like Roger.. much more that the torero Nadal who indeed is the mean tiger is judged by his performance shots (photos) but no... Rafa does not "have it"... knee fractures of not.. He´s bloody good, yes,, but he ain´t my guy... Roger is.... I´ll see you again Rog... on all the world´s courts.. hard, grass or clay..... Does anyone disagree ??
    From the GripeVine.... & Donah..//

    July 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  14. Bob Dole

    RF lost the "aura" quite a few years ago, he hasn't played top tennis consistently since 07, but he's won like 5 slams since then. Go figure. This year alone a slam and 2 quarters isn't too bad.
    And the physical factor is a huge issue- no one looking at Nadal at the French last year would think he was severely hobbled but he was clearly 5-10% off or so, which made the huge difference if you look at the final this year where Soderling's power didn't hurt him. The same was true for Federer with mono back then and now if you look at the Final last year and the quarter this year you can see the difference even being slightly off-peak physically can make.
    There is still no one in Federer's league on grass and fast hardcourts if he is in shape, and there is no one in Fed/Nadal's league on clay except maybe Soderling and DP when he's back (if he recovers 100%- a big if). If Fed peaks physically once or twice a year during those slams it'll be good enough to get to 18-20 slams easy. Just look at how easily he won the Australian. Essentially he has a good 4-6 years left to do some damage, it's hard to think he'll be physically off for the majority of them.

    July 7, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  15. Mark ROBISON

    Sounds like you want to see Nadal go down with bad knees so your precious Federer can rise again. If that is the only way he can rise is through Nadal's knees-it is over for him. He will not gain satsifaction for he will know that Nadal could beat him.

    July 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  16. pixenees

    Sorry to say, But Roger is the worst loser I have ever seen. He is not fit to tie Rafa's shoe laces, Rafa, is humble, both in victory and defeat.

    Something Roger is not. Let him ride off in the sunset and the REAL NO.1 Rafael Nadal take over, Vamos Rafa!!!! Tonight your soccer team is playing in my country, SA, and you are here to watch them. You are the best.

    Bye Roger, thanks for the few good memories,

    July 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  17. Sid

    Great thought Terry. I would like to add that Federer is not playing off-season tennis as much as he should and he is still able to give performances like the one is gave in the 3rd and 4th round in Wimbledon. If Federer takes a hiatus from being a full time father and begins to train, we could see the fear coming back to those that have beaten him in the recent past.
    And coming to Nadal. No doubt he is a great champion. But the level at which Nadal has had to play to match the excellence of Federer, he has had to pay dearly for his knees.
    Djokovic has moved rankings only because of the 2 guys ahead of him. For me, we are still going to be witness to the sublime tennis that Federer has shown us year after year.

    July 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  18. aleksandar perisic

    Well, he can't keep wining forever. Actually there are two types of players. Those who leave the field almost at their peek, and those who let their careers gradually decline. It seems to me that Roger cannot accept that he has to let the other players lead the game after his rein, soon or later. And what if this is the end? If it is not today, it will be in a couple of years, so he will have to face with this exit anyway. This way he may just hurt other players for his vanity, and it does not look nice at all.

    July 7, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  19. Liz

    Who edited this article?

    July 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  20. tennisboy

    after 4 years of total unseen dominance, it s ok for fed to be a bit arrogant and unpleasant when loosing. i am sure, all champs hate loosing, but some are just better actors faking politeness.
    fed will rise again, and in the fight between sheer talent and most willpower , I call it even .

    July 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  21. tennis ball

    today's media is for the birds! The king doesn't win a grand slam and already the case is made of his demise! Unbelievable. Just wait until he breaks 17, then what is the media going to say? King Fed is on the rise again...

    July 7, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  22. Tamar Harel

    Never!!! He will always be the greatest of them all. His part in tennis history in undeniable!!!! One or two major loses, is not the end of the world……
    Tamar Harel

    July 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  23. pixenees

    @tennisboy, no its not OK to be a bit arrogant, and then still crying like a baby when losing, not on!!!!! Not a true Champ, but a whimp with no character.

    Give me Rafa any day. He is the same, losing or winning, never arrogant.

    Long may he play and give us the pleasure of watching him.

    July 7, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  24. Mehul

    Whene Lion is not hungary it sit quietly and wait till he is bored of relaxing time. Roger is probably doing same. He also got twins so probably not sleeping well in the night . But I ams ure he will come back and will again rule the court. Lioan will roar again.

    July 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  25. jorge

    Federer is skills and talent.. mind over matter.. like the Karate Kid (the original).. whereas Nadal is muscle and undetecteable steroids.. Yes Nadal right now is better.. his muscular endurance is the key.
    but i still think Roger is more fun..because he has to beat stronger younger people.. like a hollywood movie hehe Nadal is just another spanish winner.. not very historical.. loads of spanish winners.. not very exciting.. Swiss? more unusual

    July 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  26. eamon sheeran

    Those who said that Roger was the GOAT are a load oF ASSES. He is one of the greatest,but there are players such as Rod Laver,Bjorn Borg, John Mc Enroe,Lew Hoad, and more, who are equally as good;and some even greater, eg Laver. Nadal will never achieve 16 Grand Slams(work it out),but he is undoubtedly one of the best.His willpower is that of Borg´s.Truly amazing. However,I must disagree with those who speak of his modesty. Just look at his attitude on court,not what he says at press conferences,where he is quite coy.. He is arrogant, but he is also young. Does nobody remember what Federer was like just ten years ago? Breaking rackets,swearing etc. Nadal swears all the time(in Spanish,which saves him a load of warnings),and his antics when he wins certain points is not exactly a sign of humility, he is coached during games and takes more time than any other player to serve;well over the time limit. This is something we can see. It is not an opinion. Federer may get one ,maybe two more Grand Slams,but he is really over the top.His Rolex keeps ticking.

    July 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Reply
  27. Joao

    Good Article!

    People needs to understand that what Federer has done is out of this world! Winning 82 matches and loosing 5 in a year?? Come on, this guy won the australian open in january and people are talking about him like he is having a negative record this year.
    I do believe that he is the favourite to win the US OPEN and also the Australian OPEN. He still has the desire to win more tournaments, otherwise, he would just quit because what he has done, it will take some time or maybe never will be matched by other player.
    ps: Nadal is great but will not beat Roger´s 16 major, because Rog is beyond great

    July 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  28. Jim

    Federer is forever. He is the best tennis player. His backhand swings are so elegant, just unforgetable. My prediction is, since he is not yet 30, he is hopeful to win Wimbledon until he is 35.

    July 7, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  29. Nostromo45

    As I wrote on another CNN post: nobody is invincible; any great player can have an off day. So it is with Roger Federer – a great player. Berdych was inspired and managed what seemed impossible. And the pùndits rush in to say Federer's day is over. Cheap sensationalism at best and worthless blurb journalism at worst.
    Roger will be back for more big finals – hopefully against Rafael Nadal: who wins? who cares! – a great match is guaranteed for us to enjoy to the last ball.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  30. Anthony

    I think Rafa will be the best tennisplayer that has ever lived. Not only for his level of passion but also for his personality and kind character. RF is a poor loser, he has always been that way. Altough he might wins a couple of slams in the near future, I am not sure he will ever achieve a better character. And that and only that will determine who will be the biggest champion ever. I believe Rafa has what it takes!

    I wish Rafa the best of luck and God bless!

    July 8, 2010 at 12:20 am | Reply
  31. Henrik

    "Show me a good looser and I´ll show you a looser". Vince Lombardi, I think. Real winners don´t like loosing and they don´t have much practice at it. He won a grand slam title 6 months ago. I understand the issue being discussed but it´s way to soon to say he is in anything other than a little slump. Perhaps he needs to find new motivation. Like to see Rafa´s style of play but why does he scratch his ass between every point?

    July 8, 2010 at 2:57 am | Reply
  32. Emmanuel Rodriguez

    Roger has his time, perhaps the upcoming times are not his anymore. We have to admit bodies will somehow stretch far enough to the limit, and it will not be the same as it was winning all the matches. It is not the desire to win only, but the factor of how much your body can still gives. Rafa still have the will and the stronger body. Good bye Roger enjoy the memories.

    July 12, 2010 at 5:19 am | Reply
  33. Yaseer

    I like you federa

    July 13, 2010 at 12:01 am | Reply
  34. Priya De Silva

    Sampras bowed out at the right time and I think Federer also should have done the same.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:30 am | Reply
  35. Wanrahbok Nongneng.

    This is not the end of the King of Court..I belived Federer will come to power again..North or East,West or South..Federer your'e truly the best..the best player in the World:-)

    July 15, 2010 at 7:46 am | Reply
  36. shanthkumar chandran

    Hi i am not a tennis fan but somehow i watch tennis because of only person the great federer.... nadal is physically strong but the federer have good skill..... so all your critics will make federer to rise again.... this is what his fans also expecting..... still federer can rock and shatter all the players ..... federer keep rocks ........ good luck.......

    July 17, 2010 at 8:05 am | Reply
  37. Stevenson

    Roger being 'a bit off colour' at the moment, makes watching tennis all the more exciting. The 'will he won't he' aspect of the game keeps us glued to the TV. Much better than the match being, seemingly, a forgone conclusion. Both Federer and Nadal are exciting to watch – the Captain v the Buccaneer! Normally gracious, Roger's comments on loosing the match may have been disappointing but can a person so much in the public eye always be expected to say the expected thing? He was probably and quite naturally sick of himself! I'm sure we can look forward to many more years of entertainment from the two of them at top level. Roger past his best? Think on!

    July 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  38. Bipin

    The Fed should watch out for a series of disappointing results in the near future. A lot of players have now discovered that he is beatable and will just go for the jugular. Not to take anything away from the great man, it is a fact that Federer rolled over many a players in the past just because these players would not stand up to him. Nadal showed the way and the rest is history. I agree, the Fed is left with a few Majors in him. Tennis is the winner if there is more than one champion to contend with.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  39. nicholas davies

    agree with the comments.How easy it is to make empty comments about greatness just to get the headlines.Roger will rein again,its just a matter of time. Nicholas davies

    July 27, 2010 at 6:06 am | Reply
  40. acbc

    I still remember what happened when Sampras won his last US open to shut the press up. At that Tournament, Greg Rudsedski said that Sampras was not as good as he used to be and that he was too slow; this after he just lost to Sampras during the post match interview.

    Federer's battle is off the court, like Sampras as his star was waning. What motivates the great ones is the 6inches between the ears. Wanting to play on is not the same as needing to stay on top. Federer has done it all, has married with twin girls at home; where is his motivation?

    Father time is every sportsman's punisher and vanquisher. Nadal;s young man's game and with his weak knees will be the next victim. He is the one to carry the heavy mantle of # 1 and a very worthy successor to Federer.

    The press and criticism from the rank and file may just be the fire that will kick Federer's butt into action. Like an old lion making a last stand, Sampras won his last major with a "Up yours" to all the critics. I hope federer can endure the cries for his retirement long enough to savor that moment of sweet revenge.

    July 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  41. Bipin

    For me, the upcoming US Open will be the barometer by which Federer's future can be measured. If he wins it, then we still have a fierce contest for supremacy ahead of ourselves in the years to come. If someone else other than the Fed captures the US, then Federer's chances of adding a couple more majors will be in jeopardy. Federer has set a very high standard and it is not going to be very easy, even for himself, to maintain it. On the other hand, if Nadal manages to capture the US open, it will not reflect very well on the other younger competitors, the big hitters themselves would have found an immovable wall in Nadal. I can not wait for the US Open to start.

    July 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  42. Geoff

    This article is missing how Federer is ranked #3. The ranking system punishes the player for inconsistency. Fed made the finals of all the 2009 grand slams and won 2 of the 4. We all know that Fed should be #2. His 2010 grand slam record is better than Djokivic (15-3 VS 13-3 respectively) not to mention he did win AO 2010. **If Nadal does not repeat the same success in 2011, he too will slip to several spots on the ranking (depending on how fed & djokivic perform) and the same critics will be writing nadal off too!!** I will be rooting for Nadal at USO, but my heart belongs to all the American players especially Roddick. Roddick = 2010 USO Champion!!!

    August 4, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  43. john

    this article is pathetic. its just a stupid attempt to make naddal look better than feddrer

    August 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  44. Amit

    Rafa is not actually in the same category as Roger. He is an expert at his own game but no-one has the all-round game of Roger. We have heard these comments many times before. I remember reading in an English paper years ago how Courier's forehand was unstoppable and he went on to lose the French Open Final a few hours later, or how Edberg was devastating after his win over Courier in the US Open.

    Life goes on....but Federer is the greatest talented all-rounder ever.

    August 10, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  45. Yob888

    Guys!give Roger a break!he'll be back!

    August 12, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  46. Mark

    I think both Fed and Rafa are both so insanely good, that this analysis likely does not apply. Federer was written off after his heartbreaking losses in '08 (who could possibly recover from that?), and Rafa would never be the same again after his knees again gave him troubles at the AO this year. I think if Fed and Rafa have shown us anything, is that we should never write them off.

    August 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  47. Roger


    August 18, 2010 at 11:52 am | Reply

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