It started out, looking like just another Federer dominated year, with Federer winning the Australian Open, without even dropping a set, for the first time in his career. In such sharp form, it was painful for impatient fans, to wait for Roland Garros.
That Australian Open run may have done more damage than good, as it probably created a sense of complacency and security. Sensing this could be the year to bag the FO, Federer’s focus shifted to May, prematurely. Result?
Canas took him out at both Indian Wells and Miami. Apparently, Federer took it for granted, based on the AO result, and his focus on the FO, combined to give him a kick in the pants, to remind him, to not to be lackadaisical.
With Tony Roche, Federer took that early departure, as an opportunity to prepare harder for the FO. Maybe it was more time than they needed together. Was it the case of analysis to paralysis? About this time, there was another development growing: Tony Roche and Federer began to feel the urge to go separate ways. While both felt it, Tony had everything to lose and nothing to gain, by initiating the move.
It was Federer’s call. While it was clear, Federer had been mulling over this for some months, he did not have the guts to split. But with the loss to Volandri on clay, Federer pounced on the opportunity, to take out all his frustration of the young season, by using it as the spur to fire Roche.
At the time, the split seemed amicable and mutual, but months later, it was discovered or alleged, that Roche had been unhappy with the money he was being dished.
The moved seemed to invigorate Federer, out to prove that he had made the right decision, smack in the middle of the crucial clay season. He won Hamburg, by beating none other than Nadal, in the finals. In fact, he dished out a bagel, while snapping a 81-match winning streak on clay from Nadal.
The world’s impatience grew as the FO approached. Will this be the year? With Hamburg title so close to Roland Garros, many fans had already jumped the gun in their mind. Roche’s firing and consequent fall out added to the intrigue.
Maybe, Roche’s bitter taste and the subsequent negative vibes, he projected may have cast a shadow on the FO final, long enough to prevent Federer from converting 17 freaking break points, to beat Nadal in the final. Nadal could not believe his good fortune, and was happy to close on the deal, Federer flatly refused to do anything with.
With three prior losses already haunting him, this was too much for Federer to swallow. He knew he blew it. The ball came rolling down on him, with all the accumalated moss. Federer buckled, both mentally and physically. So much so, that he jeopardized his chances at Wimbledon, by withdrawing from the warm up event.
You have to be feeling very bad, to elect playing on grass at Wimbledon, right after the FO on clay. It was a risky move. It paid off. The draw was super friendly. To compound that, was the rain, which played havoc with everyone else’s schedule except Federer’s. While everyone was playing a match everyday, Federer had so many days off, that he could afford to go home, while the infighting continued.
Despite all that, Nadal managed to reach the final, after playing five-setters every freaking day. It was considered a foregone conclusion. But Nadal mustered enough energy from somewhere, to extend Federer to a dramatic five-setter, for the first time at Wimbledon.
Federer eventually turned it up, in the fifth set to win his fifth straight title. That appeared to stabilize Federer, for a while. It was close, and if he had lost here, it would have been devastating. It gave him new life, and erased the FO debacle for a while.
So far, it seemed everytime he took two steps forward, there was one step back. But this Wimbledon step forward did not last long, when Djokovic defeated him at Montreal. It was another loss, that clearly hit him hard.
It may not be a Grand Slam, but it was against a player, who had ruffled his feathers in the past, and was clearly here to stay. Losses to Canas and Volandri could be attributed to loss of focus etc. based on their credentials, but Djokovic, by now, had developed a respectable resume. So it was a real loss, and stung probably as much as the FO, if not more, because with this loss, emerged a new threat on his own favorite surfaces.
His face and body language at both the FO and Montreal trophy ceremonies, could easily be interchanged. Internally, Djokovic revelled in that, more than being a winner. He had finally backed his prediction of ‘Federer not winning all the titles any more’.
If you are Federer, these predictions get registered deep in your memory banks, seeking an opporutnity to unload that heat-seeking missile, to attain salvation. Instead, Djokovic was able to turn the tables.
Luckily, the shock and the fall was broken by the Wimbledon title, won couple of months ago. If there was no Wimbledon title to absorb this fall, Federer may have unraveled. So here again was a step back, after a step forward.
With the No. 1 ranking debate heating up, Federer found himself in unfamiliar territory. There appeared a realistic chance of losing the top rank. Jokers like Brad Gilbert, among others, openly predicted that Nadal would take over the No. 1 rank by year-end.
Cincinnati suddenly became a must-win, at so many levels. Federer performed poorly, and came very close to losing couple of times. It had to be divine intervention, for there seemed nothing else that was holding him together, at the very brink of defeat. But he somehow pulled it together, and there was that one step forward once again.
US Open rolls in and he finds himself exactly where he was at Wimbledon: Friendly draw. He was able to concentrate and win some close tie-breaks to win the title. This gave him some serious bragging rights. Irrespective of how the season had unfolded, he still owned three Grand Slams for the year.
Maybe that had the same effect, the AO had in January, and he lost to Nalbandian in the very next event at Madrid. There was your step back.
With the top ranking still up for grabs, Federer found himself in a dilemma. Four events in five weeks to grab the top rank. Again, Basel became a must win.
His performance, at his home event was below par, specially in the finals. But he did clinch the title, and with it the top year end ranking. There was your step forward. It must have been a huge relief.
With Paris up next, and loaded with a brutal draw, he lost to Nalbandian for the second time in one month, to take his step back. He may have rationalized that loss as the price for getting to the No. 1 rank in the world.
Nevertheless, it was a loss at a Masters event.
TMC rolls around. Federer is now rested after having made an early exit at Paris. The draw is exceptionally friendly. It looks like an automatic. There was no way, he would even drop a set here.
But he drops a bombshell by losing his first back to back match, since his rise, four and half years ago. But, maybe that was what he needed to wake him up, since he rattled in a string of three straight dominating performances, to win the year end championship for the fourth time.
The season left a sweet and sour taste. It was by far, his poorest showing, since his ascension to the throne. But the ending was as impressive as the beginning was. It was the right note to end the season, considering the historic year coming up, with Olympics and the chance to leave Sampras in the dust.