Sampras is ten years older than Federer, and Federer has six years on Djokovic. Is this gap gradually going to shrink as more and more nations take tennis seriously? The next sensation may end up actually ousting the current one, close to his peak?
This is as close to real rivalries of past like Borg-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi, as you can get. Both are not only great on hard courts, but have excelled on clay court too. As courts continue to move to being as close to each other as they have ever been, one player will eventually rule the entire tennis kingdom, instead of sharing it with clay specialists.
This affect will be felt at this year’s clay court season. Nadal may not have as dominant a run as he has had in the past, because of these two jokers. Unless Nadal finds a way to improve his hard court game, in a hurry, not only will he replaced as No. 2, but the gap between the top two and Nadal will open up wide and strong.
The only chink in Djokovic’s game is his physical fitness. So far, he has proven to be a quick learner, unlike Nadal, and has made visible adjustments to his game to overcome that weakness. But he is just 20, and still has ways to go to be perfect physically. Remarkable thing is that his game is improving so fast, that so far it has been able to ward off reaching even the outer limits of his limitations, before making the kill.
But he is still not a match to a usual Federer, leave alone Federer in a zone. But with both these possibilities fading as quickly as Federer’s meteoric rise, it’s just a matter of time before Djokovic steps in and snatches the top rank from Federer, for good.
But I think, this is not the place it’s going to happen. Federer may not have completely recovered from the slump, but he is still stronger in virtually every department, even if not firing on all cylinders. Strong enough to deny Djokovic his second Grand Slam final.
But this has been the strongest wake up call for Federer so far. He knows it, and will do himself and his game a world of good, if he becomes a little flexible mentally, to be in better position to weather or ride the inevitable assault on his throne. If he stays adamant and strong headed, these frustrations and disappointments will only escalate the ride heading south. His outbursts on the court lately, spring primarily from this mind set.
No one wants to relinquish the throne, no matter what kind it is. History is proof that some had to be physically removed, even killed before they accepted the writing on the wall. Although it may come to that here, but mentally Federer can it make it easy on himself, if he recognizes and reconciles himself to what is inevitable.
Unless, there is some magical turnaround, we may have lost the Federer we have come to love, admire and cherish, forever. There may still be some flashes here and there, and certainly he will surpass Sampras’s record, but reaching 18-20 Grand Slams before he retires, may not be as likely as it was even few months ago.
But we cannot have any regrets. He had an incredible run, and his dazzling display will forever stay etched in our memories. Time when he outpaced every other living athlete of his time effortlessly and with class.
There is no doubt that he stepped up his preparation and practice sessions after Canas losses. Despite the increased activity, never ever engaged, he still was not able to dominate the way he did in years past, despite ending the year with three Grand Slams.
Maybe a title here will lead him to rework and revise his entire game plan, to ensure he is able to extend his career, as far as he wishes, without breaking down like Borg did so early in his career. Borg was not willing to live the humiliation of being No. 2 to McEnroe. He would rather retire. He certainly regretted that decision, as he tried to come back after he realised his mistake, but then it was too late.
That was also big part of the reason Sampras retired, and now refuses to come out of it. Agassi on the other hand, was willing to bite the dust since that number in his mind had not yet been achieved. It’s how bad you want it. And how willing are you to accept the second fiddle status, after being king for so long, that will determine how long you will play.
Federer still has many great years ahead of him. As long as he realizes, they may not be all at the top of the mountain, he should be able to keep his dignity and earn the respect of his peers like Agassi did, and continue on.
This Australian Open title is more than just another Grand Slam for Federer. There are so many strings attached to this one, that winning here has never been more critical. The tremor of what happens here will reverberate all the way to November this year and beyond.
As they say, higher the reward, higher the risk. Hope he can find a way to squeeze this one out, for what spills out of here will flow through everything else he touches this year, and maybe beyond.
Here’s wishing for No. 13.
GO FOR IT, BOLDLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!