Comment: Why it all feels very different for Roger Federer this time
We have been here before with Roger Federer, but this time it feels very different.
As the greatest Grand Slam champion of all-time bowed out of the 2018 US Open after a fourth-round 6-3, 5-7, 6-7 (7-9), 6-7 (3-7) defeat against John Millman, suggestions that this was one of the greatest shocks in tennis history were inevitably aired.
Yet this rapid fall from grace has been creeping up on the Swiss legend with unwanted haste in recent months and, while he has given no hints of what may be to come, 2019 looks increasingly likely to be the year that sees Federer make what will inevitably be a classy exit from the tennis stage he has dominated for so long.
Those of us who have had the privilege of sitting through numerous Federer press conferences down the years have often marvelled at his willingness to answer to the most ridiculous posers with a grace and charm that made them somehow seem credible.
Yet anyone who has dared to mention the ‘R word’ in a Federer press conference has been met with a steely stare and a dismissive comment. “Don’t even mention it’, is the response from the Swiss when retirement is floated, but that day has never seemed closer.
Quitting the sport is a threat Federer has been running away from since his back problems began to affect him five years ago, but his evasion may soon come to an end as, at the age of 37 and after one of the great comebacks that has seen him win three of the last seven Grand Slam titles, Federer suddenly looked like a giant entering the final lap of his incredible career.
“I don’t know, for some reason I just struggled in the conditions,” said Federer after the defeat against Millman, as he was left bemused by inability to raise his game to the levels he expects of himself.
“I couldn’t get air It’s one of the first times it’s happened to me. I guess sometimes I was just happy that the match was over, I guess.”
Never before has Federer suggested he was relieved to get off the court after a defeat and that is not the only reason why the inevitable sands time finally seems to be catching up with tennis’ special one.
The 10 double faults he tossed into his latest defeat followed a trend that has been evident in his game with increasing regularity in 2018, with the unfamiliar errors on his previously flawless forehand further evidence that his powers are waning.
His Australian Open win in January now seems like a distant fantasy and amid a 12-month period that has see him lose to David Goffin, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Borna Coric and now Millman, the chasm that has existed between Federer and the game’s lesser lights over the last 15 years appears to be evaporating.
“I’m probably in a bit of disbelief,” declared Millman after the stand-out win of his career. “I have so much respect for Roger and everything he’s done for the game, and he’s been a hero of mine. Today he was definitely not at his best, but I’ll take it.
“I’ll obviously remember this for a long, long time. I hope the people who are watching here and back home remember it, too. It’s extremely special. But hopefully I haven’t got a bullet in me yet, I can create a few more moments in my career.”
Federer confirmed he intends to finish 2018 on a high, but the dark moment when he declares he has hit his final ball in anger as a professional feels like it is approaching his alarming haste.
Tennis has been trying to discover how it will fill a Roger Federer sized hole for the last few years and, sadly, it seems they need to come up with a solution to that impossible riddle very soon.
Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer
Novak Djokovic fights back from the brink in epic against Stefanos Tsitsipas
Rain had curtailed their clash on Friday with Djokovic a set and a break behind before the world No.1 pulled off the win.
Fresh questions will be asked over Andy Murray’s French Open wildcard credentials
As Andy Murray toasted his 34th birthday…
‘We’re not hearing much’ – Roger Federer calls for clarity over Tokyo Olympics
Roger Federer is eager to play in the Olympics, but has questioned whether they can go ahead.
‘The pain was becoming too severe,’ says Ashleigh Barty as her retirement sends Coco Gauff into semi-final
“It became worse while we were playing,” reveals Ashleigh Barty.
Geneva Open draw: Roger Federer finds out path to possible glory as he avoids a couple of big guns in top half
This way for your full Geneva Open draw.
Simona Halep confirms ‘small tear’ in left calf, but hopes to ‘speed up return’ with Roland Garros looming
“I’m staying positive,” says Simona Halep.
Rafael Nadal bounces back against Alexander Zverev to reach semi-final in Rome
Nadal lost to Zverev in Madrid but came out on top in Rome.
Boris Becker explains why Rafael Nadal might not be invincible at the French Open this year
Boris Becker believes Rafael Nadal could be vulnerable at the French Open.
Rafael Nadal avenges Madrid Open loss as he claims ‘important win’ against Alexander Zverev in Rome
Solid stuff from Rafael Nadal at the Italian Open.
Emilia-Romagna Open: From late addition to the calendars to luring Serena Williams and Venus Williams
Oli Jefford gives you the lowdown on the Emilia-Romagna Open.