How Long Will Federer Still Play Tennis?

I want to come back to Roger’s presser after he lost to Nadal in Miami. It was one of those bad losses which caused the journalists to raise many questions about Roger’s future in the game. And you can’t really blame them. One wonders about Roger’s future in the game after being 0-4 to his man rivals since the beginning of the year, including one in slams and two other crushing losses.

Q.  With the exception of Andre and maybe Connors back in the day, there haven’t been too many players winning slams after 29.  What do you feel like you have up your sleeve that you’re going to be able to use to win some slams in the future?
ROGER FEDERER:  Um, I don’t know.  You tell me.  I don’t know. I think I’ve done quite well over the last ten years.  I feel like I’ve done a lot more than some other players, so I feel like I’m    yeah, we’ll see how it all plays out.
We’ll see at 36, 39 how many more I was able to get or not.  We’re not going to predict how many I’m going to get or not.  I’m enjoying myself right now, and I feel like if I’m playing well I can get those.  That’s what I care about right now.

Q.  After Rafa’s play today, do you think it’s going to start a new era with Djokovic and Nadal on the top?
ROGER FEDERER:  Possibly.  I don’t know.  You tell me.  Let’s see in five years.  Look back.  It’s not like Novak hasn’t been around.  Guys all talk about it like the guy can’t play tennis.  It’s disappointing.

Q.  It took Pete a long time to get his last title, and some of the other guys also, before they made that final statement, went through a lot of stuff.  Are you prepared and thinking about maybe having to go through all that and ultimately prove your point?  Is that a challenge, or more of a hassle and a drag?
ROGER FEDERER:  No, bigger hassle is being asked all the time these questions.  I don’t know how many times I need to answer until I just say I’m not going to answer it anymore.  Up to you how many times I will have to answer the question until I’m sick and tired of it.
But I know that I can do many more things in the game.  Sure, it’s disappointing losing a game like tonight, but those are the matches I work extremely hard for in the off season and practice, and I’m very excited by what’s to come still.
I don’t feel like I’m 35 like you guys make me sound I am.  I’m still only 29, and I have many more years left.

Roger’s irritation and frustration with the journo’s questions is obvious. But they are actually just asking normal questions which many of us would like to be answered. I mean it’s not like it is totally disrespectful questions. It’s pretty realistic. I don’t know that much about Connors, but he played in an era which was not as competitive at the top as the current one is. No one these days play until they are 39, and I definitely can’t see Roger doing that. Agassi played until 36, but that had a lot to do with the fact that he went through times in his career where he lost interest in the game, so he had less miles on his legs and could therefor compete for longer. This is not the case with Roger. Aside from the fact that he schedules well and doesn’t overplay, he hasn’t had any off time from the tour and has played a lot of tennis.

He will not be like Agassi where he reaches his peak in his late twenties/early thirties. Roger’s peak, which was from 2004-2007, is now well and truly over. He showed glimpses of his best at the Oz Open of 2010 and also the indoor season last year. But with the rise of Djokovic in 2012, those kind of results seems even less likely now. The kind of loss that Roger suffered against Murray in Shanghai, Djokovic in Dubai, and Nadal in Miami can’t be great for his confidence. They are telling losses and they help open up the gap between him and his main rivals. Murray has fallen off the map for now after what happened at the Oz Open, but Djokovic and Nadal seems to be in their own league now. If you take Agassi, there wasn’t really players who clearly dominated him when he played into his mid thirties.

He still won slams into his thirties and could compete with the best of them, because he was riding a wave of confidence towards the end of his career. In Djokovic and Nadal there are now guys who can dominate Roger. Then Murray can get his act together and start doing the same. And don’t forget Del Potro, who will soon be a force to reckon with for everyone, let alone Roger. It won’t get any easier that’s for sure. And as I remarked in my previous post, Roger is the kind of guy who likes to be around the top and compete for the big titles. That is just who he is. He says in the interview that he keeps enjoying his tennis, but how much will he enjoy it when he constantly gets shut out of the big events by his main rivals? To me it seems like Roger is taking a long term view and isn’t looking to retire for several more year.

I mean I am talking until after the 2012 Olympics, until the age of about 35. Considering the final question that I posted, it doesn’t look like he is just looking to make one more good run like Sampras and then retire. I would have thought that Olympics would be a good time to go out from what I have seen of late. It still gives him six more slams to compete in where he can possibly make a good run and take the title, as well as the Olympics itself. Roger has now won at least one slam a year for the last eight years. If he doesn’t win one for the next two years, will cause him to rethink his retirement? And it is definitely possible that he won’t. For the first time in eight years he is currently not holding a slam title. As far as I’m concerned the only slam titles where he will have a shot from now on is at Wimbledon and the US Open.

With Nadal having won his first US Open, Djokovic having beaten Roger last year at the Us Open, Del Potro having done the same, and Murray around, he may not be able to win the US Open again. At Wimbledon he probably has his best chance, but his main rival Nadal stands firmly in his way there. Djokovic may also be a much improved player on grass after what we have seen from him so far this year. You may have Nadal and Djokovic playing in the Wimbledon final in the near future. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if they meet in the Wimbledon and Roland Garros finals this year already. The point is Roger could have a hard time winning a slam in the next two years, and after that it will only get harder. Surely a lot depends on whether he can win a slam from now until the end of 2013 concerning his retirement.

But like I said, it looks like he is taking a long term view and isn’t even thinking about retiring in the next two years. He must think he can still win slams regardless of whether he wins a slam by the end of 2013. What do you think? Do you think he may rethink his current long term view and still retire after the Olympics, or do you think he will keep playing if he is not able to win the big titles?


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  1. Ruan, good analysis as usual. I know it isn’t easy for you to say some of these things, as a big fan of Roger.
    If Roger intends to play on until maybe his mid-thirties, does he think he will remain competitive at the very top level? I think perhaps he does, otherwise he wouldn’t bridle at suggestions that Nadal and Djokovic are now moving out of reach.
    It’s correct to point out that hardly any slams were won by a player (in the modern era) past the age of 30. Those that did win played in a less competitive era than today. The game is getting tougher all the time. It’s hard to see that a Federer who is arriving at the acknowledged turning point of 30 is going to be able to match the incredibly physical game that is now required at the top of men’s tennis.
    The difficult thing for Roger (and some of his fans) is to see that he is going to really struggle to match Nadal and Djokovic now (or even play the kind of tennis he used to 4-5 years ago.) Does he really think that Djokovic this year is the same player that he thrashed in the WTF in December last year? It’s understandable that a great and proud champion doesn’t want to believe that maybe his time has come and gone. If they haven’t had enough of the game (like Borg, who retired suddenly at 26) it may take a succession of demoralising defeats before the champions know it’s pretty much over. Not many former No.1’s are content to keep sliding down the ladder – even if their bodies permit them to keep playing.
    Maybe Roger has another slam stored away in him – if the gods favour him – but despite his projected confidence in the interview room he is not playing that way when he is put to the test. That, to me, is the most telling sign; that the self-belief is not there when he needs it.


    Ru-an Reply:

    I agree that Djokovic is not the same player he was last year. Some optimistic Fedfans will point out that Roger beat Djokovic beat 3 times in a row at the end of last year, but that would fail to point out that Djokovic is indeed a different player now. He isnt gonna fall back again all of a sudden and let Roger beat him on a regular basis again.


  2. I think the problem with him is that deep down, he probably knows he should start thinking about retirement soon, but having had so much success in tennis for the past 10 years he can’t see himself doing anything else for the time being, and is lulled into a state of false security. the thing is, he is becoming complacent, and stubbornly believing that even with these losses, he can still win somehow because he’s federer.

    gamewise, i can’t really tell what is wrong with him. but it’s clear that he has lost his competitive edge and his genius. can you recall the last time he hit a genius shot? i can’t off the top of my head, at least not this year. look at this video
    this federer of old would never give up. even if he was injured, like in this match, he manages to hit some utterly genius shots anyway. now, like in the recent nadal match, he just faded away once he was down.


    MS Reply:

    ..”stubbornly believing that even with the losses , he can still win somehow because he’s federer”.
    I am really glad he thinks that way! Without such belief he wouldn’t have got to 16 slams in the first place including that elusive French Open. And if he keeps this stubborn belief, I am certain he will go on to win a few more !


  3. Those who think that Roger has become complacent of late, the pictures of him practicing in Monte Carlo indicate otherwise:

    Let’s not lose all hope. We have seen worse than this before. Who knows, the thrash from Nadal in Miami may be just a hangover from previous night where they had a gala birthday party of Mirka.


  4. Hi Ru-an,

    First of all, great blog. I have been an avid reader for a long time. It’s great to have a common ground to discuss our hopes, thrills, disappointments, excitement and pure genius of Roger. Thank you for enabling that!

    Now, it is really disappointing that we as die-hard fans of Roger are giving up on him… so early. True the recent loses have been telling; true that he is not producing compelling tennis; true he seems to be down on confidence. But we cannot give up on him. This is the time he needs our support the most.

    I believe that this is all a part of a long term plan. Roger and Paul are too smart to not know what is wrong with Roger’s game and what is not working for him against these players. Maybe the plan back-fired against Nadal, leading to a 2 set beat-down.

    I feel that every major athlete has to go through a rediscovery process in their career. There comes a time for every Champion when the competition is too strong; loses are telling; confidence is low; age seems to get the better of them; Some fight and give up… while some fight and rise. I hope and strongly believe that Roger will rise again. We just need to be patient. I know he will find a way through these power-players; We have to understand that this is a learning process; Roger will probably take some more hard losses before he finds his touch… but I am sure he will. And all I can say to all Fed fans is to not give up on him.

    The best is yet to come…


  5. Look, Roger made a big push after Wimby last year to try to up his level, and it seemed to pay off with his late-season success. He started this season in excellent form as well, both in Abu Dhabi and Doha and the first few rounds of the AO. He has struggled somewhat since then. But is is unrealistic to expect that a few months of some bad losses are enough to make Roger publically re-evaluate his career plans.

    People who watched the Miami beatdown forget that when Fedal played just in January it was 2 tiebreaks (I know Abu Dhabi is officially an exo, but Rafa does take it seriously).

    I’m sure Roger still feels that if he gets a friendlier surface and some things break his way he can get some good wins over top guys again. He may be mistaken, but as he says lets wait for things to unfold.

    If by the end of 2012 he’s still won no slams, it would be tempting to say he should hang it up. But at that point he really will be in a Sampras-like “final statement” period and maybe try to hang on for one more run.

    The fact is he’s said over and over he loves the lifestyle of a tennis player and misses the game whenever he takes a few weeks off. Retirement will be a massive adjustment and he may not do it ’til he really feels he has no choice, and that may be more because of injuries than results.


  6. Hi I am very disappointed in what I am reading from Rogers fans, most of all you Ru-an.Beside him winning matches I thought it was his tennis ability you all loved to watch, win or lose.All Athaletes no when the time is to retire,their body tells them when but until that time comes Roger still has a lot of great tennis in him and like him he will win some more, and I will be watching win or lose.Ru-an I also watched the game between Nadel& Djokovic and it was the most boring tennis I have ever watched,that is not tennis that is just two sluggers going at it.(and I did not have to use the excuse of bring tired to say it),
    and like Roger say,s he is only 29 stop making him feel older,I am going on 76 yrs and I still have lots to do.


    Jiten Reply:

    Laureen, I salute your spirit. I wish I could relay your spirit to all the Fedfans and of course to our dear Roger himself! Anyway, being Roger Federer, he knows best what is good (better) for him. I am sure the trio of Fed, Luthi and Annacone is working on the shortcomings; and Fed is not a person to give it up that easily like us the Fedfans: we are not giving up on another slam from Fed.

    Come on Fed, we know you can do it!


  7. He was not in that match at all. Body is there but mind is off wondering to perhaps Mirka’s birthday or something. He does need our support especially now, it is most trying times for him and surely he will ride that wave…just need to keep it real and willing to change when necessary.


  8. I have no idea when he’ll retire, but I think it’ll be when he’s on top, and it’ll take everyone by surprise because no one retires on top; there’s always the temptation to linger past one’s time and it takes tremendous discipline and self-knowledge to resist that temptation.

    We are watching, after all, the perfect tennis player, in the words of Fabrice Santoro:

    Perfect in his manner of moving on the court, perfect in his balance, in his manner of handling his emotions and in his concentration, rigor, technique and tactics.

    An important part of perfection is knowing when to end your career at just the perfect moment–neither too soon, nor too late, but at exactly the right time.

    He is driven not just by winning titles and trophies, but by creating perfect tennis. As a young man he was once interviewed and said “One should just be able to play a perfect game.” He may have been forced to adjust his notions of what constitutes perfect tennis by Nadal and now others, but he’s still pursuing that ideal.

    He took baseline tennis to its pinnacle of perfection, along with Nadal. The 2008 Wimbledon final is probably the zenith of pure baseline tennis, even though he lost.

    At this point baseline tennis is running into an evolutionary dead end. The only ways to innovate are quantitative: either to hit harder or run faster. Qualitatively, little new remains to be done. It has become completely mechanized, as Nadal and now Djokovic have demonstrated.

    But there remains much territory left to explore beyond the baseline, and this is Federer’s last great challenge, to create the perfect all-court game. Of all current players, only he has the necessary skills to even attempt this.

    This is the task of his late career, to which he is now devoting all of his formidable powers. I think he will succeed and force yet another generation of players to try to catch up with him.

    His last matches will be the best and most perfect–the fruit of a lifetime spent in the pursuit of pure tennis, into which he will pour all his experience, his skill, his artistry, his will, and his love of tennis.

    When those matches are finished, he’ll realize, “This is as perfect as I can make it. There’s nothing left for me to do.” That’s when he’ll retire from tennis.

    It’ll be a sad day. But until then there will be much to enjoy.


    MS Reply:

    As always, great comments Steve !


  9. Ruan,
    What will you say if Federer beats Djokovic or Nadal again? Obviously he’s declining, but it seems to me you’ve taken a bad Masters loss and blown it way out of proportion. Sure, the journalists questions are fine, but so is Fed’s testy response. Did they say Nadal was finished when he lost to Soderling? Fed’s been dealing with this ever since his Wimbledon loss to Nadal three years ago and he’s won several Grand Slams since then. It is still possible. There’s two guys out there who consistently beat him (at this moment, I am not convinced DJoko can beat him unless conditions are very slow). Like Icarus they both are in danger of flying too close to the sun. Remember when Nadal was king last time. He fell pretty hard. Fed’s steadiness and determination will eventually pay off in unforeseen wins. Who cares if his record against Djoko falls negative? It would be more cowardly to his rep to quit now just because he’s losing. History will sort out what it will. In the meantime I’d rather watch this great maestro and enjoy the still plentiful moments of tennis genius–win or lose.


    Ru-an Reply:

    True jim, ive realized the truth of what you are saying. These crushing losses at the hands of his main rivals have got to me personally but that doesnt mean it should get to Roger. I plan on rectifying it with a post later on.


  10. Hey Ru-an.

    I know things are not looking great for Roger. But the biggest concern for me is who is going to be the next Roger Federer? I mean I know that at this point it’s very early to say. But I just do not want to keep watching the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Del Potro even though that’s where the game is headed.

    I just want to show you this pretty awesome young player Grigor Dimitrov. The guys is only 19 anbd is already ranked 70 in the world. Actually, he’ll be ranked 65 next week. He has won the Wimby and US Open Junior title and I thinks this year is his first on tour I think.

    Just watch the video. He just TOTALLY looks like Roger – I mean the serve, the inside out forehand, the one handed backhand – it’s like Roger.

    It would be awesome if in couple years time he plays with Roger at Wimbledon. Who knows what will happen? I don’t doubt that Roger’s records will stay intact. But at least with this guy, if he really gets stronger, he is REALLy a pleasure to watch, just like Roger Federer is!

    Any way, enjoy!



  11. Ru-uan, you are full of doubt, aren’t you? I wish I could say I agree with you since you have argued Roger’s case in a seemingly logical, matter-of-fact, way, but it is hard for me to support what you write any more because your thoughts just don’t sound right from any direction.

    Like Roger, i hope you hit top form again when your faith in the champ returns.


  12. Boy, there seems to be quite a lot of denial here! We are talking about a tennis player – albeit a great one -but not some kind of god with the power to change the laws of the universe. If Roger was the player he was in 2004-07 we wouldn’t be having this kind of discussion. But he isn’t. And he won’t be again. That’s what time does to a sportsman.
    Loyalty is a fine thing, but not when it is blind. If, as fans, you want to keep enjoying Roger’s tennis then be prepared to take more and more of his losses as part of the equation. Frankly, I don’t think he enjoys them, and neither do I.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Its not that bad Neil, ive realized the error of my ways. Roger can win two more slams. Expect a post soon.


  13. This will be brutal……What are all you douchebags gonna say when the GOAT wins an EFFING GRAND SLAM!!!! GO ROGER!!!! Sorry folks, but I just had to say it. G


    Ru-an Reply:

    Right, Gary. See my latest post.


  14. You are taking the recent loses way out of proportion. The simple fact is that Djokovic is palying the best tennis of his life anda nadal’s form is also good at the moment.

    You say it wouldn’t surprise you if nadal and djokovic play the roland garos and wimbledon finals??!!

    Firstly how have djokovic’s run at roland garros been? Not good!!! Secondly who has reached like nadal 5 consecutive roland garros finals? You guessed it Roger!!

    To conclude it would surprise me, and a whole lot of other people, more if roger doesn’t get to the final of roland garros or wimbledon rather than djokovic.


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