First of all, let me say I don’t want Federer to retire. So why would I bring up this question when Federer is arguably playing some of the best tennis of his life? As it turns out, for very legitimate reasons. We have been talking for some time now about Federer’s GOAT claim and his head-to-head records with his main rivals. I believe the US Open final was another telling result as far as this topic is concerned.
The last time Federer defeated Djokovic in a slam was in the 2012 Wimbledon semi-final, and he also went on to win his last slam title against Murray in the final. Federer briefly returned to the top spot in the rankings but was soon overtaken again by Djokovic who also defeated Federer in the World Tour Finals final that year. Should Federer have retired back then already? Here is what happened since then.
- Federer’s Head-to-Head with Djokovic Since 2012
Let’s say Federer could have retired at the end of 2012 so let’s forget about the 2012 World Tour Finals loss to Djokovic. Since the beginning of 2013 Djokovic’s head-to-head with Federer has been 9-5 in favor of Djokovic with the overall head-to-head standing at 21-21 now. Here is how it went:
- 3-0 in slam finals(they didn’t meet outside of finals in slams since then)
- 2-0 at the World Tour Finals(Federer withdrew before the final last year)
- 4-3 at Masters level(Djokovic was injured at Monte Carlo in 2014)
- 0-2 at ATP 500 level(Both Dubai)
- Federer’s Head-to-Head with Nadal Since 2012
Since the beginning of 2013 Nadal has not lost to Federer and went 5-0 in the head-to-head for an overall head-to-head of 23-10:
- 1-0 at grand slams(The straight-set beatdown at the 2014 Australian Open)
- 1-0 at the World Tour Finals(Nadal’s first win against Federer at this level in 5 attempts)
- 3-0 at Masters level(Nadal even defeated Federer in Cincy)
- What Does This Mean?
It means that Federer’s rivalry with Djokovic is following the same trajectory as his rivalry with Nadal. The abuse from Nadal began in the 2009 Australian Open final. After that, Fedal met twice more in Melbourne and each time the beatings got worse, with Nadal winning in four sets in 2012 and in straight sets in 2014. A similar trajectory can be found in the Djokerer rivalry where Federer lost the 2014 Wimbledon final in five sets.
This year it took Djokovic only four sets to get the job done in the Wimbledon final. And now for the US Open final which I thought was another telling blow. Djokovic did not win in straight sets, but he had to battle much more than just his opponent. He also had to battle a rabid pro-Federer crowd, a poor finals history in New York, and the newly invented SABR from Federer. Given these factors, you may as well say it was straight sets.
Anyone who could not sense how nervous Djokovic was and that he wasn’t nearly playing at the level of the 2015 Wimbledon final is either clueless or biased. You only need to compare the stats of the Wimbledon final and the US Open final for proof. Given these facts, we can easily conclude that Djokovic would have won in straight sets under different circumstances and that he was deeply affected by what went on around him.
I’d hate to think what Djokovic would do to Federer at Melbourne for instance where you have a more civilized crowd, a slower surface, and where Djokovic has nothing to prove. It would probably be along the lines of the 2011 semi-final where Djokovic won in straight sets. I for one thought that the SABR might actually make a difference in the US Open final and that this time Federer had found a trump card.
But Djokovic dealt with it even with all the other pressures he had. It is just very hard to imagine how Federer will defeat Djokovic in a big match again. It seems he exhausted all the options now. Djokovic is just too damn strong for him in the mental department, his ground game is too impenetrable, and he returns too well for Federer to gain a significant advantage with his serve. And soon Djokovic may not be the only thing Federer has to worry about.
- Nadal Will Make a Comeback
After an abysmal 2015 one does expect Nadal to make some sort of comeback. You can’t keep him down forever. He may not win another slam, but he can make more deep runs in slams which are bad news for Federer. Nadal owns Federer so thoroughly that even a second-rate version of him can give Federer serious trouble. What kind of damage is Federer doing to his legacy in an attempt to win another slam title?
Not only does Nadal own him now but Djokovic is joining the party. Isn’t it damaging enough that to his legacy that his main rival owns him? Does he want to get straight-setted by Djokovic in slams too? Another significant stat is that Federer is 0-7 against Djokodal in slam finals since 2008. Every time he loses to Djokodal it underscores his mental limitations and the 2004-2007 era looks weaker.
Critics have long said that the 2004-2007 era which Federer dominated was weak. At first I didn’t buy into it, but now that even Djokovic is starting to beat Federer like a drum it is hard to deny it anymore. It seems Federer dominated a weak field which included Roddick, Hewitt, old Agassi, Nalbandian, Safin, Davydenko, Henman, etc. As soon as he got challenged by physically and mentally stronger players the domination abruptly ended.
It’s been more than three years since Federer won his last slam title and he hasn’t gotten any younger in the process. It has also been eight years since he beat Djokovic or Nadal in a slam final. Federer is still hanging on in the hope of winning that elusive final slam, but it is highly unlikely that it will happen if he faces Djokovic in the final. And like I said Nadal will mount a comeback at some point which is bad news for him too.
- My Conclusion
So far, by playing post-2012, I think Federer has hurt his legacy. The head-to-head against Nadal went from 10-18 to 10-23 which included some more telling losses. The head-to-head with Djokovic went from 16-12 to 21-21 including from 1-0 in slam finals to 1-3. In that time, Federer added no more slam titles to his resume and no more World Tour Finals titles. What he did add was a Davis Cup title, three Masters, and a total of eleven titles.
Those are all good things, but at what cost? Given that the biggest flaw in his resume is the fact that his main rival owns him, and that his second biggest rival is starting to own him too, I have to conclude that he has done more to hurt his legacy than to help it. And this latest US Open final loss is what tipped the scales for me. Had he won that match he would have had that elusive last slam in the bag and the head-to-head with Djokovic would have looked much better.
But the fact that he lost means Djokovic is beginning to own him too and I don’t think there is much doubt left now that he dominated a weak era and that he has a definite mental flaw in his game. And in all likelihood the beatings at the hands of Djokovic will continue to get worse. How can someone be the GOAT if their two main rivals dominated him? I think Federer might want to consider retirement or risk damaging his legacy even more.
In hindsight, Federer would have been better off retiring after 2012 already. He would have retired with a great head-to-head against Djokovic and a 10-18 head-to-head against Nadal which didn’t sound as bad as 10-23. He may want to see what happens in the indoor season and if he keeps losing to Djokovic seriously consider retirement. Nothing indicates at this point that he can defeat Djokovic in a slam.
So if he keeps playing he is basically hoping he will somehow not have to play Djokovic to win a slam and even then there are others to worry about like Stan, Nadal, Murray, etc. So my conclusion is that so far he hurt his legacy by playing post-2012 and the only way he can still turn it around is by winning another slam. By playing post-2012, it has become clearer than ever that he dominated a weak era and that he doesn’t have a solution for true mental strength.
And he is now relying on luck to win that elusive final slam. I guess since he decided to play post-2012 he may as well keep going now. But I’m afraid he may damage his legacy even more to the point that no knowledgeable tennis fan would call him the GOAT anymore. At least he has the saying ‘Stranger things have happened’ to hold onto. Nothing is certain in tennis, but one thing is certain and that is that the window of opportunity keeps closing on Federer…
- Davis Cup
This weekend was of course Davis Cup and Great Britain made their first Davis Cup final since 1978 thanks pretty much to Andy Murray. He won both his singles and his doubles with his brother to clinch the tie against Australia. They will play Belgium in the final who defeated a pretty weak Argentina. Switzerland managed to remain in the world group after Federer and Stan gave them a 4-1 victory over the Netherlands.
I see Federer made a lot of unforced errors in his first singles match and that he was still tired from the US Open. Djokovic, on the other hand, was not involved in Davis Cup which gave him a much-needed break and I think he will come back fresh in Beijing in two weeks. I’m already very much looking forward to the remainder of the season to see what happens in Shanghai and London especially.
The is in your court.