By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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Roger, over and out.
Labor Day evening was especially difficult for those who appreciate the game of tennis, as seventh-seeded Roger Federer unceremoniously bowed out of the US Open, falling in straight sets in the fourth round to No. 19 Tommy Robredo.
The greatest player ever to hold a racket clearly was deflated after losing the first-set tiebreaker, and never put up much of a fight in a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 defeat.
Talk about a disappointing and disheartening exit for the 17-time Grand Slam champion. Heading into the match, Federer had beaten Robredo in all 10 of their previous meetings.
It’s been a year to forget for the 32-year-old. Federer fell to No. 5 in the ATP rankings for the first time in a decade in July, and he came to Flushing Meadows ranked No. 7 in the world. His loss on Monday night marked the first time that the graceful Swiss has lost in the fourth round in Queens in a decade.
Struggling with a bad back and turning to a new racket, Federer didn’t reach one Grand Slam final in 2013. He reached the semifinals at the Australian Open but crashed at Wimbledon, losing in the second round to Sergiy Stakhovsky. It was the earliest he had been defeated at a Slam since 2004. Prior to Wimbledon, at Roland Garros, Federer fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
So how much does the tennis legend have left in the tank? Can he even be considered part of the “Big Four” anymore? Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, all of whom are playing far better tennis than Federer right now, are under the age of 28. (Nadal is 27, while Djokovic and Murray are 26.) They will continue to rack up Grand Slam titles, but will Fed? Does he even have a shot to do it again at this point?
Far be it from me to declare tennis’ equivalent of Michael Jordan finished, but let’s face facts. He’s certainly not the player that he once was, and he’s getting up there in age. Age 32 in tennis is akin to age 35 in football and age 40 in baseball. Professional tennis careers start early but also end early — it’s just the nature of the beast.
Many tennis pundits predicted that Federer would never again win a major tournament before he put them all in their places last year, winning Wimbledon and ending a two-and-a-half-year Grand Slam drought.
Will he shut me up and win another one? I certainly hope so, but I’m not counting on it.
I firmly believe that Federer could play another five years and consistently be a top 15 player. He’s that gifted, that talented, that smart. And after Monday night’s match, he admittedly told the media that he’s not playing with much confidence or consistency. He did say, however, in usual Federer fashion, that he will get back to work and come back stronger.
A player of Fed’s stature doesn’t go quietly into the night, until he has to, of course. While he looked noticeably older on Monday night, he’s still one of the best players in the world. That much can’t be disputed.
But how much longer can the seven-time Wimbledon champ withstand frustrating defeats and battle the inevitable fall from grace that comes with getting older? Will he ride it out for five more years for the chance at one or two more magical runs, or will he decide sooner rather than later that not being the best is simply too exasperating?
He’s proven more than any other tennis player has proven in the game’s illustrious history. He’s one of the most accomplished athletes of all time. And above all, he’s carried himself with pride, class and dignity while dominating his opponents.
That’s what makes his unusual losses — and his uncertain future — so difficult to swallow.
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