Justice Is Served

June 30, 2010 2:06 PM

The Fed's reign is over forever


He's no longer "Darth Federer" or "The Fed," two popular nicknames that fans and foes alike have attached to Roger Federer. Those nicknames have given way today to a less flattering but more apt one: "Dead Fed."

That's a harsh name to slap on Federer, the man who for almost a decade ruled men's tennis like a king. The emerald lawns of Wimbledon had always been Federer's kingdom, his fiefdom.

Lose there, The Fed? Impossible.

No, not the king of men's tennis?

The king is dead, ousted Wednesday from the biggest event in men's tennis 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. He lost to Czech star Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, a loss that should surprise no one because Federer should have lost in the first round to unknown Alejandro Falla, a player ranked so low that you couldn't find a scent of him with a bloodhound. Falla's game had little remarkable about it; it had produced no significant wins - not even a whole lot of scares.

Federer survived Falla in five sets. He didn't, however, survive Berdych, the No. 12 seed. He proved Federer's superior. He overpowered the defending Wimbledon champion. Berdych's strokes were sounder; his nerve held up under the intense spotlight of Centre Court. He didn't unravel like a spool of yard.

Federer did. 

He displayed a strange listlessness, a performance as utterly unbecoming of a reigning all-time great as his play against Falla was. Like a weekend hacker, Federer produced unforced errors from the opening game to the last game. His serve was as shaky as a straw house in a hurricane. So were his nerves. Federer looked like the lower seed, not Berdych.

Disregard the fact Federer steadied himself after losing the first set. His overall performance against players like Berdych was the real story. In the past 18 months, Federer has had an almost inexplicable apathy to his play. He has seemed distracted. Yes, he's won events - a couple of big events too: the 2010 Australian Open, 2009 Wimbledon and the coveted '09 French Open last season.

But he's started to lose to men he'd seldom lose to in past seasons. The 6-foot-5 Berdych, a player with a monster serve but little quickness, put his name into that category. Federer couldn't defuse that power, not the way he used to when he lorded over men's tennis. How much does The Fed have left in his game when he can't beat Berdych?

It is hard to see him winning another major. It's hard to see Federer, now 28, winning any of the big tournaments. The king of tennis isn't Federer anymore. Rafa Nadal has snatched that title from him. Nadal reigns supreme - on grass, on hardcourt and on clay.

Now, Federer will lose even his No. 2 ranking. When the ATP reports its rankings next week, he will drop to No. 3, his No. 2 spot going to Novak Djokovic. Wimbledon itself looks as if it might be Nadel's to win again, though either Andy Murray or Djokovic might test Nadel.

Who can stop Rafa? Not Federer. He doesn't have the game to stop him, not anymore.

The decline of a great athlete like Federer is difficult to watch. For his majestic play seems to stick in a person's mind as if fixed there with Velcro. Who can forget the final years of Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Brett Favre?

And if any aging athlete was a more pathetic figure than Mike Tyson, name him.  To watch greatness in decline is a reminder that nothing is forever, and Federer's reign atop the men's game is proof of it.

He's no journeyman yet, but the road there is one Federer is traveling at a breakneck pace. He can't stop his career from careening where he doesn't want it to go.

No athlete can stop the ravages of aging, not even the game's best. For at some point in a man's career, his legs will give out on him; his nerves will betray him; his serve, his backhand and his groundstrokes will become evermore unreliable. His resolve won't be what it once was, because it, too, will give way to the onslaught of a younger, stronger, faster and more assured performer, athletes with more gifts than Berdych and Falla bring to the game.

So Darth Federer is dead. Long may his memory stick with people who appreciates the beautiful art that men's tennis is.

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