Roger Federer’s Window Closing?



By Anthony Zilis

In a matter of days, tennis champion Roger Federer may win his 15th Grand Slam tennis tournament, passing Pete Sampras for most all-time.

If he wins his sixth Wimbledon, Federer’s accomplishments will, undoubtedly, vault him into discussions including the top sports champions of all time. Comparisons will be made to Tiger Woods, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and, of course, Sampras himself.

But even if Federer wins that gleaming trophy on center court Sunday afternoon at the All-England club, I just can’t bring myself to put him into that pantheon of seemingly invincible, unflappable athletes.

When I envision Federer in that group, my mind takes me back to Sunday, February 1, the day of the Australian Open final. After what had thus far been a great match, I watched in amazement as Rafael Nadal dismantled the three-time champion 6-2 in the fifth set. It was the third time in four Grand Slam finals Nadal had beaten Federer, and it was safe to say that Nadal was now, undisputably, the greatest player in tennis.

As Nadal celebrated his victory, both players were summoned to the podium to accept their first and second place trophies. Federer stepped to the microphone to address the crowd, but after fighting through a few words, the sounds just stopped coming. This man, who has been lauded as one of the classiest athletes in sports, known for his eloquence, if not arrogance, in victory, was speechless.

“God, it’s killing me,” Federer said as he tried to hold back tears. “Maybe I’ll try again later.”

That moment showed it all. Federer knew it and we all knew it– the man who had recently been measured against Tiger Woods had been dethroned in the midst of his prime.

Federer eventually came back up to the microphone, and said all of the things he should have said in the first place. But the message had been sent.

This wasn’t a one-match wonder. Nadal had done it on all surfaces. First his favorite, clay, then on Federer’s favorite, grass, and then finally on what had been his Achilles’ heel, the hard court.

Nadal was, inarguably, the better player.


Imagine Woods, in his prime, being beaten consistently by some young hotshot, or Jordan being overtaken by some younger player while he wore a Bulls uniform. Their mystique just wouldn’t have been the same.

As tears streamed down Federer’s face, he surely knew that his legacy had been changed forever.

Yes, he won the French Open, completing the career slam, an amazing feat even with an injured Nadal out in the quarterfinals. And yes, he may win another Wimbledon, with Nadal out. He’ll have won the most Grand Slams ever and he should be known as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

But in order to get back into the conversation for the greatest champion of all-time, Federer will have to prove, unmistakably, that he is the best of his era. In my eyes, the only way he can do that is to beat a healthy Nadal consistently in Grand Slam finals.

And with a tennis players’ shelf life, that’s going to be difficult. Consider – Sampras turned 29 shortly before the 2000 US Open, when he won his second-to-last Grand Slam championship. Federer will turn 28 before this year’s US Open.

His window may be closing more swiftly than it seems.

If he doesn’t show he can beat Nadal, he’ll be known as a great tennis player. But to be known as one of the greatest champions, an athlete has to uphold nearly impossible standards.    That athlete must transcend his sport, while being the best in it.

That athlete may just be a young lefty from Spain.

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  1. paulmbanks says

    I have to admit I don’t know a ton about tennis…but doesn’t 28 seem a little young to be coming down off one’s prime? or is it like gymnastics, everyone peaks early?

  2. bryan vickroy says

    Nadal will crash before rog, he may even be in the middle of his. Nadal has the knees of a 50 year old. I don’t think nadal will ever be the same. Rog is consistant, he’s now in is 21st STRAIGHT major final, unreal.

  3. Like I said, I think Federer needs to beat a healthy Nadal consistently to gain back what he had. If Nadal never plays another game, it hurts Federer’s legacy in my mind.

    Also, considering Sampras won his second-to-last just after he turned 29, I don’t know how much longer Federer will maintain this. He may, he seems to have broken every other convention, but like I said, all that is important with him being one of the great “champions” is for him to beat Nadal more than once in a Grand Slam final.

  4. Donna Banks says

    You made 3 mistakes 1. Nadal the”greatest player” when he’s won only three majors. 2. using the word for arrogance with Federer when year after year the players vote him the sportsmanship’s award. 3. won on all surfaces when Nadal has never even reached the U.S. Open final. Until Nadal can reach even 10 Grand Slam titles he shouldnt be mentioned with the likes of Sampas, Laver, or Federer.

  5. Donna Banks says

    I should have said he’s won only 6 majors.

  6. Sampras only made it to the French open once, and lost there, while Federer has won a few times..

  7. 1. I believe I said that Nadal beating Federer and winning 3 out of 4 made him the greatest player in the game, meaning the greatest at the time, not ever. He still has a ways to go for that but could definitely get there.
    2. I always thought Federer spoke with a bit of deserved arrogance when he won.
    3. The US Open and Australian Open are both played on hardcourt synthetic surfaces.

    I don’t believe I said Nadal could yet be held in that group. But I think he has an opportunity to be even bigger than those three. But the guy’s only 23 and he’s shown how great he can be.

  8. Donna Banks says

    You do know that Rod Laver won theGrand Slam , all four in the same year , twice . and that Federer has been in 21 consecutive semi final grand slams. the closest anyone is to that record is Lendl with 10 consective semi finals. Its much too, too early to talk about Nadal being bigger than they. He has alot of records to break and until he starts getting close to breaking these records enthusiam for him should be tempered. Yes, he’s done great at 23 but he has a long road to go.

  9. First of all, GOAT discussions are bullshit. NO ONE is invisible. You cannot compare eras, etc., etc.

    Secondly, if for some strange reasons you do want to appoint a GOAT I find it rather odd to invent all kinds of silly arguments which almost no one cares about and sometimes can be explained to diminish a guy’s effort. Many people already have noticed this:

    Suppose Federer would have lost all the matches prior to reaching the (semi)finals in which he lost to Nadal? Objectively you have to admit that in that case he would have a 2-0 advantage over Nadal. Objectively you would also have to admit that in that case Federer would have done worse.

    Nadal does not alway reach finals of GS-tournaments Federer wins. Federer on the other hand ALWAYS reaches the finals of GS-tournamenst Nadals wins.

    In the end it will simply be a footnote in tennishistory. Federer will at least win 15, maybe even 18 GS-titles and for the foreseeable future be the most succesfull (and to a lot of people the greatest) player. I do think he is the most succefull right now. I don’t think he is the GOAT. No one is. And my personal favourite is and will remain for some time to come Miloslav Mecir. He really was a unique talent.

  10. Donna Banks says

    Today the King of Tennis was Crowned

  11. Murali Vemula says

    I dont why Nadal keeps on playing when he is not healthy. When he wins he does not say anything but when he looses he will immediately come up with health issues.

  12. Murali Vemula says

    Mr. Anthony Zilis,
    You dont like Federer, which is very evident and understandable.
    If Federer has been winning everything and seems impossible to beat you would be the first one to say this is a very weak era that is why he is winning all so he can not be called one of the greatest let alone GOAT.

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