As the US Open draws closer, all eyes have invariably started to turn towards Nadal, Djokovic and Murray as the probable favourites to win the last major of the season. By no means incomplete this list, it still comes as a shock to see Roger Federer’s name missing from it. Inconceivable to think about Federer not winning a slam – US Open no less – at one time, the Swiss’ absence amongst the favourites makes it a bitter pill to swallow in spite of all the rationale and justification attached to it.
But if one were to admit the truth, even being a Federer fan, then it has to be said that Roger Federer hasn’t exactly been at the top of his game at the US Open for quite some time now. His dwindling fortunes have been quite precipitate at the Flushing Meadows for a few years now. An unexpected transition from the norm of doing exceedingly well in a place where his successes far outweighed his losses; accounting for a substantial number in his tally of majors’ titles.
2010 and 2011 saw Federer lose two closely-fought five-setters against Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals – the latter even more pinpointed thanks to Federer’s apparent squandering of a two-set to love lead and five match points – while in 2012 he succumbed to a rare case of unanswerability to Tomas Berdych’s onslaughts in the quarter-finals. In each case, the trajectory of Federer’s downward spiral has come to be more and more looming, making avoidance and nonchalance absolutely impossible.
Perhaps then the shock of seeing him so blatantly excluded amongst the star-cast favourites is all do with the way his fabled consistency has started to falter and taper off, more than anything else. For those accustomed to watching the man scrape through matches – even at his lowest ebb – his performances this year have been quite out of the ordinary. It’s then been a chaotic churning to an already volatile situation. A situation that the well-reasoned mind always knew was in the offing but never really anticipated so to speak. Federer, thanks to his consistency, was never expected to be blotted away but rather came to be regarded as one of those elite – rare – players who would leave the sport on a high; breaking newer grounds even whilst bidding his departure. This then contravenes against the very grain of belief that has been nurtured around Federer: of his invincibility and greatness.
Of the two, the second still stands true and forever will, no matter whether Federer wins another slam or not. But it is the first that has come to be looked upon under a different light. In the past, where each win of Federer brought out some hidden facet of brilliance about him, his losses came to be camouflaged as momentary aberration, to be rectified just as soon. The present however has brought things to a head with his wins masked by his losses and the latter enunciating and detailing his faults as never before. The aspect of Federer’s invincibility has thus gone on to take quite an enigmatic turn with no clear answers to be given.
For one cannot deny that Federer was once the lord and master in almost all of tennisdom, conquering the sport with an ease seldom seen. In that Federer was then truly invincible for no one – even now – has able to extend the same extraordinariness that Federer’s name was synonymous with. Juxtaposed with this quality is the intrusion of reality of his inability to conjure the same level of deliverance in recent times. Had Federer been truly invincible, wouldn’t he have been able to maintain the swing of momentum and thus prevent his slipping along the ranks – literally – from the sport’s order? Or does invincibility then come with exceptions, applicable only at certain times?
If that were the case, then the word itself would lose its meaning and its very basis of etymological existence. In all essentiality, this could never be possible and as such only one option remains – that, its application to Roger Federer isn’t at all just but a rather heavy yoke encumbering him for as long as he continues to play.