You have to hand it to Roger Federer. He’s handling all the dire predictions about his future and the reports of his demise with astonishingly good cheer.
Oh sure, the all-time Grand Slam singles champion has been a little touchy now and then during his slide from the ATP No. 1 to No. 6 in under a year -- consider his uncharacteristic sarcasm when a reporter asked him (at the World Tour Finals a few weeks ago) if he took any solace in the fact that though he lost two matches to Novak Djokovic in a span of three days, he won a set each time.
“Yeah, sure. Let’s see it that way. Great, we’re positive. It was great to win two sets off Novak and losing four. Losing a match, it’s really exciting.”
Whoa, bucko, sorry I asked!
But that was just a heat-of-the-moment reaction. Within days, Federer’s celebrated composure had returned, and he reverted to form as a cool guy who’s truly wonderful and has no problem embracing his wonderfulness. Federer has never used false humility as a way to enhance his reputation or image. Perhaps it’s less for lack of opportunity than how little room there is for augmentation in those areas.
In any event, after that second loss to Djokovic, Federer went out and laid a pasting on Richard Gasquet and then subdued Juan Martin del Potro to make the final four of the WTF. Although he lost in the semis to Rafael Nadal, he’d made his point -- he’s still there to be reckoned with.
A few days later, he gave an extensive interview to a journalist working for his sponsor, Credit Suisse. In a Q&A on the company’s website, Federer positively gushed about his immediate future. He said, “I have still got some major goals, because I certainly haven't forgotten how to play tennis; after all, I was still No. 1 in the fall of 2012, and at the end of the season, once my back was better, my results also improved.”
I like that little reminder: I certainly haven’t forgotten how to play tennis.
He added, "By the end, everyone around me was talking positively again, the mood was much better than in the summer. That boosts my morale for the coming year, and it's a big relief. The fun has definitely returned.”
Rafa, Novak, Andy -- you hear that whistling sound? That’s the shot by Federer, fired right across your bow.
Some will write off Federer’s remarks as false bravado. Others will wince at the delusional element in them and think "These great athletes; when the end comes, how come they’re always the last to know?"
Perhaps Federer’s attitude will prove insupportable. After all, he’s well past 32 years of age, and at times last year he really looked as if he’d lost it. His struggles in the summer were on thing, though, and his loss at the US Open quite another.
Every player, especially a hoary veteran, is entitled to hit the skids and go through a slump the way Federer did at, and immediately after, Wimbledon. But it’s a more discouraging sign when a great player utterly and unexpectedly collapses when he has a great opportunity at a Grand Slam tournament, the way Federer did when he lost in the fourth round of the US Open to Tommy Robredo.
Whatever the future holds, Federer fans can take heart from the way he’s handling his situation. We’ve had hints of frustration, and slight suggestions of hurt. But there’s no self-pity or any dark brooding. Federer hasn’t retreated into a shell the way his good pal Pete Sampras did near the end of his career, nor has he made outlandish predictions. But the hard part may just be starting for him, no matter how easily he’s slipped back into that familiar cool posture.