Well, for some time folks have been writing off the legendary Swiss, yet he’s still battling the sands of time.
McEnroe once said it wasn’t the physical elements that were the major problem as you got older but the ability to maintain concentration. Henman, on the BBC last week disputed this, saying that it shouldn’t be a problem, even for Federer to get up for the ATP Tour Finals. The problem here, however, is that ability to maintain focus is, like any other, something that needs to be practiced and once you start to lose it, it can be habit forming.
The signs are now increasingly ominous for Federer, while Nadal has a far superior head to head record against him (22-10), Federer had never lost to Nadal indoors before yesterday. That has now gone.
However, while there have been occasional signs of Federer being a tad slower, the lapses have been far greater. In the last week he’s continued to play some outstanding tennis but the unforced error count has been high. More telling has been the muttering when things are not going well. Something that I believe plagued Andy Murray, until Lendl became his coach (it still emerges occasionally) was something that never occurred with Federer. A mistake or a winner from his opponent and he just got on with the next point, almost with Borg-like serenity at times.
This trait is something that Gallwey, in the Inner Game of Tennis, talks about as a major inhibitor of performance and is often common amongst club players and lesser competitors but rarely seen at the very highest levels of elite sport. Staying focused on the present, playing point by point, is what makes Nadal and Djokovic exceptional as the top two players in the world currently. Federer may have another year in him at the top physically but mentally he needs to get back to being able to stay present.