Roger Federer Passed by No. 12 Seed Tomas Berdych, Time
The best ever. The No. 1 seed at Wimbledon?
Federer lost in the Wimbledon quarterfinals Wednesday to Tomas Berdych 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Federer's game is beginning to look obsolete. Honestly, he hasn't lost much from his best, if anything. He's 28 and people will talk about the beginning of aging.
That's not the problem. Federer's stubbornness is. And not only that: His willingness to enjoy the top of the mountain without looking down to see who's coming, and why it's working.
"I couldn't play the way I wanted to play,'' he said. "You know, I am struggling with a little bit of a back and a leg issue. That just doesn't quite allow me to...''
I'm going to have to stop him right there and call BS. How pathetic. It is so far beneath the king to whine about little owies.
The man is in denial.
You cannot take away his six Wimbledon titles, his 16 majors. They are all there for the history books and museum. But Federer doesn't have to join them there yet.
It is getting hard, though, to continue thinking of him as the best of all time. He's still in his prime, and he's not the best player now. Rafael Nadal is. Nadal always beats Federer.
But Nadal is no longer just a freak of greatness sharing the stage with Federer. It is not just one superstar encroaching on another.
The entire game has changed. It has hit Federer. And Federer needs to get off the throne and start hitting back.
We've seen this so many times in tennis, and in other sports, too.
When someone special comes along, the reigning generation tries to fight him off. Then, everyone oohs and aahs over him for a while, wondering how any human can do what he's doing. Then, people try to copy him, which gets them somewhere, but not to the top.
You have to find something else to overcome. That's what Nadal did.
That's what the next generation of tennis players is doing.
It's funny, because the next generation was supposed to be Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. They are top players, and now Djokovic will climb over Federer in the rankings.
But the coming generation is Juan Martin del Potro, Robin Soderling and Berdych. They have found a crushing low-spin game that drives the ball through the court and pushes around Federer, with his elegant old strokes.
On top of that, racquet and string technology have changed, even in the past 24 months. Without getting technical about it, these guys can hit as hard as they want and keep the ball in the court.
So they aren't afraid of Federer anymore. And Federer doesn't fully use the new equipment.
He lost the U.S. Open final to del Potro, who pushed him around. He beat Murray in the Australian Open final, but Murray is a dinker, who hits soft. Then, Soderling pushed Federer around in the quarters of the French Open.
Still, Federer wasn't recognizing what was happening.
"I'm not blaming the conditions or anything,'' he said at the French Open, "but I think they were in his favor toward the end.''
Well, the conditions were perfect Wednesday. The sky was blue. It wasn't windy. It was dry. Centre Court is where Federer has been king.
And Berdych pushed him around.
So I asked Federer if he would have to adjust his game from here.
"Well, if I'm healthy I can handle those guys... '' he said. "I've played these guys 10 times. They're not going to reinvent themselves in a year, you know.''
Denial. They are beating him now, having gone through the learning curve of adapting their games to the new technology.
"Today was a different story than Paris,'' Federer said. "I think in Paris, conditions were tough. Robin played fantastic. Today was different. You know, I was struggling with my own game and with my physique.''
You know what Venus Williams after losing Tuesday when someone asked if she had an injury?
"I don't talk about injuries. Ever.''
I've felt a little unfair holding Federer to the standard of best ever, and not let the guy walk with his feet on the ground. Turns out, he won't allow it either.
He works hard to perfect his flawless technique, when he needs to change it.
The match was like an argument between the ages. Berdych crushed Federer in the first set, but then Federer's spins and angles and touch and art kept Berdych off-balance. He couldn't get his footing right to continue pounding the ball.
Then, Berdych stomped on Federer's little art project.
Tennis lovers prefer the art. So you can lament the loss of the way you think the game should be played, but that doesn't change what's actually happening.
Nadal saw it last year, and adjusted. He flattened out his backhand and started blasting it back. He did not give up what makes him what he is.
A few years ago, when he was a claycourt specialist, he decided he couldn't win on grass if he didn't pump up his serve some. So he improved it.
Nadal has consistently changed, and that's why he was able to beat Soderling Thursday.
Well, if Federer doesn't change anything, he can still win majors, assuming he gets lucky with the draws and gets opponents with the right style for him.
Soon, he will look silly with that crown, demanding that cold weather and tiny back pain is all that's wrong. He can change racquets, strings, maybe flatten out his backhand some, whatever.
But he has to admit it first. It doesn't have to be time to put Federer in the museum yet.
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