Seventeen time grand slam champion Roger Federer was sent packing in the second round of the Foro Italico. The Swiss maestro had a match point pried from his fingers, and found himself leaving a Master Series 1000 event at this stage for the first time in four years. With the birth of his second set of twins, and the fact that Roger will be turning thirty-four this year, he is reaching senior status in tennis years. After fighting to qualify for the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals last year, an event he has won a record six times, and this stunning loss, Federer may be on the ropes.
Roger Federer’s electrifying matchup with world number one Rafael Nadal has even begun to sour, with the Swiss only winning one set in the last five meetings against his Spanish rival. The numbers do not lie, and Roger Federer is not the same player he was. However, flashes of brilliance from the Olympic silver medalist, like his quarter final defeat of Andy Murray at the Australian Open this year, remind us what he is capable of.
Roger Federer holds the record for most weeks spent at the number one ranking with 302, and has been fortunate not to sustain any detrimental injuries during his career, which may have put him on the ropes much sooner. His hard work and focus are bold testaments of his dedication to the sport, but his pure raw talent may be the most potent accolade.
Federer’s vanquisher Jeremy Charday, represents a growing class of journeyman tennis player with deeper levels of skill and ability lying dormant. In recent years, several young guns on the cusp of breaking through continue to crowd the gates of legend, waiting for a chance to enter.
Swede Robin Soderling was a prime example. His stunning defeat of Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the French Open in 2009, pushed him into the record books. Reaching the final that year, the confidence he gathered saw him return to the final the next year, break into the top ten (4th) and win his first Master Series 1000 shield in Paris.
Meanwhile, defending champion and seven time titlist Rafael Nadal needed three sets in his second round fight past wily Frenchman Gilles Simon. At six foot, one hundred and fifty-four pounds and twenty-nine years old, Simon is an example of a tennis player who needs five to ten pounds more muscle and a big victory to break through. He posts very solid results, especially on clay, and gave the Mallorcan a real run for his money.
Simon tore the match wide open right away by breaking Nadal on his first service game. Nadal managed to regain the initiative and win the first set in a tie breaker, but Simon was able to edge out the second set. The champion was too much in the third set, but going the distance this early in the tournament is a testament to how dangerous many of the top fifty players are becoming.
With the argument over who is the greatest of all time raging, Nadal is on the heels of Roger Federer. It can be argued because of his dominance over the Swiss star (23-10 win/loss record) that he is the greatest, but Federer’s seventeen grand slams still put him ahead. With legacies being forged and fought over, Federer stumbled on the last hurdle before the French Open. Following this tournament Rafael Nadal will be looking to capture his ninth crown in Paris, breaking his own record, and fourteenth grand slam overall. This has not been the best year so far for either player, but Nadal, still very much the world number one, might have Roger Federer on the ropes.
Commentary by J. Benjamin