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Monardo: Federer’s reign over

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In a sport predicated on fluidity, grace and precision, he embodies more than anyone those very qualities. He holds the most Grand Slam tournament titles and the most Grand Slam finals played, along with a host of other tennis records.

He is perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time, but he’s no longer the greatest tennis player in the world today.

And it makes me sad.

Roger Federer’s reign atop the tennis world is apparently over, and the fans that watched him dominate the subjects held captive by his great rule are forced to move on. To be sure, Federer is no has-been, he’s not washed up and he’s not embarrassing himself by taking the court, but he is clearly no longer “the man.”

Beginning with his first title — Wimbledon in 2003 — Federer embarked on an astounding streak. Winning 16 of 27 Grand Slams from that Wimbledon to 2010’s Australian Open, Federer failed to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam only once, as he landed in the final match of 22 of those 27 tournaments.

But the 2010 Australian Open remains Federer’s last major victory. He has been bounced from the previous seven Grand Slams, most recently in the semifinals of the 2011 U.S. Open.

The truth (and it’s an ugly truth for Fed-heads) is that Roger Federer is now one of best rather than the best, a fantastic player struggling to compete with his younger, fresher opponents.

This phenomenon happens all the time in sports. But for some reason I find Federer’s slow descent from godliness saddening. While Brett Favre tumbled ungracefully into the sunset with his guns blazing, Barry Bonds exited as a King* amidst controversy and shame and Tiger Woods disgraced himself into mediocrity, Roger Federer will do no such thing.

The GOAT candidate has accepted his demotion with all the dignity and composure that one would expect him to. The soft-spoken Switzerland native makes himself so easy to sympathize with.

Every time I see Federer lose a match, every time I watch a final without him in it I feel bad. I feel sorry for Roger, that nice guy who flashes a shy smile in the face of his greatness.

Part of the reason behind this is the sport of tennis, in which the player is completely alone, completely exposed. There is nobody to hide behind, nobody to help shoulder the burden or share the blame. What we see out of Federer is completely a product of his own doing. Because of this, the tennis player’s successes are made that much more impressive, his failures that much more disappointing. As a result, the viewer is able to relate directly to the player more so than in other sports.

But with Federer especially, the fan base has been able to root for him as its own. He has been a stellar player whose creativity and skill shine forth on the court. Rafael Nadal, 25, and Novak Djokovic, 24, who have combined to be the two-pronged thorn in Federer’s side, cannot possibly hope to ever command the respect that their 30-year- old counterpart does. They are the villains, the ones who interrupted the period of peace atop the world tennis scene.

For fans of tennis there is still plenty to cheer about. There is no doubt that exciting tennis will be played in upcoming years by Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and other, younger players.

Competition is what sport is all about, but at times, greatness can be infinitely more compelling than parity.

It is rare that a man can manage to completely dominate a sport, and I regret the passing of such a period. I selfishly crave that greatness, but I also feel true empathy for Federer.

His grip is very slowly loosening on that which not long ago seemed to be firmly in his grasp, and the world is watching him recede back into the ranks of mortal men.

But that is OK. Even in his regression, Federer could hoist another Grand Slam trophy in the near future.

When that happens, many fans around the world will enjoy the chance to celebrate one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Until then, I will remember Federer at his greatest.

Clad in a white sweater, zipping a between-the-legs shot past his opponent, hitting the perfect shot over and over, and over, again. They are the enduring images of greatness, Federer style.

Joseph Monardo is a sophomore who is the President of the Fedheads. He can be reached at jmonardo@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.