As Roger Federer’s summer of decline continued on Monday, he refused to blame his bad back or an unfamiliar stadium for his earliest loss at the United States Open in 10 years. That left only his performance to explain another defeat and the pattern that continued.
Roger Federer had his worst finish in 10 years at the United States Open, losing Monday. It is the first time since 2002 that Federer will not compete in a Grand Slam final.
Order of Finish
2003: Fourth round
2009: Finalist 2010: Semifinalist
2013: Fourth round
To watch Federer this summer is to listen to an opera singer who can no longer hit the high notes. Flashes of the usual brilliance remain but occur less frequently, less consistently, until a player who once seemed anything but beatable is now imminently so.
Tennis is not like team sports, where aging outfielders become designated hitters, whose diminished skills can be hidden or disguised. Tennis is a solitary pursuit, like boxing, and when the reflexes slow and the legs go, the contrast is more obvious and stark.
In his 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 loss to 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain, Federer, seeded seventh, looked uncomfortable more than anything. Graceful footwork gave way to stumbles. Break points went unconverted. Where he once missed shots by inches, he missed by feet. Federer looked very much as he has looked throughout this summer: vulnerable, human, diminished, if only slightly.
Federer met the assembled reporters almost immediately afterward, a pattern consistent with his rare early exits at Grand Slam events. He refused to accept the excuses lobbed in his direction. His face glum, his eyes narrowed, he credited Robredo through clenched teeth and blamed himself. Mostly, he blamed himself.
“It’s been a difficult last three months, you know,” said Federer, who was 10-0 against Robredo. “My consistency is just not quite there yet. Maybe on a daily basis, set-by-set or point-by-point basis, maybe that’s something that has been difficult for me.”