Roger Federer faces many uncertainties heading into 2014. The last year has been particularly unkind to the presumptive GOAT. His QF streak in Slams ended at his beloved Wimbledon, and he followed that 2nd round exit with a 4th round showing at Flushing. His declining results heralded a wave of headlines pondering whether he’d ever be able to recapture some of his former glory going forward.
So, what can we expect from Roger in 2014?
He’s hired Stefan Edberg as coach. He’s using a racquet with a larger frame. Federer’s been criticized in the past for his stubbornness in making changes to combat his steady decline. This off-season showed that he has embraced a fresh approach in an effort to get things back on track. He’s saying all the right things: forehand is good, movement is good, confidence is good. But, what if he gets off to a slow start in 2014? Do the ghosts of 2013 come back to haunt him?
Federer and Nadal have given us some of the most memorable and epic tennis matches of all time. The rivalry holds a very prominent place in our collective memories as one of the all-time greats. Yet, the overall win-loss record is now incredibly one-sided. In fact, Federer’s a couple losses against Djokovic away from having a losing record against all other members of the so-called “Big 4” - a seemingly irreversible trend at this point.
Nadal leads Federer 22-10
Federer leads Djokovic 16-15
Murray leads Federer 11-9
There’s also the not-so-small matter of how secure Roger’s place is among the Big 4. No one will ever be able to take away all that he’s accomplished, but until he’s able to show once more that he can stand toe-to-toe with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, then talk of his membership as part of the Big 4 is merely ceremonial.
Is this the year he is officially supplanted by another player? Juan Martin Del Potro? David Ferrer? Stanislas Wawrinka? This is just one more question hovering over Federer’s head as he approaches his 2014 campaign.
Still, it’s not all gloom and doom for Federer. I’m not one of those who believes he’s done as a competitive force on tour. Maybe now that the tennis world has written him off, he’ll be able to attack the season with a freeness that previous expectation didn’t permit. Edberg might be able to steer him in new directions. A change of equipment, a change of style - there are certainly things that Federer can do to stem the tide.
I’d always felt that Roger took himself a bit too seriously, often bull-headed and dour when a light-hearted approach would suffice. For that reason, his new found mastering of social media has been such a revelation. Through a series of hilarious tweets, he’s endeared himself even more to his throngs of supporters and won new ones, myself included. His #AskRF series is seriously funny stuff. This is also why I am optimistic about his prospects for 2014 - Federer seems to be having more fun.
Can Roger rebound? Nobody can say for sure - we’ll have to watch and see how 2014 plays out. Moreover, what would we consider a successful season - a Slam title? A Slam final? Without question, Federer’s fortunes will be one of the most closely monitored stories of the upcoming season. As one who hasn’t always rooted for him, I sincerely wish him well.