Jane Voigt — Tennis With An Accent
A month away from his 40th birthday, Roger Federer can not be liking this whole aging thing.
His loss to Hurbert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarterfinals Wednesday actually could be considered a good result for him, considering the surgeries, the 18-month major-tournament hiatus prior to Paris, and, yes, the age. Nonetheless, his performance provoked uncomfortable questions, which underscore the match result 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-0. Federer never lost a set at love at Wimbledon, the one Grand Slam he leads in championships: eight.
Fans, of which there are millions scattered around the globe, have to be thinking, and maybe just whispering to themselves: Is this the way Federer’s career ends at Wimbledon?
“No,” he told the press later Wednesday at Wimbledon. “It’s just about having perspective. I’m going to sit down with my team and see what I need to do to be more competitive.”
Over the course of the match, Federer committed 34 unforced errors, according to statistics tracked by IBM. Ten errors per set is unacceptable. He had beaten Hurkacz in their previous meeting, but his opponent showed his considerable talent in a 5-set, 2-day win over second-seeded Danill Medvedev.
“I don’t know what to say. To play on this special court against Roger. It’s always as a kid what you’re dreaming,” the 6-foot-5 native of Poland told fans immediately after his victory. “Thank you guys for coming here.”
Federer’s errors were stark, leaving fans breathless because of when they happened and how frequently they happened, especially off the forehand side, the feared forehand for over a decade-and-a-half. He missed routine shots, sitters he would have gobbled up two years ago at this venue. He lost his footing at the net during the tiebreak and whiffed on the ball. His head sagged, defeat and perhaps embarrassment clouding his mind. His footwork and his ability to anticipate, especially to change direction along the baseline, have been bread and butter assets during his career. If he cannot make it to the ball, all hope is lost.
His first serve percentages were average – read: not good enough – yet he only won 33% of his second service points while Hurkacz clocked in at 58%. Taking advantage of a big server’s second attempts should have been higher, if his chances of victory were to increase. But Hurkacz’s serving pressure altered Federer’s responses, demonstrating a superior ability to turn a negative into a positive.
Federer has often lagged behind other elite players when considering break point conversions. Wednesday, that reached higher proportions. He only had four chances the entire match and converted only one, that’s 25%. On the other side of the court, Hurkacz converted 33% of his break point chances: 5/15. This poor conversion rate for Federer, coupled with the fact that he went up a break in the second set, only to lose it, also points to an below-par performance rating and certainly not enough fight to break Hurkacz’s momentum.
Putting these points aside, Federer may have been injured in some way. Losing at love in the third set when down two sets is not him — this never ever happens, especially at Wimbledon. At one moment in the third, as he chased down a ball, it looked as though he grabbed his stomach. If he had strained it in some way, the third set could be explained more clearly.
“The body, overall, feels fine over the matches,” Federer added.
Federer’s quarterfinal appearance, as mentioned, admittedly was a good result. He became the oldest man in Grand Slam history to make a quarterfinal since 1977. He was appearing in his 18th quarterfinal at these championships and had won 105 matches on these luscious lawns.
He should not be ashamed nor should we be ashamed for him. Sadness could prevail, though, because even the great Swiss maestro cannot stop aging, no matter the level of care from his team, no matter the quality of surgeons and rehabilitation specialists.
“Of course I’d like to play Wimbledon again, but at my age you never know.”
Federer started playing tennis at age four. As we know, he’s weeks away from 40. Perhaps his quarterfinal achievement Wednesday should be heralded instead of lamented, which is difficult to do because he is loved and one of the truly great sports figures the world has ever witnessed. Quite clearly, we don’t want to see him walk into the sunset. Grace, under these conditions, will take exercise, just like hitting groundstrokes takes years of accumulated memories to perfect.