Hello everyone, and welcome back to the newest edition of Thaddeus's tennis chatter. In this blog piece today I will be discussing what I believe to be Roger Federer's two greatest losses of his career. It may be a surprise that only one of these losses were in a Grand Slam event. And that neither of them include Wimbledon 2008, or Aussie 2009; although they were both undoubtedly massive losses. I will start here by explaining why I don't believe these two Grand Slam losses were that bad. Beginning with Wimbledon 2008, and his loss against Rafael Nadal in the final that year.
Federer's loss in the final of Wimbledon 2008 was a big defeat, and came in a big match. It was arguably the greatest match of all time, and ended up breaking Federer's record-setting consecutive no. 1 stretch at 237 weeks. So from a statistical viewpoint it was a big loss, and from an emotional standpoint it was too, as Federer looked quite depressed at the time of the trophy presentation. But the thing about that match, is that it was almost expected. In the previous year, when he and Nadal had squared off in the final, Federer was the overwhelming favorite. In 2008 the betting odds were dead-even. Nadal had crushed Federer in straight sets at the French Open. And Federer was already in decline from his peak. I will be discussing the match that I believe really started the decline later in this piece.
At the Australian Open in 2009 when Federer lost to Nadal in the final, he openly wept at the trophy presentation. So you readers must be wondering why I don't think this is one of his top two greatest losses. The reason is because it was not the match that began Federer's slow and steady decline from his peak. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, I will be discussing that match later. Nadal played a brilliant match at the Australian Open 2009 (Final) too, especially after the close-to 5 hour match he played against Fernando Verdasco in the Semi-Final. If anything that (Australian Open Final) match result after was much more a triumph for Nadal than a disappointment for Federer. There is also the fact that Federer has never had a positive record against Nadal, even at that stage in their careers.
Now, I will begin with the matches I believe to be Federer's greatest losses. Beginning with his loss to David Nalbandian at the final of the Year-end championships in 2005. Roger's record in 2005 was 81-4, and was the year with the second best winning percentage in the open-era. If he had won that match (against Nalbandian) he would have gone 82-3 that year, and thus would have equaled John McEnroe's 1984 win-record. Federer was also sitting on an incredible streak of winning 24 straight finals, and 35 straight matches (his second best win streak). In the actual match, the first two sets were close. And Federer had to dig in to win the second set tiebreak 13-11. Nalbandian crushed Federer in the third and fourth. Then in the fifth, when all seemed to be gone for Federer, he came back to level the set at 4-4. He then served for the match at 6-5. He could not convert however, and went onto lose in a tiebreak. If he had served out that match, he not only would have equaled McEnroe's 1984, but would have also had the greatest (or at least in 30 years) open-era win streak. Because at the start of 2006 he won back-to-back tournaments at Qatar and Australia (Open). Meaning that he would have surpassed the great streaks of Guillermo Vilas and Johnny Mcenroe. And would have come very close, if not gone onto beat Borg's record of 50 straight between 1979-1980.
Now, for what I believe to be the big one, the greatest loss of Federer's career. This is a match which I have not heard or read to be his greatest loss. In fact it is match you never read about, and rightfully so in a way, because it was a straight sets loss. The match score read 7-5, 6-3, 7-6. It was against Novak Djokovic in the Semi-Finals of the Australian Open 2008. This ended his Grand Slam Final streak at 10, before he went onto reach 8 more consecutive Finals after this match. This match more than any other, took the wind out of Federer's sails. His win percentage had dippped below 90 percent in the 2007 season, after being well above the threshold in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He had still won three Grand Slams in that year (2007) though. He had still won the Year-end Championships. And so he was really still in peak mode in 2007. At the beginning of 2008 the sharks had not yet started to circle. It was because of this loss that Federer opened the flood gates for Djokovic to claim his first Grand Slam. After this loss, Federer's decline became the talk of the tennis world. When in reality Federer had been sick that tournament, and the fact he had even made it to the Semi-finals was an achievement in itself.
But that talk of Federer's decline became a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way, because he had a poor clay season that year, and had that thoroughly disheartening loss to Nadal at the French Open Final. The talk in the tennis world must have played on Federer's mind, and it is in fact my belief that his loss at Wimbledon in that year was attributed to it. There were clear moments in that match where it almost seemed like he believed he just didn't deserve it, like in the second set when he allowed Nadal to come back from 4-1 down. He was lucky in 2009 that Nadal became injured. His victory at the French 2009 is personally my favorite tennis moment.
The fact of the matter is that since Fed's loss to Djokovic at the Australian Open 2008, he has not been as consistent. Maybe it is just his increasing age, but at the same time I think that this loss opened the floodgates just enough for a new generation to emerge. And between that match and the present, we have all watched as they have steadily chipped away and eventually taken away Federer and Nadal's tennis kingdom.