He still looked like Roger Federer—the same Nike headband wrapped around long, flowing locks, the same blue collared shirt soaked in sweat, the same orange wristband, the same pristine white shorts, white socks and white shoes.
But during his last match, a quarterfinal battle at the BNP Paribas Open against Rafael Nadal in March, it wasn't the Roger Federer.
In the newest chapter of the always-legendary rival, Fed-Ex fell, 6-4, 6-2, and it was really anything but legendary as Nadal—in just his fourth tournament since returning from a major knee injury—handled the error-prone, hobbling Federer with ease.
Sadly, it was representative of where the 31-year-old appears to currently reside in his illustrious career.
Once at the very top of the world with absolutely no question about it, and once a guarantee to put on a scintillating, back-and-forth, instant-classic battle every time he met with Nadal, he is now a shell of his former self.
To be fair, a shell of Federer is still better than almost everyone else in the world at full strength. But that just means it's time for him to pick and choose battles, and a shift in workload suggests that's already happening.
At this time in 2012, Federer had competed in six tournaments, 27 matches and had won three titles. This year? Four, 17 and zero.
There's very little question that this is the right move. At some point, legs that have endured over 1,000 professional matches and 17 Grand Slam titles begin to wear down. It's natural, and signs of wear and tear are beginning to show.
Against Nadal, Federer was battling an ailing back, and as he gingerly moved around, it was evident he was less than 100 percent.
Again, this isn't to say that he's done. Not even close to it, actually. He simply needs more rest—both physical and mental—than he did when he was a spry 25-year-old.
Moments of total health are going to be less frequent.
Federer still has the skills and opportunity to be a major competitor at Grand Slams and other major world events.
But as he is showing in 2013, it may be time to cut out some of the less important tournaments.
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