Has Roger Federer's Grand Slam Window Closed After Stunning Wimbledon Exit?

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJune 26, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 24:  Roger Federer of Switzerland takes a break during his gentlemen's singles first round match against Victor Hanescu of Romania on day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 24, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Roger Federer is out in the second round at Wimbledon following his 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (5-7), 5-7, 6-7 (5-7) loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky. It’s the earliest exit for the Swiss Maestro at Wimbledon since his first-round loss in 2002, one year before he won his first Grand Slam title.

The Federer upset is more significant than ending his quest for a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon title.

He will also fall from No. 3 to No. 5 in the world when the Emirates ATP Rankings are updated following the final, trailing Rafael Nadal by more than 1,000 points.

Above all, Federer will be scrutinized more than ever. This loss comes a decade after his first Grand Slam win at Wimbledon 2003 and his window as one of the current elite players in tennis may have closed.

He will be 32 years old in August, older than when Pete Sampras had effectively retired from tennis. Will Federer compete for another Grand Slam title?


Federer’s Rocky Road

In 2012, Federer spent much energy returning to the No. 1 ranking. He captured his seventh Wimbledon title among six titles and finished with an impressive 71-12 record.

His philosophy in 2013 has been to reduce his playing schedule and prioritize his best events. He was a semifinalist at Australia, but since then has suffered other defeats to lesser players.

He also dealt with a debilitating back injury at Indian Wells that was partly responsible for his one-sided defeat to Nadal. It hurt his return to the clay-court season and he was dominated by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the French Open quarterfinals.

The big concern is if Federer can continue to play a partial schedule and compete with the other Big Three for Grand Slam titles. Clearly, his timing and conditioning are not ideal as he tries to balance injuries, rest and optimum game-readiness.

Will he make a greater commitment to play every tournament or will he follow the Nadal blueprint in spurts?


No. 18 Will be More Difficult

Seventeen Grand Slam victories may never be equaled, but it may be just as difficult for Federer to capture No. 18.

The Stakhovsky loss was keyed by his opponent’s aggressive, attacking style. Indeed, it was the kind of serve-and-volley formula that legendary players such as Boris Becker or Stefan Edberg would have thrown at Federer.

The loss illustrated Federer’s difficulties with defending attackers. His footwork has slowed, especially when scrambling to the corners or at net.

Does Federer still have the defense necessary to navigate various talented opponents, including the other Big Three?

His forehand was surprisingly erratic at critical times. It’s been perhaps the greatest weapon in tennis history—especially potent for grass-court winners—but Federer will need to hone this with greater accuracy and power if he hopes to recapture his usual success in Slams.

Can Federer win the U.S. Open? As he works out in preparation for Toronto and the fast courts at Cincinnati, he will have time to rebuild his conditioning and bolster his confidence.

He must look to peak for September’s U.S. Open.

Federer has every desire to play for a few more years and he has every intention of winning more Grand Slam titles. His mind and competitive spirit are second to none, but will his legs and health be reenergized?

Every great champion must also face his own mortality. By Wimbledon 2002, the great Pete Sampras struggled with his ability and confidence. He discussed this in his autobiography, written with Peter Bodo.

It took a big assist from his coach, Paul Annacone, to help restore Sampras’ confidence—that he could still be the most dominating player in tennis. Sampras channeled this support for one more great ride off into the sunset in winning the 2002 U.S. Open.

Now, Annacone faces a similar task in helping Federer maintain his belief that he can still be a Grand Slam winner.

Tennis has boomed with Federer’s spectacular career, but the warning signs of his impending retirement are more apparent. Sports fans all over the world hope that Federer can brush off this setback.

Does he have one more Grand Slam title left in him?