Has Federer reached the point of no return?

"Two years ago, Roger would have taken one of those match points," an American colleague said here on Saturday night, moments after the man who is considered by most to be the greatest ever to have played the game left the court a loser at the US Open for only the second time in seven years. Roger Federer, five times the champion at Flushing Meadows, let slip a golden chance to reach the final, eventually going down to an inspired Novak Djokovic 7-5 in the fifth set.

It will be of absolutely no consolation to Federer that he was part of the best match of this year's US Open as Djokovic saved two match points at 5-4 in the final set and then broke the Swiss before holding his nerve under immense pressure to close out one of the biggest victories of his life. Federer's parting shot was to say that he would not watch last night's final between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Losing in the semi-final of a Grand Slam is marginally less painful than losing in the final, but only marginally. Federer is used to winning and this one will have hurt.

"It's a tough loss for me, but it's only going to fuel me with more motivation to practice hard and get back to Grand Slam finals, which I haven't been in for the last three slams," Federer said. "I feel like I'm playing well, and I would have deserved to be in the finals."

At the French Open, when he was outslugged by Robin Soderling of Sweden in the quarter-finals, the slow, wet conditions, Federer said, were against him. At Wimbledon, after he lost to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the same stage, he complained of back and leg injuries. This time, there were no excuses as he put himself in a winning position and failed to see it through.

An awful lot of credit has to go to Djokovic, who played brilliantly, throwing caution to the wind when he was down, as Federer has done so often in the past. But what will worry Federer most is that he was beaten on his own terms, beaten by the better player on the day and if it hadn't been for one or two pivotal moments in sets one and three, he could even have gone out in straight sets.

The temptation will be to suggest that Federer's time, if not quite gone, may be passing. Three times this year he has lost matches from match point up, in Indian Wells, Miami and now here. A fully fit Nadal, now 24, has taken his No 1 ranking and his French and Wimbledon crowns. At the age of 29, he is likely to suffer more and more niggling injuries, which take their toll at the highest level. And more worryingly, the fear factor he had when he was utterly dominant between 2004 and 2007 is slowly disappearing. Players used to think he was unbeatable; now they know he is not.

When great players fall from their peak, the decline can be steep and denial often comes into play. There was a hint of that from Federer on Saturday when he suggested luck played its part in his defeat. "When you lose a match point, they feel somewhat empty at the end because you have tried everything," he said. "Maybe it was luck. Maybe it was [because] he played well. Maybe you didn't pick the right shot; maybe he did."

Federer had beaten Djokovic in each of the past three years here, twice in the semi-finals and once in the final. The Swiss has always respected the Serbian but never feared him in the way he does Nadal. But for all Djokovic's courage on the match points and thereafter, it's hard not to think that the Federer of old would surely have finished him off.

"I wish I could say he hit only winners to get back and I played my very best tennis, but it wasn't the case," Federer admitted. "It was just a case of a tough situation to be in for both of us, and someone has to win. There are no draws in our sport. Obviously I like to see a match like this being two winners, but one guy had to win. It won't be written that way, unfortunately."

The world No 2 had not dropped a set on his way to the last four and had looked better than he had since he beat Andy Murray to win his 16th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January. With new coach Paul Annacone in his corner, he showed more eagerness to move forward and everything was working smoothly. Here, though, not only did his form waver, but his serve was below par. The Federer serve is arguably the most under-rated shot in tennis but when it doesn't click, he is vulnerable.

Federer will now take some time off to gather himself before the Masters 1000 events in Shanghai and Paris before the season-ending Masters Cup at London's O2, an event that he may now see as more important than ever, a chance to reassert his authority before the start of next season. It will be interesting to see if, under the guidance of Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras, he tries to come to the net more, shorten the points and not allow himself to get sucked into slugging matches from the baseline.

It still takes the world's best players to beat him, especially at the Grand Slams, so it is still too early to say that he will not win another Grand Slam title. But with a rejuvenated Djokovic, a rampant Nadal, a hungry Murray, last year's US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro coming back from injury, and a host of other believers, it is surely only going to get more difficult. If he manages it, then he will be the greater for it.

2010 GRAND SLAM WINNERS

*Australian Open

Men:......... Roger Federer

Women:......... Serena Williams

*French Open

Men:......... Rafael Nadal

Women:......... Francesca Schiavone

*Wimbledon

Men:......... Nadal

Women:......... S Williams

*US Open

Men:......... Nadal/Novak Djokovic

Women:......... Kim Clijsters

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones