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

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments