There is the famous saying in tennis: never count out Roger Federer. Or to put it more precisely, write off Roger Federer at your own peril. The legendary Swiss has spent most part of his remarkable tennis career defying critics, physics, and age. He has been the embodiment of success on a tennis court, and it is no surprise that one of the first things that springs to mind when talking of tennis for modern day players is the name Roger Federer.
At the age of 37, he finished the 2018 season ranked at #3 in the world (he shortly held the #1 ranking earlier during the year, making him the oldest #1 player in 45-year history of ATP rankings) and added another Grand Slam to his record-breaking title haul at the Majors further epitomizing a measure of his greatness.
However, the hardest part for ardent supporters of the Swiss is coming to terms with his age each passing year, which can only be referenced to the most despised word in sports: retirement. There is no doubt Federer’s ability combined with his planned schedule could make him carry on playing for a few more years and still be competitive, but the big question mark will be whether he can still win the big titles and compete with his close rivals. That is one key point Federer has always reiterated when questions about retirement are posed to him. His family, he says, always comes first, and will play a major part on his decision when the time comes to hung up his racket. So with the 20-time Grand Slam winner turning 38 a month after Wimbledon next year, could we be bracing ourselves for the blockbuster news of Federer retiring from tennis? Here are my reasons why I think Federer could call it a day from tour in 2019.
The Djokovic “headache,” the rise of Zverev, and Nadal returning to action
Federer has maintained that his wife and kids will decide if he needs to keep on playing and whether they are happy travelling on tour during the year. But he has also been motivated to keep on playing by staying competitive and winning more big titles during the last two years.
With Novak Djokovic regaining his status as the best tennis player in the world, and Alexander Zverev showcasing his ability as a big game player (having won the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals, beating both Federer and Djokovic in succession), Federer will have major obstacles when he opens up his defense of his Australian Open crown next year. Djokovic has won their last three meetings, and has beaten Federer in back-to-back Wimbledon finals in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Rafael Nadal has undergone successful surgery and will definitely be challenging for the Major titles again. The last thing the Swiss would want is another Grand Slam drought. He has set the bar so high that a year without a Major title is seen as a backward step by many. I don’t think Federer has to prove himself anymore. He plays tennis because he loves the sport, but his will to win is also there.
Losses to the likes of Kevin Anderson, and John Millman at Wimbledon and US Open this year were shocking beyond reason. Of his ten defeats in 2018, there were some low ones. A first round defeat in Miami to No. 175 ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis, and another to Borna Coric in Halle were huge upsets.
The manner of those defeats are reminiscent to some losses in the 2013 season, when Federer struggled with a back problem and needed the final Masters 1000 event in Bercy to earn his spot at the ATP finals. The scenario is different though now. Federer is 5 years older, and is vulnerable to these kind of losses, which we may see a whole lot in 2019.
The “Pretenders” are now contenders
One of the things that we could see in 2019 is a NextGen player reaching the finals of one of the four Grand Slams. There has been enormous progress this year particularly in the Masters 1000 events where we saw the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Borna Coric, and Karen Khachanov reach the final of a Masters 1000 tournament, the latter beating Djokovic in Paris-Bercy.
This is by no means stating that the NextGen stepping up will send Roger Federer to retirement, but there will be unexplainable losses against lower ranked players young players.
Return to playing on Clay
During the edition of the Laver Cup this year, Federer commented on a possible return to play on the red dirt in 2019. He last played at Italian Open in 2016. His last appearance at Roland Garros was when he fell to Stan Wawrinka in 2015. He is seriously considering adding the clay court tournaments in his schedule for next year. Could this be further indication that 2019 will be his final bout?