Federer faces crisis after miserable run

Once-unstoppable Roger Federer finds himself without a title entering the clay-court portion of the ATP season, a situation that has the world number one looking for reasons why and finding few answers.

The Swiss superstar was upset by Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open on Thursday, the American’s 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-3 victory leaving Federer 12-4 in the season and without even an appearance in a final.

“It’s disappointing to play a bad game and then think you played bad. That’s not really what happened,” Federer said. “It’s just maybe a few points here and there and Andy took advantage of it.

“I feel good myself.
Really. I guess sort of the coordination and some little things are still missing because of lack of matches, but that usually comes along and I start to play better and better as the matches went on.”

Federer lost to eventual winner Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the Australian Open semifinals, breaking his run of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals appearances, then later said he had been ill during the Melbourne fortnight.

But world number one Federer followed with a first-match exit to Britain’s Andy Murray at the Dubai Open and a shock semifinal ouster at the hands of American Mardy Fish at Indian Wells earlier this month.

Suddenly the aura on invincibility Federer created with a record of 315-24 from 2004 through 2007 has been shattered.

Federer suddenly appears mortal rather than superhuman after claiming top ranking honours for all of those years, three Grand Slam titles in a year for three of the past four years and a career total of 12 Slam crowns—two shy of Pete Sampras’s all-time mark.

Now Federer will play his first clay-court tournament of 2008 at Estoril, the first time he has played in the Portuguese event, which opens on April 14.

Federer then plans to play at Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg as tune-ups for the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament that he has never won.

The Swiss has lost the final to Spain’s Rafael Nadal the past two years.

“I feel fine,” Federer said. “I mean, sort of. I guess I would still need a test maybe of a five-setter, but I’m not going to get those until the French Open comes around.

“All can I do is practise really hard and make sure I feel fine towards the end of the practice sessions if I work up to four hours, and that’s really I think the ultimate test.”

Instead of people asking Federer how he can dominate rivals, the questions are now about whether or not he is 100% fit.

“I asked my trainer what he thought and he said he thought I was at 95%. I thought that was good enough for me. For me 95% or 100% is hardly any difference. It’s not like I’m at 40%.”

It’s not like he’s winning tournaments either, though. Or even reaching finals.

“I’m just sort of disappointed not to see my name playing in the finals,” said Federer. “It’s just disappointing seeing other guys battling it out where I think I have the game to obviously play there, be there as well.”

Federer might be looking for more matches with his unusual Estoril stop to try and become match-toughened.

“I’ve been working hard trying to get back in shape. I feel like I’m fine, you know, it’s just a matter of getting the amount of matches in,” Federer said. “I think I got that again these last couple of weeks, which was really important to me.

“I wish I could have been in the finals, but I just couldn’t play well enough when I had to.”

Concentration, once among Federer’s most formidable weapons, has been among the factors to betray him in recent defeats.

“It happens. What are you going to do? You work hard so it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it does,” he said.

“It’s just a decision here and there, and sometimes the opponent plays well and puts you under pressure.”—Sapa-AFP

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