As a former player and coach, I’ve got a very different take on Federer’s run at Wimbledon. This was definitely not Federer falling short because of his age; he was not the favorite in his last two matches and he wasn’t playing at his normal level because of injury:
- He was recovering from knee surgery and a back injury, so his recovery time and performance exceeded expectations, given his age.
- He was not tournament tough, having played in only four tournaments since the Australian Open in January.
- At the most elite levels, if a player is just slightly off physically, he is a clear underdog. Based on his conservative shot selection on his inside-out forehand on certain big points, and the way he couldn’t bend to hit low volleys, Federer was definitely not 100%. He wasn’t looking to raise his game to win Wimbledon; he was giving everything he had not to allow his level to drop too much in response to his limitations. Knowing that, all of the career head-to-head stats against his opponents meant absolutely nothing.
- Federer was dominated by Cilic, stating himself that he just tried to stay in the match, hoping his opponent’s level of play would drop. Cilic cracked a little mentally at 3–3 in the third, when he choked (unforced errors on serve returns) a 0–40 lead on Federer’s serve that would have almost clinched the match. He had another huge hiccup, when he double faulted to give Federer a set point in the fourth set tie breaker. By the fifth set, Cilic’s physcial and mental state had deteriorated so much that he was now playing a level below Federer, whose game didn’t change, so much as he may have relaxed a little, seeing Cilic’s decreased mobility.
- At the end, Cilic was cheating on the return, moving to one side or the other on the return as Federer did his service toss, instead of maintaining balance and doing the split-step at the moment Federer hit the ball. When he got aced in the last two points of the match, Federer hit serves well inside the line, ones that Cilic returned easily at the beginning of the match. This is one of the clearest signs that a player has checked out of a match. He knows he can’t move well enough any more, so he takes these kinds of risks and gets beaten by less than outstanding shots.
- Raonic plays a big game, and took chances throughout the match, so there’s a reason Federer tried to play steadier, hoping that his opponent would make enough errors to give away the match. But in the key points (especially those break points in the fourth set), Federer never took chances to force the play, and suffered the consequences when Raonic strung together enough big shots to finally save the set and then get the unlikely break after Federer served at 40–0 at 5–6 in the fourth set and hit two double faults in a row. The bottom line is that Federer was on defense most of the time, allowing Raonic to control the point and come to net. This was not a matter of him regaining his form as much a matter of him hoping to guts out another match against a “better” (on that given day) opponent.
- Federer’s inability to close out the fourth set led to the final break down of his body. I don’t remember ever seeing Federer get medical treatment in a match, let alone twice.
Federer gave a valiant effort at Wimbledon, but he wasn’t his normal 34-year-old self. Maybe he won’t recover from his injuries, but it’s a little different than saying he was the favorite but couldn’t do it any longer because age had eroded his game. Even if he had won his semi-final, he was playing at a level where Murray would have beaten him easily.
We’ll see if he can completely recover. People thought he was done when he had back problems in 2013. When he got healthy, he got to three more finals. Because of his effortless style of play, he is better equipped than any player since Rosewall to play at the highest level. Agassi got to the US Open finals at age 35, so the improved training regimens is extending the careers of even players who play a more physically demanding game