Are Roger and Tiger nearing the end of their careers?

Switzerland's Roger Federer reacts during his game against France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal, August 11, 2011.

Reluctantly or otherwise, the world of golf has grown accustomed to Tiger Woods as not only a pale shadow of his former self, but many times not a very good player at all. So how will tennis handle the same happening to Roger Federer if and when it happens? What will the sport be like with Federer as, say, the No. 10 ranked player in the world? Or worse? The combination of Federer’s athletic brilliance and utter class — there simply is not an athlete in any sport who surpasses the Swiss in that regard — means many of those who love and follow the sport stubbornly refused to acknowledge the slippery downslope is at hand for the 16-time Grand Slam champion.

But the signs are unmistakable. No Grand Slam title since January 2010. Only one tournament victory in 2011, and that at a relatively unimportant event in the Middle East. A second consecutive early departure from Wimbledon, once a competition he dominated at will, and an inability this week at the Rogers Cup to get even to the quarter-finals. He and Woods have been, essentially, sporting contemporaries, although Woods’s rise to glory came a few years before than of the Swiss. For several years they were simultaneously the greatest golfer of all time and the greatest tennis player ever to patrol a court, each credited with lifting the profile and profitability of their respective sports, united as men of Nike.

Woods, as has been well-documented, tumbled from the top of his sport through a combination of hubris, deceit, injury and human frailty. For the squeaky-clean Federer there has been, at least thus far, no similar fall from grace, no public humiliation, no scent of trouble. Once the two were pals, but Sports Illustrated reported recently that Federer has distanced himself from the golfer since his disgrace. Woods, however, said this week he and the tennis genius still “text all the time.”

Unlike Woods, Federer has not been the author of his own dip from No. 1 in the world to No. 3. His game is still breathtaking, imaginative and superb, just a half-level lower than where it once was. He is fit and committed, and continues to be a remarkably healthy participant in what has become a grinding, punishing men’s tennis tour. The rest of the field, however, has caught Federer and no longer fears him. Where once only Rafael Nadal was Federer’s Kryptonite, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is now the player who has figured Federer out, beating him at Wimbledon and here, and Tsonga isn’t even a top 10 player at the moment. Federer transformed the sport a decade ago, and now what has to be viewed as a golden age for men’s tennis has created a slew of talented players who can rise up and defeat him. He was good enough to get to the French Open final this year, but lost to Nadal, and while he clearly has the game to win at least one more major, it’s no certainty that he will add to his record total. Some believe he’ll be around for another five years, and he has given no indication retirement is on the radar. Theoretically, he could do a Pete Sampras, who won the ’02 U.S. Open at age 31 and then retired on top. At 30, Federer is getting on the old side for tennis, although 29-year-old Mardy Fish has pushed his way into the Rogers Cup semifinals on Saturday. At 35, meanwhile, Woods has, in theory, a decade or more left as an elite player if he can correct all that ails his game. Woods hasn’t won an event in 20 months, can’t get healthy and missed the cut at this week’s PGA Championship. Federer is struggling with that lone victory in 2011, but last year he won five tourneys including the year-end ATP world tour finals.

So the questions of the two are subtly different. For Woods, it’s about how soon, if ever, he’ll get back to winning tournaments. He has lots of time. For Federer, it’s about how much time he has left, and whether his window of opportunity to add more layers to his greatness has closed. Woods’s reputation is irreparably damaged, but his legacy remains incomplete. Federer’s legacy is, barring a major misstep, already assured, surpassing that of Woods in that his humble, gracious manner on and off the court raised the standards of play and behaviour for everyone.

It just couldn’t go on forever.

Courtesy of Damien CoxSports Columnist…..Toronto Star.



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