Will Federer return to the top?

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We're two-and-a-half months into the 2009 ATP season, and it's hard too say if Roger Federer will regain the No. 1 ranking, but I'd have to say I'm seriously leaning in the "no-way" direction.

And that would include beyond even this year.

Federer has played sparingly, to say the least, so far this season. He returned to action at Indian Wells this past weekend after taking several weeks off to rest a sore back. The ailment forced the Swiss icon to skip the lucrative event in Dubai and a Davis Cup encounter versus the host United States, as Switzerland wound up on the losing end (1-4) of that best-of-five affair in Alabama earlier this month.

The precise Swiss stayed on the sidelines for six weeks after losing to his great rival Rafael Nadal in five sets in the February 1 Aussie Open finale. That most recent installment of their incredible head-to-head series was yet another epic battle in what is perhaps the best men's rivalry in the history of the sport. A record seven Grand Slam finals contested?

The current world No. 2 Federer is appearing in only his third tournament of the season at the ongoing Indian Wells fortnight, and has tallied an 11-2 record (at the time of writing) so far this year. In addition to his Aussie setback against the relentless Rafa, Roger also lost to rising Scotsman Andy Murray in a marquee semifinal in Doha, with Murray going on to win the title in Qatar.

Former world No. 1 Roger Federer has appeared in four straight and 14 of the last 15 Grand Slam finals and a record 19 consecutive major semifinals.
The 27-year-old Federer (just like the rest of us) isn't getting any younger, and just last week announced that he and his long-time girlfriend, former WTA Tour player Mirka Vavrinec, are expecting their first child this summer.

And the stubborn star recently considered hiring a full-time coach for the first time in years, but the idea to bring in former Andre Agassi/Lleyton Hewitt mentor Darren "Killer" Cahill failed to come to fruition.

What we have here is an equation that's starting to make some sense.

Federer's getting older...the 22-year-old Nadal's only getting better...and an impending fatherhood hasn't historically helped anyone's professional tennis career.

Do the math. Roger's reign is a thing of the past.

Sure, he's still the reigning five-time U.S. Open champ (an Open Era record) and has performed in the last four Grand Slam finals (1-3). Heck, he's riding an amazing record streak of having played in 19 consecutive major semifinals, which is simply unheard of.

And Did You Know?: Federer holds the Open Era records for most consecutive wins on both grass (65) and hard courts (56).

The 13-time major champion still needs one more victory to tie Pete Sampras for the all-time lead among the men. Fourteen majors for Federer seemed like a certainty as recently as a few months ago, but in addition to the Nadal roadblock, the machine-like Swiss also has to contend with Novak Djokovic (to some extent) and now an emerging Andy Murray, who has shown signs that point towards him becoming a potential No. 1 star, should Nadal falter or succumb to some type of injury (bad knees).

FYI, Federer, who won at least one Grand Slam event title in each of the previous six years, hasn't won a tournament of any kind since titling in his native Basel back in October.

Heading into this season I didn't think that Federer would overtake Nadal for the top spot, and I haven't seen anything in the past few months that would change my mind. And something tells me that if Roger doesn't do it this year, he'll probably never do it (return to No. 1) again.

Federer (R) is consoled by Rafael Nadal after the Spanish superstar outlasted the Swiss great to capture the Australian Open title.
But don't feel too bad for Roger, who, no doubt, flew to Indian Wells on a private jet, which is the type of thing you can afford when you've earned a tennis-record $45 million in prize money. Throw in the several millions more he's earned off the court and understand that he's done well for himself.

Is Federer still a huge force to be reckoned with? You bet your Swiss chocolates he is. He's just (unofficially) no longer THE man to beat.

Federer is clearly one of the best racquet men ever, but you can probably forget about calling him THE best ever now, since the "best ever" player would not carry a dismal 6-13 record against his key rival (Nadal). Heck, he's only 2-5 lifetime now against Murray. As a matter of fact, Murray has beaten the Fed in their last three encounters. But in all fairness to Roger, he's 1-0 against Murray when it counts the most, at the majors, with a victory coming in last year's U.S. Open finale.

By the way, Federer could meet Nadal in yet another blockbuster final in the California desert this weekend. The Swiss is a stunning (in a bad way) 4-11 against Nadal when they've clashed in finals, including five straight wins for the fierce Spaniard.

Since the rankings came into play in 1973, Federer is trying to become only the second male player to return to a year-end No. 1 ranking after losing the spot, which he held from 2004-07. Ivan Lendl turned the trick back in 1989.

I gotta tell ya...I'm not feelin' it for Federer.

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Scott Riley
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