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Is the Fed in a recession?

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We're a little over three months into the 2008 ATP season, and some folks are wondering if the great Roger Federer is now in decline, similar to the American economy.

Here are the facts (in addition to the one that the American economy will eventually be just fine).

Federer has dominated men's tennis since 2004, even though his reign unofficially began with his first of five straight Wimbledon titles back in 2003. (It was Andy Roddick, not the Fed, who finished '03 as the year-end No. 1.)

Federer headed into the '08 season having won 12 of the last 18 Grand Slam titles, leaving him a mere two majors shy of Pete Sampras' record haul of 14.

But let's forget the Slams for now, as the great Federer has failed to win a tournament of any kind since 2007. As a matter of fact, the super Swiss has yet to even reach a final in 2008, going titleless in four events.

The typically-amazing Roger Federer is playing like a mere mortal to this point in 2008.
Concern?

Onlookers were stunned when the Fed succumbed to the ultra-talented Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals back in January. The rising Serb doused the sublime Swiss in straight sets to reach his second major in as many tries. Djokovic was last year's U.S. Open runner-up to Federer, who has won four straight U.S. Opens in addition to the five straight Big W crowns.

After losing to Djokovic in Melbourne, Federer didn't play again until early March. But he didn't return to the winner's circle, as capable Brit Andy Murray shocked the Swiss legend in the opening round (yes, the opening round) in Dubai, where Federer had been the reigning champ.

Then, only a couple of weeks later, the Fed came up a semifinal loser at the hands of decent American Mardy Fish at Indian Wells, as Fish stunned the Swiss in relatively easy fashion, 6-3, 6-2, in the California desert.

Now people were starting to scratch their heads.

During these down couple of months for Federer, it came to light that he had been battling mononucleosis, an illness that apparently slowed him at the hot Aussie major.

But it wouldn't appear that mono could be an excuse at the moment, when Federer is coming off a very surprising setback at the hands of Roddick, who bested the Swiss in three sets in a quarterfinal showdown at the so-called "Fifth Major" in Miami last week.

What was so surprising was that Roddick hadn't beaten the Fed since 2003, as the American was knee-deep in an 11-match losing skid against the silky-smooth Swiss. I guess it was only a matter of time considering A-Rod is, and has been for some time now, a top-10 player.

Federer's biggest win of the year so far is one that came against overrated American James Blake in the Aussie quarters.

These don't sound like the results of the No. 1 player in the world, do they?

The four tournaments that Federer has entered this year -- all on hardcourts -- have been won by, in order, Djokovic, Roddick, Djokovic and Russian star Nikolay Davydenko. There have been 15 different ATP titlists this season, and Federer isn't one of 'em.

The best players up to this point in 2008 have to be Djokovic and Roddick. Not only is Djokovic the only man to play in the last two majors, he's off to a 17-4 start this year, including big titles in Melbourne and Indian Wells. Roddick, meanwhile, is 19-4, with titles coming in Dubai and San Jose. And on his way to the impressive title in Dubai, the massive-serving American upended the likes of world No. 2 Rafael Nadal and Djokovic in the quarters and semis, respectively. Roddick also led the U.S. to the Davis Cup title last year, and helped the Americans get past the host Austrians in a D-Cup opening-rounder in February.

The 26-year-old Federer, meanwhile, is just 11-4 in '08 and, like I mentioned earlier, has yet to reach a final this season.

Is he looking at a Bjorn Borg-esque early burnout/retirement?

Of course not!

I don't think we can truly be concerned until the Fed fails to reach the French Open final in June and/or fails to prevail at his beloved Wimbledon in July. Borg won the French Open six times in an eight-year span and piled up five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976-80 before John McEnroe ended the Swede's reign at the All-England Club in 1981, which, shockingly, marked the beginning of the end for the mighty Borg.

Has the pack caught up to the Fed? Is his best tennis behind him? Will his Grand Slam total continue to grow? Perhaps, no, and yes. He still has to be the favorite at Wimbledon, even though Nadal gave him a severe test at SW19 last year. Roddick can most certainly perform on the grass, as evidenced by his two runner-up finishes at Wimbledon, and Djokovic is flat-out coming into his own and has proven that he, like Nadal, can excel on any surface.

You can worry about Roger if you want, but the only person that needs to worry about Roger is Roger, and I don't think he's worried yet.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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