We've been here before: Roger Federer loses a match, and suddenly the world has changed. The reality is, tennis has been changing for a while now. Here's another fact: The Federer Era is over.
Before you close your fists and wind up, let me step back. I'm not talking about the end of Federer as a Grand Slam champion. My guess is we'll see him lift another trophy or two before he retires. He's going to play for at least another two or three years, perhaps longer if he maintains his health. But the days of domination are gone. It's one thing for Federer to lose at the U.S. Open or the French Open. But at Wimbledon, where Federer had been nearly unbeatable for eight years? To someone other than Rafael Nadal? When that happened, we always knew, it would be proof that the greatest player of all time had moved into the next stage of his tennis life.
Federer seemed to feel this yesterday, as my colleague Peter Bodo points out in his fine post-match post
. That's why I'm willing to give Federer a pass on his uncharacteristic complaining. For anyone who has watched Federer over the years, the quickness with which he alluded to injuries, unprompted, was striking. The remarks revealed one thing: The man was hurting. Every Wimbledon champion knows that his or her time will run out one day. But when it happens, it's a surprise, and painful.
Everyone could see this, and that's why Berdych wouldn't scold Federer (if another opponent had done this, Berdych might have). Here's Berdych: "I don't know if he just looking for some excuses after the match or something like that. I mean, it happened to all of us."
After the match, I ran into Jurgen Melzer, a veteran who lost Federer in the fourth round. He had sympathy.
"Roger is never somebody who comes up with an excuse for losing," Melzer said. "He takes it like a man. If he was hurt, he was hurt."
No doubt he was. Most of the pain was emotional, which is all the more reason to take no offense from his words.