- Chris Wilkinson
The beginning of the end for Federer?Chris Wilkinson December 4, 2012
They say the number 13 is unlucky for some. My prediction is that the year 2013 will be unlucky for Roger Federer.
Regardless of how well he looks after himself, Federer turns 32 next year and age is going to start catching up with him. Little injury niggles that once he could have shaken off in a couple of days take longer to heal and if he starts missing tournaments he could start to slide down the rankings.
I think Federer exceeded his expectations for the season with victory at Wimbledon and a return to world No. 1, but I really can't see how he can maintain that level for too much longer. If he starts to slip down the rankings, I think he could well call it a day. I can't see him doing a Lleyton Hewitt and playing on in spite of injuries and poor form. I expect him to be more like Andy Roddick and once he slips outside the top ten he will feel it is time to hang up his tennis racket.
The aging process is inevitable and no matter how hard you train, age catches up with you eventually. Especially in such a physical sport, Federer has done exceedingly well to maintain the level he has for so many years.
He is doing the right thing in reducing his calendar. He has cut Miami and Monte Carlo from his schedule in a bid to keep himself fresh.
But of course the danger is that he will not be getting enough match practice - he will arrive in Madrid having not played for two nearly months. He has proved us wrong in the past, but I think 2013 will be the season that Federer gets left behind. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are in great shape and are not showing any danger of slowing down.
I think he is going to struggle to keep up with Djokovic and Murray, but the real danger is that the new generation of players coming through start to overtake him. Federer used to have an aurora about him but that has thinned out in recent years. People like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Jerzy Janowicz - young guys on the tour no longer fear him - and they could soon be breathing down his neck.
But it is not only going to be tough physically, but it was also be hard for him mentally to stay motivated. I think he is starting to think about his legacy and that will be what is keeping him going. He won't care about winning anymore Masters titles now, it will be all about the grand slams. Obviously not winning Olympic gold at London 2012 was a blow, he just came up short, but I think the Davis Cup will be a big one for him next season - it is one major thing missing from his CV.
Although the average age of players on the tour is creeping up, Federer cannot keep going at the top forever. His twin girls will turn four next summer so they are coming to an age where they cannot travel around the world with him. There comes a time when different things take priority and when Myla and Charlene start school Federer may find it harder to spend long periods away from home.
Then again, he might go and prove me wrong again. They say form is temporary and class is permanent, and as long as he has a tennis racket in his hand he will always be a class act. If he retired today I believe most of his records will stand the test of time. I think we could still be sitting here in 10, 20 or 30 years and he will still be the man with the most grand slams or the most time spent at world No. 1.
Having said that, I never thought anyone would surpass Pete Sampras' grand slam haul. I think a couple of years ago Rafael Nadal looked like he might have caught Federer, but he has struggled with his knees and I don't think he will have the luxury of playing at so many majors as Federer has.
Whether or not 2013 turns out to be Federer's final season on the ATP Tour or he keeps playing until the Rio 2016 Olympics and beyond, we must recognise what he has achieved and appreciate that we are witnessing one of the greatest players of all time.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1