Changing of the Guard?

by John Furgele

Wimbledon begins tomorrow and this year there is tremendous intruigue.  Roger Federer has won the last five Wimbledon titles and has dominated the lawn at the All-England Club in the 2000s.  But, this year he has looked vulnerable at the ripe old age of 26.  He was beaten by Novak Djokovic in the semifinals at the Australian Open, then routed by Rafael Nadal in the French Open final.  Last year, he beat Nadal for the second straight year in five tough sets.  At this point, Nadal looks like he is closer to winning Wimbledon than Federer is to winning in Paris.  After watching Federer wilt in Paris, and more importantly, lack the fight that has been his trademark, it may be safe to say that his window to win the French Open has closed.

But, Wimbledon has been all his.  If Federer wins again this year, he will remain the king of the tennis world.  If Nadal or even Djokovic win, then it may be safe to say that a changing of the guard in tennis will have begun.  Federer is 26, and in tennis that’s old.  Bjorn Borg retired in 1981 at the age of 25, while John McEnroe won the last of his seven Grand Slam titles at the “advanced” age of 25.  Suddenly, the three majors he needs to pass Pete Sampras’ mark of fourteen does not seem a sure thing anymore.  A win in England will restore his confidence, his belief, and will set up a delicious scenario at the United States Open come last August. 

It’s way too soon to write Federer off, but other players are emerging.  Djokovic is 21, Nadal just turned 22.  And, unlike Andy Roddick, they are not afraid of the Swiss star.  Nadal reminds many of Borg; he is patient and powerful on clay and quick enough to play well on grass.  Many think this will be the year that Nadal takes the Wimbledon title. 

Njokovic could meet Federer in the semifinals, and after battling him at the U.S. Open final in 2007, then beating him in straight sets in Australia, he will not lack in confidence should they meet at Centre Court in a touch less than two weeks.

Is Federer ready to re-take the reigns, or is time for him to passed by Nadal, Njokovic or perhaps another up-and-comer?  It will happen.  It always does.  Borg dominated the grass from 1976-1980, beating Nastase, Connors (twice), and Roscoe Tanner.  After warding off McEnroe in the epic final in 1980, he was pushed aside by the kid from Queens the following year.  Sampras dominated Wimbledon for most of the 1990s, winning seven titles.  Who would have thought that when he lost a 4th round match to Federer in 2001, that his reign was over.  Even though Federer did not win it all in 2001, it was out with the old, in with the new.

For the past five years, there was little suspense at the All-England Club.  You knew that Federer was going to be there at the end, and even though Nadal scared you a bit, much like Agassi scared Sampras here, you knew that in the end, Federer would hoist the champions’ trophy. 

This year, it feels different.  It feels exciting, and because of that, it should be a very interesting fortnight.

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