Is greatness slipping away from Roger Federer?

The record book will show that Roger Federer won the 2008 U.S. Open Men’s Championship over Andy Murray. But something is missing. His dominance in the sport hasn’t been noticeable this year. Let’s just face it; Roger Federer is not Roger Federer anymore.

Wait a minute, a terrible year? How many players on the men’s tour would take a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, two finals appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon, and a Grand Slam victory at the U.S. Open, all in the same year?

Is Federer dominating? No. We are not used to seeing him struggle in the early rounds. What use to be a brisk workout for him has now become nervy five-set encounter. Federer’s brilliance ultimately prevails, but never once does he look like he’s in control of the match.

So what has changed in his game? Well, Federer is not setting up balls for the kill shot that usually keeps his opponents’ off-balance. Balls that have rocketed off his racket in the past are now just dribbling over the net as a return or an unimpressive point. Instead of ripping through sets, he is now winning a series of mini-marathons.

The last set of his semi-final match against Novak Djokovic on Saturday was reminiscent of the old Federer. He regained his cross-court backhand that, in years past, would go by his opponent like a shortstop reaching for a line drive off a hitter’s bat.

Maybe Federer won’t return to the #1 ranking, and maybe he’s not a sure thing anymore on the tour. His dominance is slipping. But Federer did remind everyone this weekend at Flushing that he still has a few bullets left in his racket. Was this a return to greatness or just a brief glimpse of the past?

Only time will tell.

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