(Reuters) – Roger Federer said he was not worried by his shock defeat against Lleyton Hewitt Sunday in Halle even though a disturbing trend is developing for the Swiss.
Suddenly, players that he had long held in his pocket are beating him and, with Wimbledon fast approaching, arguably the best player ever to swing a racket looks vulnerable.
At the French Open earlier this month Robin Soderling posted a first victory over Federer at the 13th time of asking, knocking him out in the quarter-finals.
That was the first time Federer had failed to reach the semi-final of a grand slam since the 2004 French Open, an astonishing record sequence of 23.
Last November Federer suffered a similar first career defeat against Nikolay Davydenko, who like Soderling had lost all 12 of his career meetings with the Swiss.
Maybe Federer is just superstitious about the number 13?
Then there was Juan Martin del Potro last September in New York. Federer appeared to have the U.S. Open final in the bag but the Argentine had other ideas, recovering to win and snap a 0-6 career head-to-head.
Del Potro followed that up at the ATP Tour Finals in London while Davydenko also built on his victory in London by beating Federer again in Doha in January.
Since Federer outclassed Andy Murray to win the Australian Open in January, his 16th grand slam triumph, he has failed to add to his 62 career titles.
When Federer was at the absolute peak of his powers in 2006 and 2007 any defeat was greeted with mild disbelief. This year, however, those defeats have become commonplace.
In Indian Wells it was Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis’s turn to beat Federer for the first time, then in Miami Tomas Berdych claimed a first win over the maestro in six years.
Ernests Gulbis and Albert Montanes both stunned Federer on clay during the Spring and Rafael Nadal continued his domination over him in Madrid.
Nadal’s return to form and fitness, culminating in a fifth French Open title last week, spelled the end of Federer’s year-long reign as world number one and left him tantalizingly short of Pete Sampras’s record for total weeks spent at the top of the rankings.
On current form, it is not clear when the 28-year-old Federer will be in a position to seize it back, especially with the points gap almost certain to increase in the weeks ahead.
Talk of a crisis is, however, premature.
Federer still boasts a game that most players can only dream of and it would be a major surprise if the very act of walking through the gates of Wimbledon does not rekindle the fire that has been missing for most of the year.
What has become clear though is that having achieved so much in the game and ripped up most of the game’s records, Federer’s intensity levels have dropped.
Defeats these days do not seem to hurt quite so much. After losing to Soderling and surrendering his French Open crown he even managed a few jokes.
The flip side is that Federer looks happy in his personal life and out on court.
His French Open title in 2009 was the missing piece and everything else that comes along now for Federer will be purely icing on a pretty spectacular cake.
So expect more defeats against some of the game’s lesser lights, but also expect plenty more moments of sheer magic from Federer as he begins the home straight of a magnificent career.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John Mehaffey)