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It was inevitable that Roger Federer's career would mirror that of Pete Sampras. Both are legendary players who rewrote the history books at Wimbledon. Both looked at that tournament as the hallowed ground of tennis. Both have similar playing styles. Both have similar gentlemanly personalities. And both have had end-of-career injury problems. For Sampras, his exit from the game came a year after he won his last major - the 2002 U.S. Open. For Federer, his exit from the game has not arrived despite the fact that his last major win was four years ago at Wimbledon 2012.
Their careers have been 10 years apart. Sampras arrived at the 1990 U.S. Open and managed to hang in for 12 years until he won his final major in 2002. Federer arrived in 2000 and his win at Wimbledon in 2012 could have been a final statement and period on his career. I don't think anyone would have been at all disappointed if he had retired after that win. But he has continued. This is where his career and Sampras' career have dovetailed. Their epic match at Wimbledon in 2001 was at the time and is still considered the changing of the guard. For Federer, there has been no such touchstone moment. His losses to Novak Djokovic came much earlier than Federer's 2012 Wimbledon win and Djokovic had already overtaken Federer as #1, so I don't see Djokovic as the heir to Federer.
In fact, there is no heir to Roger Federer. A few years ago and even earlier this year, one might have said that Milos Raonic was Federer's heir. If that was to be true, then you would have to believe that this year's Wimbledon semifinal between them was to be the touchstone moment of the changing of the guard. It certainly had all the dramatics and the right script. But Raonic is no Roger Federer, so that plot point doesn't work. Also, Raonic has turned out to be incredibly mentally vulnerable. The pressure he puts on himself is intense because he has to work so much harder than most to try and achieve anything close to what Sampras or Federer has achieved.
I think Roger Federer has needed that touchstone moment to clearly make up his mind that yes, there is an heir to his throne and can exit the game with grace. But he hasn't had that moment, so he continues to plod along because there is no clear challenger to his throne in the way that he was to Sampras. As the years go by without winning another major, you have to wonder what will be Roger Federer's exit strategy. I can't see him wobbling along, losing early and watching his ranking tumble out of the top 10. I don't want to see that happen to him. I would have been quite happy to have Wimbledon 2012 be his last major victory and have him finish out the year in style, as a champion.
But that is not the way it has worked out. I know he loves the game, but at some point, he's going to have to say enough. The inevitable has happened - injury, something that he has escaped throughout the entirety of his career. I really don't know why he hasn't said that he's going to retire. It would seem the perfect moment. He won a major, he climbed back to #1 in the world, he tried to stay on top, he tried to change his game. He was a success at doing all of that. I really thought that this latest injury would be the writing on the wall. Gone from the game for over six months, and he really thinks that he's going to regain the form to win another major? It's only going to get tougher and his body is not going to like it.
As with Pete Sampras' year-long hiatus from the game after he won the U.S. Open in 2002, I thought that Roger Federer's six month hiatus was going to be the sign that he was finally ready to call it a career. He has nothing left to prove. As a reasonable Federer fan, I don't want to see him stumble and fall, injure himself or injury his humility. It is the unreasonable Federer fans who want to see him play with a walker. Ultimately, it is up to him, but being the champion that he is, he's not going to be satisfied with just going through the motions with no meaningful results. That is why I think he should complete the Sampras-Federer circle by taking the final chapter from Pete Sampras' career and retire with dignity.
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