After Federer’s loss to Berdych, the “traditional” journalists are beginning to echo my prediction that the end is near for Fed.

Fox Sports asked yesterday, Is the Roger Federer Era Over? And The Wall Street Journal wonders if perhaps the reign of Federer is over and the age of the big (read: tall) man has arrived.

Of course, John McEnroe isn’t ready to agree with our assessments quite yet.

“Let’s not forget a couple years ago when he lost to Nadal in the finals, (people were saying) ‘It was over, he was done, he’s a bum.’ Then he beats Pete’s (Sampras) record, he wins the French (in 2009), and then he follows up and wins Australia (in 2010) and he plays some amazing tennis. So to write anyone off that’s accomplished that is stupid,” says McEnroe. But then he goes on to say, “Of course at the same time at some point, it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen.”

And, of course, Federer isn’t quite ready to agree with them either. He needs to be careful though in the way he manages this difficult time. Though the excuses and curt replies at his post loss press conference are understandable, they also threaten to tarnish his image – an image he has worked very hard to mold and shape over the years.

If you’ll recall, Federer was tantrum thrower in his younger days, and has even thrown one or two more recently. Somewhere along the lines, a media manager must have recognized his talent, foreseen that he was going to be a highly ranked player, and gotten hold of him and instructed him on the persona he would need to develop to generate the maximum amount of advertising revenue.

And it worked (helped by the constant winning – let’s face it, it’s easy to come across as genial when all of your press conferences follow a win).

Over his career, Federer has been the embodiment of class. Calm on court, a gracious winner (and, up until recently, gracious also after his very occasional losses), complimentary of his opponents, funny with the media. In short, everything a marketer could dream. Sure, he’d make a guffaw now and again, usually something along the lines of praising his own skills a bit too much, but all in all he was a perfectly polished champion.

But now some cracks are beginning to show and the polish is fading a bit. As McEnroe also said, “the guy’s a human being,” and some of his petulance is creeping through.

There is such a fine line between winning a tennis match and losing one that even a small slide can dramatically impact results. And once you start sliding you only pick up speed along the way.

No matter that Federer blames his back and legs for this loss, and the previous loss to Hewitt (and for what it’s worth, I believe he probably is suffering from some nagging injuries, but that’s just another example of the types of things older players deal with – and just more evidence that the slide has begun), he is going to find it more and more difficult to raise his game and prepare his body to gain tennis titles. The nagging injuries are now going to be a fact of everyday tennis life for him. And speaking as an older tennis player myself (much older), there is no workout regimen in the world that can win an arm wrestling match against the muscled arm of time.

I’m a bit sad to see such a great era coming to an end. But on the flip side of that coin, I’m thrilled to have been around to watch Federer play during his prime. And I’m excited to see who will come next and what they will bring to the game.

And I hope that Federer can maintain his class on his way out, both for his legacy and the good of the game.

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