With all the recent talk about Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray being in slumps, it’s obvious now it’s time to add Roger Federer to that list. With his loss today to Latvian wunderkind Ernests Gulbis 6-2, 1-6, 5-7, Federer again lost a match that he should have figured out a way to win considering Gulbis choked away six match points while serving for it at 5-4 in the final set. But it was Federer’s zombie-like demeanor throughout the entire match that should be the biggest concern for him and his fans going into the French Open.
Perhaps the signs were already there when both men took the court after a brief rain delay. Federer even during the warmup looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. A flat start by the Latvian helped Federer take the first set 6-2 and after almost breaking Gulbis in the opening game of the second set, it looked like a routine win was at hand for Federer.
But serving at 2-1, Federer faced break points and after saving two by hitting behind Gulbis, Federer hit a forehand long giving Gulbis the break. It was then the whole match changed as Gulbis started serving big and going for broke while Federer’s forehand continued to miss. After dropping the second set 6-1, the expectation was that Federer would come to life. But he didn’t. Gulbis continued his steady play while the errors mounted for the Swiss star.
After earning another break, Gulbis had two match points on Federer’s serve at 3-5 but missed a sitter forehand allowing Federer to hold. The Latvian then blew six match points on his own serve getting things to 5-5. By then, one would have thought Federer would finally come to life, especially with the Italian crowd urging him on. But Federer showed no emotion or concern as he hit two more forehands long to give Gulbis the break back allowing the Latvian to finally hold his nerve and his serve for the biggest win of his career.
After the match, Federer looked at the loss by saying, “I hope I can come back from this. That’s usually what I do after a loss like this. Sometimes it takes a loss to wake up and shake you up for your approach the next week. When you always win, sometimes you forget how hard it is. That’s why today I don’t get too worried about this loss.”
Federer can say he’s not worried but somewhere in his mind he’s got to be thinking why he’s allowed three matches now — Baghdatis in Indian Wells, Berdych in Miami and now Gulbis — to slip out of his hands. Call it a muddle, a slump, or even a minor blip in Federer’s great career, but you can’t ignore that something is very, very wrong in the game of the greatest of all time.