Vohra’s View: Federer and Serena are losing their aura

Bikram Vohra 20:57 10/02/2016
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Federer bowed out in the Australian Open semi-finals while Williams reached the final.

There has to be a defining moment when a champion knows he or she is destined for the pinnacle. By that very token there must also be a defining slip after which it is all downhill and, short of the comeback, the throne is under threat of being usurped. It may take time to fade into second place but that rocklike presence is now crumbly at the edges.

Could this Australian Open be the beginning of that slope for Serena Williams and Roger Federer? Serena looked set for her standard 2-1 victory after she came roaring back in the second set. It seemed like the normal pattern. Casually down in the first, the younger upstart Angelique Kerber in her debut Grand Slam finals drawing first blood, Serena warming up and then coasting as she found her rhythm.

The challenger, doughty but not likely to stay the course, now fading away in the second only to be blown off the court in the third, we’ve seen that scenario unfold so many times. But Kerber would not relent. Suddenly, it was 5-2 to her in the third and for Serena the script faltered. There was no return from the edge.

By the same token Roger made a cameo comeback in the third against Novak Djokovic to give hope a flicker and then there was nothing left in the barrel and in both finals one got the feeling that some kind of history was being made.

Two great ambassadors of the game and champions in neon were likely stepping down from the summit. Yes, indeed there are still some games left to win and a few titles too but that ‘invincible’ dominance is not likely to be back.

Just a feeling the best is water under the bridge.

It happens. Martina Navratilova lost to Monica Seles in the 1991 US Open while being the overwhelming favourite and though she did make the Wimbledon final in 1994 against Conchita Martinez, the party was over from that day on.

You can recall Andre Agassi’s 1995 US Open loss to Pete Sampras.

Within two years from the match, the indomitable Agassi would be 141 on the seeding list. Agassi, however, was able to resurrect himself and rise to No.1 as the crash happened in the middle of his career. He went on to win five more Grand Slams but once he lost to Federer in the 2005 US Open final, the 35-year-old showman called time on his career.

Sampras, who never won the French Open, clay being hisnemesis, suffered a similar fate when he lost his final game at Wimbledon to lucky loser qualifier George Bastl in the second round in 2002. He just couldn’t summon the desire to go back again to that hallowed court.

His words are haunting and speak eloquently for the beginning of the end: “All year I had Wimbledon in the back of my mind and felt that once that event came around I might get myself going, practising and training. After three days of starting that process, I was done.”

John McEnroe the tiger of the court turned into a purring kitten as a threat after he lost the 1985 US Open to Ivan Lendl.

Sights lowered, he never went beyond the semi final stage of the slams. It is said that McEnroe would have gone a lot further if it wasn’t for the advent of the graphite racquets and the arrival of power tennis and whizzing services.

Guess it is like the US Presidency. Even when the cake gets a bit squishy you are a champion for life.

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