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Roger Federer's hangover is nothing compared to the headache tennis faces without him

Federer's hangover is nothing compared to the headache tennis faces without him

18/07/2017 at 15:34Updated 18/07/2017 at 19:12

Life after Roger Federer and the golden generation is a huge problem for tennis with few signs of reliable younger talent emerging to fill the void, writes Desmond Kane.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And on the second day, he made Roger Federer. A bit biblical perhaps, but the tennis testaments continue to rejoice in what the Swiss artist has gifted them in terms of ability, imagination, flair, longevity and an unselfish willingness to act as a pristine global ambassador for his game.

The 19-times Grand Slam champion is as close as professional sport comes to witness a little slice of heaven on earth. Perhaps proof that there is a God somewhere. Or perhaps not.

What we do know is that if there is a higher power sketching out a map for the future of the men’s game when the rejuvenated Wimbledon winner, 35 going on 25, finally departs his domain, the all-knowing one has not yet worked out who replaces the artful Roger as the sport’s blue-chip act.

Even God does not yet have an answer to that.

Federer and his 19 Grand Slam victories.

Federer and his 19 Grand Slam victories.Getty Images

Perhaps that is understandable given Federer’s inimitable brush strokes as the greatest figure to pursue a racket sport, but it remains a problem that could do with some divine intervention. And one that needs a considerable thought process in how to compensate for the loss of paradise the Swiss has brought to his sport over the past two decades.

Sponsors, fans and players who benefit from Federer's pulling power should dread that day more than the man himself. Unless you can reboot Roger to a younger model, there is no obvious replacement from what appears to be a bleak landscape of random sluggers, grinders and big servers suited to various surfaces, but mastering none.

Federer is a witness to the truth that much of men's tennis is in a parlous state. Not merely in lacking ability, but also imagination. He has suggested as much himself.

After admitting to being a little groggy after drinking in the natural high of his record eighth Wimbledon crown, the booze was not talking when Federer launched a fairly scathing assessment of the current condition of the sport his name transcends.

"I look at the stats and go into whatever round it is and see that the guy I'm going to face is playing two per cent of serve and volley throughout the championship. I'm going, "OK, I know he's not going to serve and volley", which is great."

“We are talking about grass, and it was playing fast this week," said Federer "I feel like I wish that we would see more coaches, more players taking chances up at the net because good things do happen there.

“But you have to spend some time up there to feel confident and good there.”

Clearly, many do not have confidence. And tennis faces a crisis of confidence because of an assortment of men far too content to trade baseline bullets from deep rather than seek variety. To shy away from their comfort zone is divine in tennis. To strive for self-improvement is natural because sport is supposed to be an entertainment business.

When the golden generation led by Federer and supported by Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and the glorious Stanislas Wawrinka can no longer play the game at the level they crave, who is willing to pick up the cudgel? Who will carry men's tennis when they have gone? Where is the natural rivalry and narrative that has allowed tennis to explode into a global phenomenon to salivate over?

“Every generation definitely is different. Since my generation and Rafa's generation, yes, the next one hasn't been strong enough to push all of us out really. So that has been helpful for us to stick around,” said Federer.

Roger Federer

Roger FedererEurosport

“A slugfest with Andy (Murray) from the baseline or Rafa (Nadal) for that matter ...good luck if you are No 50 in the world, it is not so simple to take them out.

“They can choose not to play that way, if the coach has taught them to play differently.

"I know you can easily get sucked into that mode when you don't want to attack, but if you can't volley you are not going to go to the net. Almost every player I played here wouldn't serve and volley. It's frightening to me, to see this at this level."

The thought of tennis having to soldier on without its figureheads is enough to prompt much wailing and gnashing of teeth among fans of the sport that has reaped a rich harvest from arguably the three greatest players in history in Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, with 46 Grand Slams between them, facing off at the same moment in time over the past 13 years.

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They cannot go on forever, and for some, the end of days is probably coming sooner rather than later. Federer is at a stage of his life when he should be perhaps sitting in a studio commenting on the game rather than butchering men who idolised him when he won Wimbledon for the first time at the age of 21.

But the new generation have not been good enough to retire him even when he was forced out for six months last year with a career-threatening knee injury. Or his contemporaries who continue to prove more nimble, faster and elusive than men a decade younger.

To understand the problems tennis faces without such a sprinkling of stardust, one only has to study the ranking list that was published the morning after Roger's heavy night out.

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Austrian's Dominic Thiem is the only man inside the top 10 under the age of 25. But at the age of 23, Thiem is hardly an unknown quantity. He is better suited to clay judging by his run to the last four of the French Open this year. He has yet to go beyond the fourth round of Wimbledon, the Australian Open or US Open.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev, 20, is ranked 11 after winning the Italian Open in Rome. Again on clay where variety is not the spice of life, but the fourth round of Wimbledon is his best after turning professional in 2013. Time's on his side, but not as much as he will think.

After those two, there appears to be dearth of kids who will capture the imagination of a public spoiled by the narrative over the past two decades when Federer seamlessly usurped the American giants of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

The world number nine is Milos Raonic and number 10 is Grigor Dimitrov - neither are hardly gnarled veterans. But they are aged 26, and hardly represent a passing of the baton with both blitzed by Federer on his way to becoming the first man to win Wimbledon without dropping a set since Bjorn Borg in 1976.

Dimitrov was once described as "Baby Fed". Boris Becker told me back in 2013 that Dimitrov's future was "golden". Despite earning around £6.3m in prize money, a golden future for tennis lies elsewhere.

Australia's Nick Kyrgios is ranked 20th and brings character at the age of 22, but lacks consistency or reliability. He has yet to prove tennis is for him.

Best ranked tennis players under age of 21.

It is a visible concern that was played out at Wimbledon by the lack of clear and visible threats to the iconic ageless winner. Murray and Djokovic, jaded and wounded by their joust for the number one spot last year, both recently turned 30 while Nadal is 31.

Federer is suddenly going to be the wrong side of 35 yet still looks a man who has enough time to play tennis with a racket in one hand and a glass of something cold and fizzy in the other.

It would be interesting to see how many of the world’s top 50 would have beaten Federer after a night on the sauce on Monday morning? It is not only Federer who should be left nursing a hangover when you try to study the longer term prognosis for tennis.

Federer can't turn back the clock when Father Time hasn't caught up with him.

But the sport's doomsday clock is ticking on how tennis plans for a life without its leading man.

Desmond Kane

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