It was November 2007 when Roger Federer clinched the year-end Masters Cup after defeating Rafael Nadal in the semi-final and David Ferrer in the final. He also finished three exhibition matches against his idol Pete Sampras around the same time, and he looked invincible. It was almost like he was on auto-pilot, bashing those backhand / forehand winners at will.
At the start of 2008, it seemed possible that Federer would become the first player to win a Calendar Grand Slam and Olympic gold in the same year. But what happened in the months to follow was like a horror movie for Federer and his fans.
Federer failed to reach his first Major final since 2005, losing in the Australian Open semi-final to Novak Djokovic. Later he was annihilated in the French Open final by Nadal, after which he lost a heart-breaking five-setter in the Wimbledon final.
Let's take a look at what went wrong for Federer during the 2008 season.
1. Failing to close sets
Federer started the 2008 Australian Open splendidly, losing only three games in the first and second rounds. But his vulnerability was exposed in the third round by Janko Tipsarević, who pushed him to five sets and almost caused an upset.
Federer eventually prevailed, winning the match 6–7(5), 7–6(1), 5–7, 6–1, 10–8 after 4 hours and 27 minutes. But it needn't have been that long. Federer had a chance to close the first set when he was serving at 5-3, but Tipsarević broke back and won the set 7-6.
Another instance when Federer was serving for the first set at 5-3 was against Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-final. But there too Federer failed to close on his serve and ended up losing the set and the match 7–5, 6–3, 7–6(5).
Another instance when Federer failed to close the set was against Nadal in the 2008 Hamburg final. Federer led 5-2 in both the first and second sets, but couldn’t close the deal and ended up losing 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3.
Lastly, Federer led 4-2 in the second set of the 2008 Wimbledon final only to squander the break of serve and lose it 6-4.
2. Unforced errors
As the season progressed, unforced errors started to creep into Federer's game which turned out to be a boon for his opponents.
3. Losing to lower-ranked opponents
Mardy Fish, Radek Stepanek, Gilles Simon, Ivo Karlovic and James Blake registered their maiden wins against Roger Federer in 2008.
Losing to lower-ranked players dented Federer's confidence and eventually led to Nadal becoming the World No. 1 in August 2008, thus ending Federer's reign which had lasted for 237 weeks.
4. Federer was ill with mononucleosis at start of the season
Federer's then agent Tony Godsick revealed that Federer was diagnosed with mononucleosis at the beginning of 2008, which hampered his fitness and training regimen.
As a result, Federer couldn't bring his A-game to the court in the early parts of the 2008 season. This was the time when Federer also to Andy Murray in three sets at Dubai.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Despite the hardships, Federer still managed to salvage his season by winning his fifth consecutive US Open, beating Andy Murray in straight sets in the final.
It was a reality check and a hard year for Federer, as he ended the year as World No. 2. He also couldn't make it to the knock-out stages of the Masters Cup in Shanghai, leading to questions about his future in the game.
Cut to 10 years later, and he finds himself in a similar situation. He has struggled to close out sets, racked up a huge number of unforced errors, and lost to lower-ranked opponents like John Millman and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
In 2008, Federer still had age on his side, and he managed to recover from that first jolt to his supposed invincibility. Is it humanly possible for him to do so again in 2018? The odds aren't great.