A Grand Slam final without Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal is a pretty rare event. Tennis people and the press were quick to jump on this fact and predicted a new era in tennis as a result, but I think they were quick to jump to conclusions. Like Chris, I believe it's too soon to make that call.
Certainly, Federer has had a huge letdown since the 2009 U.S. Open. We know it and we have, many times, analyzed it. He only won one of the last six Grand Slams and hasn't been in any of the last four finals. For Roger, we're talking about really bad stats. Yet it's undeniable that, since last summer, he showed a new desire and a rising game level. He had great results at the end of 2010, especially winning the Masters Cup. But it wasn't a long enough run of success to determine whether he'd be able to carry it through to Melbourne.
He couldn't. The trademark of the Swiss has always been the ability to win when his back was up against the wall, but that's now been put in doubt. The loss to Djokovic was decisive. Yet, Roger is still playing at a very high level. His will and his determination will allow him to shine again. But he'll have to erase some mistakes that are costing him in matches.
1. Lack of focus
Even if this behavior is way less recurrent than in the past, he's still playing too many matches where he's not fully involved. Usually he starts very strong but if he doesn't get what he waits for from his rivals, he's getting down and plays uncommitted both physically and mentally. Witness dropping the third and fourth sets to Gilles Simon. He's only relying on his natural talent and, unfortunately for him, it's not enough to win these days. This kind of behavior is really tricking him now in my opinion. By playing like this, he's losing the habit of having intense focus from the first to the last point. This puts him on a roller coaster of ups and downs in matches.
This can work in matches where Roger is so much more talented than his opponents. But in matches against worthy adversaries, it puts him at a disadvantage. He can't flip it like a light switch. In the Novak Djokovic semifinal loss, we can see Federer play in waves. He can be up 4-1 and end trailing 4-5 by losing his serve twice. Those four games fly by and fly away. It's not rare to see him getting the break, serving for the set and being unable to close it out because he totally messed his service game. He allows his opponent to come back.
2. No game plan
Federer is playing tennis without taking his opponent into consideration. He's trying to make his own game prevail, but doesn't try to think about the game style or the strengths and flaws of the one who is trying to beat him. Everyone else (Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray) are all setting game plans in order to beat the Swiss. Not Federer. He only plays like he likes to against them, with making them run from side to side and trying to speed up the game. This strategy was proved wrong against Nole, who was often able to counterpunch him when Federer put himself in danger by opening the game with too much speed. If having no game plan wasn't an issue in the past as far as he was dominating so much, he now has to deal with it in order to win against those players, whose level is so high now that he can't rely only on his talents. They're better and he's not as great. It's a lethal combination.
Talking about new kids taking power seems to be inappropriate to me for several reasons, namely that Roger is still playing great. He showed it at the end of 2010 and at the start of 2011 and, even if he lost here against Djokovic, he had many chances. He just didn't capitalize on them because of his focus issues. But his game is back. A strong game can lead to better mental preparation.
He has now found his drive, determination and ambition. He's healthy (even if his back probably gives him more trouble than he lets on.) He's now free from serious injury and can play with his full physical abilities, which are a key point of his game.
If he continues to play the game he and Paul Annacone have developed, if he goes on believing in his chances to win at Grand Slams, and if he deals with the issues we've talked about, then I think he'll be able to remain at the top level and to make us dream for the near future.