Novak Djokovic ran out of gas right after winning the U.S. Open. Rafael Nadal insists he's not hurt, but looking at his fall results, his fans better hope he's fibbing. Andy Murray hurt himself while training and couldn't play in front of the hometown crowd in London. And then there's old man Roger Federer, coming off a season in which he failed to win a Grand Slam for the first time since 2002, dropped to No. 4 in the rankings for the first time since 2003 and turned 30 years old, an age which practically qualifies tennis players for social security. All he did was close the year on a 17-match winning streak and outlast the field at the ATP World Tour Finals to win the sixth year-end title of his career, breaking a record he had shared with Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras.
Federer defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in Sunday's final, capping an undefeated run in London. He'll move to No. 3 in the year's final rankings, passing Andy Murray to set up the rightful "big three" headed into the 2012 season.
His 2011 season will rightfully be remembered for what he didn't do, but it's not as if the wheels fell off for Federer. In Slams he made one final, two semifinals and one quarterfinal. Andy Murray does that, and it's progress. Roger Federer does it and it's a sign he's in decline.
Federer gave Djokovic his first loss of the year at Roland Garros. He was within one ridiculous shot of beating him in New York. He won the year-end round-robin event and the Masters 1000 tournament that preceded it. And he did so peaking in October and November while his younger rivals were breaking down from a long season. The competition wasn't as fierce but that Federer was able to stand singularly in the fall while the youngsters trudged to the season's finish line is an indication that Federer is far from done.
His effortless manner on the court and his intense training regimen keep him fresh. He still has the desire. Other than a new number at the start of his age, nothing has changed. When the Australian Open begins in seven weeks, Roger Federer will be one of the favorites. And when the All England Club hosts two major events next July -- Wimbledon and the 2012 Olympic tennis competition -- Federer could be the favorite in both. Not bad for an old man.