One observation about men’s and women’s tennis over the last few years is that all players have substantially improved; better equipment, better training, and more hunger to get a piece of the pie. It is now common to see players in the 100-150 world rank to play spectacular tennis; booming serves, bullet forehands and fierce backhands. Consequently, it becomes more difficult to claim a point, let alone a game, a set or a match. Boy, it is highly competitive out there; and it is expected that the situation will get even more competitive. Hungry youngsters must claim part of the money pie or get out of the way for new ones; and there are plenty, many from poor countries.
So, what is wrong with Federer? Nothing really; the guy still plays excellent tennis, but there is one major issue here. He is not improving. He has about the same game that gave him 17 grand slams. But the gap between him and guys like Andreas Seppi is now very narrow. A bad day and you are out; if his serve does not work well, then, getting him on the backhand, which was never his weapon, transforms him into a regular player. And losing the crucial tiebreaker can be devastating; this is what happened with Seppi; too close game, no comfort, lost to tiebreakers. Based on this information, I doubt that Federer will ever win another grand slam; too many equivalent players, too much exploitation of his weaknesses and time is not working to his favour either.
What about Rafa and Djoko? Apart from health, Rafa’s game is still improving. And he has no obvious weaknesses; forehand, backhand and serve all solid; plus fighting spirit, persistence etc. The guy still refuses to lose. When he loses, it is mostly due to health issues not hitting issues. So, he is still the man to beat, no matter what he says. Do not believe him when he plays humble.
Same with Djoko. He is a machine and he has perfected his game to be simple, efficient and lethal. He found the right combination of shots to keep Rafa moving (boy, Rafa hates that!) and he can beat him handily. So, while Rafa and Djoko are still adjusting and improving, Roger is stagnant or is declining slowly.
But there is danger for Rafa and Djoko too. There is a breed of big, young, hungry guys who are coming closer and closer. Milos is not the brainless big server anymore; he is becoming a complete player with a big weapon and peripheral game enough to win top matches. The likes of Kyrgios and Kokkinakis are improving to a point, good enough to overwhelm even the Rafas and Noles of the world. It is a matter of a year or two, maximum.
This is why I see Rafa ending with about 15-16 and Nole with about 13-14 grand slams and Roger staying at 17.
We will see!