After four and a half years at number one, Roger Federer’s reign will soon be over.

It could be next week or it could be the week after that or it could be the week after that, but it will happen. Roger Federer’s reign as the number one ranked tennis player in the world will end. Here is a terse, info-packed assessment of the situation courtesy of the Cincinnati Masters event website:

– If Nadal wins the title [in Cincinnati], he will become No. 1 this Monday.
– If Nadal loses in the final he will become No. 1 on August 11
– If Nadal loses in the semifinals he will become No. 1 on August 18

Federer has held the top ranking a record 235 consecutive weeks (since Feb. 2, 2004) and Nadal has been No. 2 for a record 158 straight weeks (since July 25, 2005). The last player to rank No. 1 before Federer’s reign was Andy Roddick the week of Jan. 26, 2004.

“A record 235 weeks” adds up to just over four and a half years of which 2004-2007 ranks as the most intense slam frenzy the men’s game has ever seen. Twelve slams in five years including three slams in the years 2004, 2006, and 2007. In contrast, Pete Sampras won 14 slams in 13 years and so, I give you Federer’s Law of Dominance: the more intense the period of dominance, the faster the decline.

Federer suffered the third loss in his last four matches this week in a loss to Ivo Karlovic in the third round at Cincinnati. If you look at this page of Federer’s tournament results for the past year, everything looks good till January 2008. Then there are four straight tournaments with no better than a semifinal finish.

Of course, that’s because Federer came down with mononucleosis at the beginning of the year and that is an immune system problem. You don’t get sick with mono unless you’re immune system is compromised and it takes more than a case of the flu or a tummy bug get to that state. Overwork and stress are two main contributors to the illness.

College students have a high incidence of mono because they stay up half the night for those keg parties and cram sessions. Federer didn’t play a lot of tennis tournaments but he was usually in the final and that adds up to lots of tennis matches. Those 235 consecutive weeks are 49 longer than any other tennis player, male or female, has ever stayed at number one. Add that to expectation of reaching the final at every slam and winning at least three of them and, yeah, that’s a lot of stress.

The record for total weeks at number one goes to Sampras at 286, but he was number one over 11 different periods. That’s called stretching your stress out. People expected Sampras to take Wimbledon every year and if he threw in an Australian Open or a US Open now and then, all the better. So maybe there’s a corollary to Federer’s Law: the more consecutive weeks you stay at number one, the less likely you are to get back there. If you don’t release the pressure valve now and then, eventually you blow.

Or suck, as the case may be, because Federer’s game right about now just plain sucks. He lost to Gilles Simon in his first match in Toronto and Simon barely gets off the ground when he serves. Federer came within a few points of losing to Robby Ginepri in Cincinnati and now the loss to Karlovic for the first time in seven matches.

After the loss to Karlovic, someone asked Federer the following question:

Q. How discouraging is it for you that another Masters Series event goes by without you winning it?

That question had a few other questions inside it: How discouraged are you that you haven’t won a Masters event all year? How discouraged are you that you haven’t won a hard court event all year?

Here is Federer’s response:

No problem. It wasn’t an Olympic or a US Open, so I can live with that.

Maybe, but I’m guessing the precipitous drop continues. I’m also guessing that this is the last week at number one in his career.

What say you?

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