John McEnroe and Jim Courier held forth on the state of Roger Federer’s current plight at the Countrywide Classic.

Now I know what it must be like to share a broadcast booth with John McEnroe. My deep respect for McEnroe’s frequent broadcast partner Mary Carillo just got deeper. McEnroe and Jim Courier are here at the Countrywide Classic for an in-tournament version of the senior tour, and they both sat for a media session yesterday afternoon. McEnroe dominated the conversation but he did let Courier say a thing or two.

I started the session off by asking their opinion about the change in the number one ranking in the ATP. Federer has held the number one ranking for 236 consecutive weeks and will lose it to Rafael Nadal on Monday. The subject turned to Federer’s state of mind now that he’s lost the number one ranking and on this subject, Courier had the most interesting thing to say:

I’ve been saying since Wimbledon that we’re going to learn a lot about Roger Federer here in the next six months. We’re gonna learn a lot about what he’s gonna have longevity-wise because he’s been so brilliantly scheduled for the last four or five years when he hasn’t overplayed. He’s talked about playing well into his thirties and we never thought that Borg would disappear after John’s appearance at the top. And then he was in the finals at Wimbledon and the finals at the US Open, John beat him and he was gone.

So how long will Federer stick around? Will he be more like Borg and just up and leave one day, or will he be more like Sampras who hung around until he won his last slam? Courier is betting against Borg:

I don’t think that’s what we’re going to see with Roger, I hope that’s not what we’re gonna see with Roger because he played incredibly at the final in Wimbledon, just an amazing match. Certainly his ability has gone nowhere, it’s just a question of what’s going to happen inside of his heart, inside of his head.

McEnroe then made a good point about Federer’s supposedly brilliant scheduling. Federer had such a large gap between him and the number two player that he probably could have played less and still kept the number one ranking. As McEnroe said, “Maybe he just liked it.” By extending McEnroe’s thought, you could say that Federer liked being number one so much that maybe he sacrificed long term results – such as a few slams at the end of his career that would put him past Sampras – for the experience of being number one. If he’d played less, he could still have been a solid number one or, at the very least, the year end number one, and he might have extended his period of dominance.

McEnroe, who is damned good at this stuff by the way, probably the best tennis commentator in existence, then brought up another good point: Federer is 27 years old. Today is his birthday and he celebrated it by carrying the Swiss flag in the opening ceremonies at the Olympics. Federer is in good enough shape – McEnroe said that neither Federer or Nadal looked winded after coming off the court in Wimbledon incredibly enough – but how many slams can he win from here:

When Pete hit 14 I was like, “Oh God, who’s gonna get there?” And it’s been pretty amazing that Roger’s gotten so close so fast. [But] how many did Pete win after 27?

Sampras won three slams after the age of 27 and he won his last one when he was 31. For sure, Federer will be much more like Sampras than Borg, but will he stick around for a few years to get that last slam as Sampras did in 2001 and 2002? Most likely.

Sampras didn’t win any events between his 2000 Wimbledon title and his 2002 US Open win. But he did get to the final of the US Open in 2000 and 2001, and he ended 2000 ranked number three in the world. Sampras, however, didn’t have a Nadal around to make life difficult for him or Djokovic breathing down his neck. Marat Safin beat Sampras in one of those US Opens and Lleyton Hewitt beat him in the other, but only Hewitt won another slam during Pete’s era.

By the time Sampras retired, his ranking was down to number 17. I think Federer could live with that if he felt he still had the goods to take another slam, but I’m also guessing that he can stick around the top ten for at least three or four more years so he may not have to deal with that. I also think he’s the kind of player, unlike Sampras, who would enjoy a farewell tour.

I give him five years. Three or four to get those last few slams and one for the farewell tour.

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