It wasn’t just the fact that Roger Federer needed nine sets over the weekend to beat players ranked 29th and 75th in the world. It’s the evident fatigue, exhaustion and now an injury, that may haunt him further down the tournament, and keep him from winning the 2012 Wimbledon title, which has to go through Novak Djokovic anyway, making it a rather tough feat to accomplish.

The news of Rafael Nadal suffering from an early exit were probably good and bad for Federer, who always says and talks about he wants to succeed against the best of the best, the top competition. With everyone pretty much agreeing that the title would have gone to either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, suddenly the potential semifinal between Federer and Djokovic is the ‘real’ final, with no insult intended towards Andy Murray.

But recent years and results have shown us the Federer doesn’t stand much of a chance, unless something very special happens. Along with a few sublime sets of tennis that only Federer can produce, we’ve seen him drop into some sort of coma-like state, where he obviously saves his strength towards a big finish, which is just enough to go through against these opponents. It should be enough against Youzhny in the quarterfinal as well, but not further than that.

Federer gets tired easily these days, at least when compared with the younger stallions on the tour, and especially Novak Djokovic. Federer was exhausted, too human and simply not brilliant enough against Djokovic at the Roland Garros last month. The world number 1 chewed him up and spat him out onto the clay court, winning a decisive 3-0. Djokovic, in better shape than Federer, has dropped only one set so far in this tournament. Federer has dropped three, including needing to rally back from two sets down on Friday against Julien Benneteau, who played perfect, aggressive tennis for the first half of the match.

Again, Federer still has the quality to take over the match against these opponents, who can’t play so well for so long. But that’s the same for Federer against Djokovic. The grass court isn’t as fast as it used to be, and relying on your serve isn’t an easy solution like in previous years. Being aggressive is important, but Federer, never too keen on playing serve and volley despite his success when doing so, just doesn’t have it anymore to apply pressure on Djokovic for three or more sets.

Can he, hypothetically, win? Of course. A month before his 31st birthday, in his 15th year since turning pro, he still plays the most beautiful tennis on tour when the muse sets on him and the body doesn’t interfere. Most opponents can’t handle this kind of quality in the long run, as we’ve seen over the weekend. But Novak Djokovic is made of sterner stuff, and is way beyond the respect and fear factor he once had when facing Federer. As long as he’s in good shape and a good frame of mind, it’s hard to see Federer managing taking three sets from him. It just takes too much out of you to do it, and Federer doesn’t have that stamina and power in him anymore.

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