• What the Deuce

Rolling back the years

Jo Carter March 6, 2012
Roger Federer and Tiger Woods once dominated their respective sports © Getty Images

On the day that Roger Federer won his fifth title in seven ATP Tour events, his good friend Tiger Woods shot his lowest round in over two years.

Two men who once dominated their respective sports; two of the greatest sportsmen of all time, are no longer the force they once were. While 14-time major champion Woods' last major win came at the 2008 US Open, 16-time grand slam winner Federer has not won a major title in over two years.

Despite slipping to No. 3 in the world and failing to win a grand slam since his 2010 Australian Open triumph, Federer has won five titles and 33 of his last 35 matches. His victory in Dubai was his 72nd title on the ATP Tour.

Compared with Woods, Federer's 'blip' has been laughable: dropping to No. 4 in the world and a title drought lasting 10 months. After revelations surrounding his private life, Woods failed to win a title in over two years and dropped to No. 58 in the world.

With four titles and a cool $6.3 million in prize money, Federer was hardly hard-up last year. But by his own lofty standards, it wasn't a vintage season.

But with back-to-back titles ahead of the Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami and some people believe 2012, with the Olympics at the All England Club on the horizon, could be Federer's year.

Can Federer return to world No. 1? © Getty Images

There is little doubt that Federer is still one of the best players in the world, but he is no longer the best. Despite clocking three wins over former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro this season and a final victory over Andy Murray in Saturday's Dubai final, he is yet to crack the Rafael Nadal mystery or break Novak Djokovic's dominance.

All of Federer's recent victories have come indoors, or on the fast outdoor courts on which no grand slam events are played. In fact Murray admitted Federer would be world No. 1 if all events were played on the fast surfaces.

"I think that the indoor season and the surfaces like this one, I mean, if there were more tournaments on these courts, I think [Federer] could definitely be No. 1 in the world for the next few years," Murray said. "It really suits his game well. Just so many of the courts are so slow now."

Events in the Californian desert next week could prove revealing. Djokovic arrives at Palm Springs with his aurora of invincibility dented by his defeat to Murray; Nadal has not played since Melbourne and Murray will be keen to build on his work with new coach Ivan Lendl.

In the week that Rory McIlroy became the youngest world No. 1 since Woods topped the pile in 1997, neither Tiger nor Federer may ever make it back to top the world rankings, but if recent performances are anything to go by, they certainly won't go down without a fight.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk