THIS WAS supposed to be the Year of the G.O.A.T. for Roger Federer, the season that cemented his tennis legacy as the Greatest of All Time. Instead, it's been the Year of the Just Plain Goat. Federer's annus miserabilis continued in Beijing. Federer fell in the quarterfinals of the Olympic singles event to James Blake of the U.S., who'd mustered just one set against him in their previous eight matches. After simply owning the men's game for the last five years, Federer—who has been making the sort of routine errors that have never infected his game in the past—has now lost in 12 of the 14 events he's entered in 2008. The U.S. Open kicks off next week in New York City, and though Federer is the four-time defending champ, Diagnosing Roger will be the inevitable parlor game. Federer needs a new coach. He needs a bigger racket. He needs a sports psychologist to repair his confidence. He needs a break.
For all intents, the glorious Federer era ended last month when Rafael Nadal beat him in their spellbinding Wimbledon final. But the regime change was made official in Beijing. Nadal won the gold medal for singles and the following day took over the ATP's No. 1 ranking. "Rafa played great to get it," Federer said gamely. "That's what I expected and hoped for many years ago when I got to No. 1—that if ever somebody were to take it away from me, he would have to play incredible tennis. I think he totally deserves it."
Yet Federer's last official act in office, so to speak, made for a nice summation of his reign. Though crushed by his loss to Blake, Federer resisted booking the next Gulfstream out of town, as so many others in his shoes would have done. Instead, he took a night to regroup and then returned to play in the doubles draw with countryman Stanislas Wawrinka. Showcasing his vast portfolio of skills, Federer carried the team to gold. It wasn't the event he envisioned winning. But you'd hardly have known that, watching him stifle tears and repeatedly hug Wawrinka, who was celebrating the biggest win of his career. Federer didn't just salvage his Olympic experience; he salvaged his year.