I want to look back now on what has been another terrific month in the career of Roger Federer, and more specifically his record 6th Masters Cup title and the interview after that epic win. One post after the final was not really enough to cover everything. It was also late for me and my concentration wasn’t quite at it’s best. The last month has been a bit of a resurgence for Roger. In 2010 a similar thing happened when the North American hard court season started. That was after Roger had a very disappointing summer and decided to get some outside help in the form of Paul Annacone. It paid off immediately as he won Cincinnati, Stockholm, Basel, and the Masters Cup towards the end of the year. A lot was expected for 2011 after the way he finished 2o10. Overall 2011 turned out to be a more consistent year than 2010, but of course it lacked a slam title.
This can to a large extent be ascribed to the emergence of Djokovic 2.0. Roger did not lose to Djokovic in the natural surface slams, but he did so in both the hard court slams. That is a potential of two slam titles he missed out on because of Djok0vic 2.0. You could say that he lost to Djokovic at the 2011 US Open in a similar fashion than he did at the 2010 US Open, so what is the difference? Well I think both Roger and Djokovic played better in the 2011 US Open semi than they did in 2010. Roger actually played very well in this year’s US Open. It was all JesusFed after he beat Cilic, and only a freakish return from Djokovic denied him a final spot. In a sense I was happy he lost that match, since if he beat Djokovic he could have lost to Nadal in the final which would have meant complete ownage in the head-to-head. I even made a post after that match suggestion the possibility of divine intervention from the tennis gods.
That return from Djokovic was so good and so unexpected that it did have a feel of divine intervention about it. And look how it all worked out. Nadal was denied another slam by Djokovic and Roger took advantage of a beaten down Nadal at the Masters Cup, getting a much needed convincing win over his so called nemesis. I’m not saying Roger would have lost to Nadal had he made the US Open final, but there was a good possibility, and it would have been a huge blow to him. Roger already said in his presser after his Masters Cup triumph that the French Open final loss to Nadal was his biggest disappointment of the year, and not the loss to Djokovic in the US Open semis. Imagine what it could have done to him if he lost to Nadal in the US Open final! Losing to Nadal in the French Open final is one thing, but being beaten by Nadal in the one slam left where he hasn’t lost to Nadal would have been near disaster.
I know there is a lot of speculation involved here, but if that had happened Roger may not have been able to bounce back as well as he did in the indoor season. Nadal would also have been more confident and I doubt that epic 6-3, 6-0 win over Nadal would ever have materialized. I have already stated how valuable that win was not only for me as a fan, but also for Roger in his rivalry with Nadal. It can’t be overstated. In fact it may be more valuable to me than his 6th Masters Cup title. Winning a record 6th Masters Cup is of course an amazing achievement, but beating another all time great in that fashion after all the misery that Nadal has inflicted upon him and his fans is immense. Maybe it’s just me, but that win gave me more satisfaction than winning a 6th Masters Cup. It was just the ultimate satisfaction.
I don’t know if it gets better than that. To come back to my original point, I think one of the biggest reasons Roger missed out on a slam this year was Djokovic 2.0. It was just something that could not be predicted and took everyone by surprise. Why would things be any different next year you ask? This question also relates to the fact that Roger won the Masters Cup last year, causing everyone to be excited about 2011. Why should this time be any different? This is a question that is on the minds of many Fedfans. First of all Djokovic will have a lot of pressure next year to replicate what he did this year. He has so many titles and points to defend that it is almost certain that he won’t do the same thing he did this year. He will be the hunted. That is one reason Roger may have a better shot at a slam in 2012.
Another reason may be that Roger have sorted out some mental problems during his post US Open break. This has come to the fore in his presser after Sunday’s final, which I thought was a good one.
Q. You talked about the fact that this time you managed to win a close match, maybe a few times this season it hasn’t gone your way. What made the difference today? Is it a mental thing?
ROGER FEDERER: I think it’s a mental thing, yes. Not only. Sometimes it’s also the player playing better than you. Jo played better than me at Wimbledon. Maybe not much, but enough just to come through. Same as Rafa at the French Open in the finals, Novak in the semis of the US Open. It’s fine to respect that. But I feel when it happens maybe that often, I do have to question myself that maybe I did something wrong.
I think I’m mentally good right now. That was also one of the reasons why I did take some time off, to actually think it through, you know, get into the right mental mindset because we do I don’t want to say underestimate or overestimate the mental part of the game, but there is a lot of time that goes by out on tour, during a match, you’re just trying to stay positive, but you can’t always be positive out there. You know, it’s just too difficult. That’s where maybe the doubts were just a bit too strong during certain important moments.
I think I didn’t have those doubts now for the remainder of the season, which is what I wanted to get out of my system during this six weeks’ break, and I was able to do that.
The part of his answer that I bolded is the most important part for me. Roger has been known in the past to be stubborn and not questioning himself enough. He tended to not take responsibility for his losses, and instead saying his opponent was just better. If you are Roger Federer that is hardly ever the case. One of the extremely few exceptions I can think of was the match against Safin at the 2005 Australian Open. Safin is immensely talented and on that day I think it would have been OK for Roger to just admit that his opponent was better. But 99% of the time that is not the case. Take for instance the three matches that are mentioned here. The match against Djokovic at the US Open may be an exception because that return just came out of nowhere and it messed with Roger’s mind a bit.
You could say the same for the French Open and Wimbledon losses too I suppose. You can say that Nadal is just too good on clay, and that Tsonga just played incredible tennis from the third set onward. But at some point you gotta ask yourself whether you also played a role in those losses. It seems like that is what Roger did in his break. It is easy to say Roger has made changes when he is winning however. A lot of you have made comments in the last few days saying that Roger is more willing to grind out there nd win ugly when the going gets tough. I wasn’t so sure however. It is easy to say these things during the indoor season when the conditions favor Roger and everything is going smoothly. I find it hard to make these kind of judgments just because he is winning and playing on his favorite surface.
The real test will come when the conditions are less favorable and he starts losing again. Having said that, it is encouraging to read in his presser that he was thinking things over and doing some introspection. So if he did indeed sort out those mental issues, this may be another reason he can win a slam next year. We will just have to see. Just because he had a spectacular end to the year does not guarantee success at slam level next year. He did the same last year and he couldn’t win a slam. Unfortunately there is no indoor slam. On the natural surfaces there is the problem of uneven bounce, meaning Roger can’t take the ball as early and hit it as cleanly as indoors. At the hard court slams you have the weather conditions to deal with as well as the slow courts. Indoor courts are an unrealistic indicator of Roger’s form in a lot of ways.
Also, lets not forget that Djokovic was not exactly on top form during the indoor season. But all in all I’m gonna say that I am positive about Roger’s chances for winning a 17th slam next year. Aside from the Australian Open title in early 2010, the last two years have been a bit of a dry spell for Roger. He lost before the semi-finals of a slam on three occasions, twice at Wimbledon of all places. But the good thing is that Roger is looking to make changes. In 2010 he got Annacone on board. It paid off but then Djokovic 2.0 showed up. This time he decided to take some time off to look at the mental part of his game. These are all good signs and I think it is almost bound to pay off. It is only when you become stagnant that there is a serious problem. So with Djokovic having a lot of pressure next year and Roger having made some mental adjustments, I’d like to believe Roger’s chances of winning a slam next year is looking good.
Q. I know it rather bucks the argument that people are playing too much tennis at the moment. Do you think to make the Masters final extra special, it should return to being the best of five sets?
ROGER FEDERER: The finals?
Q. Of this tournament.
ROGER FEDERER: I think so. I think so. I mean, if it’s a match like this, it’s fine. I think it’s still enough tennis for the people. I think it’s exciting. We had the whole scenario today in today’s match.
But if I would have served it out, it would have been over in a hurry. I think I almost felt the spectators weren’t quite ready for it to end quite yet, although many would have been happy for me, they would have loved to see more tennis.
I remember sitting in a room in Shanghai where players were asked, Would you like it to be five sets or three sets, the year end final? Kind of went in a circle.
Everyone said best of three sets. I was the only guy that said, I think we should have best of five sets. Okay, let’s make it best of three sets. I don’t care.
I do care actually. I think it makes for a great year end. Sure, you can see why maybe it’s healthier to play best of three sets. Maybe the year end could be a best of five set match. I do believe that, yeah.
I must say I totally agree with Roger here. It is a bit of a shame that they took away the five set finals in Masters Series events, but in a sense that is understandable. But the Masters Cup is just below the slams and deserves a five set final. After the tournament the year is done anyway and the problem of recovery time is not there. If you look at Sunday’s final, it could have been a very one-sided, straight forward match if Roger closed it out when he was serving at 5-4 in the second set. I was actually happy when Tsonga broke at that point, as I’m sure many of the spectators were. This is one of the big finals of the year and people pay a lot for their tickets, and for it to be over after two straight forward sets is a waste in my mind. Luckily Tsonga raised his game and it turned out to be a fantastic final to end the year.
Q. I think the World Tour Finals equals a Grand Slam as a major title event. Now you have 16 Grand Slam titles and six World Tour Final titles. How much satisfaction do you have holding both records?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, of course I’m extremely happy and extremely proud. I still don’t feel like I’m better than Pete Sampras, or Lendl for that matter. I still believe they are one of the all time greats to play the game. I’m just happy to be compared to them.
I’m actually happy that they are mentioned while I’m doing this because they have done amazing things in our sport. Sometimes legends do get forgotten rather quickly, which is unfortunate.
So for me to hear we are talking about Pete, Ivan, other players, I think is great for the sport and great for them. I mean, that I hold both records, sure, I’m very happy about it, I’m proud, because I know the effort that has gone into it. It’s longevity, it’s something you can’t just do over a short period of time.
I used to be famous for not being consistent. I think this one proves to me that I was able, and proves to maybe many people, that if I can be, then many other people can be successful for a long period of time, as well, because I thought that was a very difficult thing to achieve.
This was another interesting question, although I don’t agree that a Masters Cup equals a slam title. I’d say it’s more like 1 slam = 2 Masters Cup titles. If that is the case then Roger is now effectively on 19 slams, almost double the amount Nadal has. The Masters Cup is very prestigious and having won six of them is one of the biggest achievements of Roger’s career. There is after all no indoor slam and it is very fitting to call the Masters Cup the fifth slam. It is also a bit surprising there that Roger says he still doesn’t think he is better than Sampras or Lendl. That just shows what respect he has for the past legends, and it is also his humble side coming out. I think it is pretty obvious that he is much better than either of those players.
Q. With so many titles and records in the bag, how do you assess your hunger and desire? Has it dipped at all? Is it stronger than ever?
ROGER FEDERER: It’s normal really. I don’t go through phases where I feel like I want to play 10 more years and then only six more months. I always look ahead one and a half to two years, and that’s still the same right now. Then as time goes by, you know, you see how the body is.
I love this game more than anybody, so I’m not all of a sudden going to wake up in the morning and say I don’t like it anymore.
It’s a lot of sacrifice. It’s a lot of effort I have to put in every day. I know that. But I do enjoy that because what I get in return is moments like I got today, with my team, with my family. It’s priceless really. So for this reason I’m very excited for next year.
I am happy that the season is over because it has been long, it has been grueling. But, yeah, I’m very happy and upbeat about what’s to come.
I wanted to end with this because this pretty much sums up Roger. He loves the game more than anybody. That is the key to his success and his longevity. No worries Fedfans, this ride is far from over…
For you who missed it, I also want to share this video. It just goes to show what a classy and humble guy Roger is, and what a great ambassador he is for the sport. He makes time for everyone and he even introduces himself as if he is just another regular guy. This is really the best part for me about being a Fedfan, knowing that I support a guy who is a real person. There will never be another Roger Federer.