Hi folks. I hope you are feeling better after reading my last post and that you realize by now that Roger’s loss is not the end of the world. I received a comment a couple of days ago asking me what I thought about Roger changing his racquet and strings, because it was something Brad Gilbert said Roger should consider. That got me thinking. Ever since Roger passed his prime people have always been coming up with changes Roger should make after a disappointing loss. And then when things are going well again they have nothing to say. Well that was just silly. Losses are a natural part of tennis, and it doesn’t always call for a change. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t place for change, which is why I’m making this post. Roger just lost for the first time in 9 years before the quarter finals of a slam. If there was ever a time to make a change it is probably now.
When things weren’t really going well for Roger he hired Paul Annacone, and it has been a successful partnership. That was a pretty big change and it paid off. I’ve been thinking about this equipment change idea as well as a different fitness routine which would focus on strengthening the upper body. Lets face it. The game has become very physical and Roger is often getting overpowered. Berdych is one player who routinely overpowers Roger and in recent times Murray overpowered Roger in Melbourne. Nadal also overpowers Roger with brute strength. There are more examples I’m sure, but I just named a few off the top of my head. Roger has never been the biggest hitter in the game. But he had more than enough power in his prime to keep any big hitter at bay. What made him such a tough opponent is that he stood on the base line and took the ball on the rise.
He played very fast and his opponents were under constant pressure. It was just another level from what they were used to, which is why Roger almost never lost in his prime. It was only when Nadal showed up and used brute strength and unbelievable speed, as well as a match up advantage that Roger’s aura was infiltrated. Roger was as close to perfect as a player could come, and it took something extraordinary to make him vulnerable. Ever since then Roger became slowly but surely more vulnerable. The other players that started beating him more regularly were the power hitters like Berdych, Soderling, and Tsonga. Del Potro also beat him in the US Open final. Roger hasn’t always struggled with these guys. He does hold winning head-to-heads over all of them, and pretty convincing ones too. It’s not just these guys though.
Murray and Nadal are both strong guys and I have seen them both overpower Roger. It is just that extra upper body strength that they have. Just good old muscle. I think if Roger is going to make any changes from here on one of them would have to be strengthening his upper body. You can see strengthening his upper body was never really a priority for Roger because he is pretty skinny up there. That is not to say he is weak in the upper body. Of course he did some work there, but because he was such a natural talent and great timer of the ball he didn’t strengthen it as much as Nadal or Murray for instance. These guys can really muscle the ball. I’m not saying Roger should muscle the ball. It’s not how he plays. He plays with talent and timing. But strengthening the upper body could just give him that little extra to be able to compete better with these guys.
The other thing is the equipment. Roger plays with a Wilson BLX Pro Staff 90 racquet which you can view here. The 90 stands for the racquet head size, which is 90 square inches. That is pretty small folks. This is not a racquet I would ever recommend for a club player. I played with one of the first Head Prestige frames early on as a player and it had a 90 sq in head as well. The sweet spot is small and it is not easy to play with. Later on I switched to the 98 sq in Head Prestige, and played with it until the end. Check out this article in the New York Times about the racquets of the top 3 men. It was written back in 2011 but as far as racquets go the top 3 hasn’t changed much at all. It’s a very interesting article which you should read. What is so interesting is that Roger, Nadal, and Djokovic all have a different playing style, and therefor each uses a different racquet tailored to their specific needs.
I find this all very interesting. Roger’s racquet places emphasis on control, Djokovic’s racquet on counter punching, and Nadal’s on spin as expected. With the 90 sq in racquet head you obviously have to have impeccable timing and hit the ball very cleanly, which Roger does. Djokovic and Nadal’s racquets are more forgiving, but then again they are not as talented as Roger. Djokovic doesn’t hit with an awful amount of spin. His backhand is quite flat actually. So for him it makes sense to have a racquet which gives both control and spin. Roger hits with the least spin while Nadal hits with the post spin, and therefor are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The more spin a racquet gives you the harder you can hit the ball, because the more spin you hit with the less the chance is that the ball will go out. On the other hand Nadal’s racquet provides the least control, which the spin makes up for.
Roger can afford to hit the ball flat because his racquet provides the most control. He plays with an eastern grip on both sides as well which means a more open racquet face on contact, with less probability of a mishit. Djokovic and Nadal have western grips on their forehands and needs bigger racquet heads because the racquet head is more closed on contact, and therefor it’s harder for them to hit the sweet spot. It’s all pretty scientific and interesting. I had to just figure it all out for myself again because I always thought of racquets in terms of power and control, but if you bring the spin factor in it all makes sense. Anyway we all know Roger have started struggling more with mishits after his prime. Not entirely sure what the reason is for it. It probably comes down to footwork. When Roger is not feeling it out there his footwork suffers, and as a result he gets more mishits.
It is really quite incredible how Roger can take the ball on the rise from the base line and get so few mishits in his prime. Agassi used to take the ball on the rise too but he played with something like a 110 square inch head, and therefor a much bigger sweet spot than Roger. Sampras played with and even smaller head than Roger, an 85 sq in. But of course Sampras didn’t take the ball on the rise from the base line. Sampras was even more fussy about change than Roger. He wanted everything exact and there was no room for experimentation. I think there were people calling for him to make equipment changes when he started struggling at the end of his career too, but there was no way he was gonna change. Only after retirement did he experiment with bigger head sizes. Roger is more adaptable than Sampras because he is more talented and versatile.
Therefor I think it may not be a bad idea for him to try a bigger racquet head. There is a 95 sq in version of the racquet he uses which you can see here. Dimitrov and Dolgopolov uses this racquet as well, and this is the racquet I want to get myself. I haven’t picked up a racquet in years, and if I can find a place where I can play regularly this is the racquet I’m thinking about getting. I think if Roger tried this racquet we would see less mishits from him. It’s just a slightly bigger sweet spot. Maybe he will lose some power but it won’t be a lot and by strengthening his upper body that won’t be a problem anyway. So these are the two thing I think Roger can experiment with; strengthening his upper body and playing with the slightly bigger head. Sampras was too set in his ways to experiment at the end, and who knows what a change in equipment could have done for him.
Roger is however more adaptable like I said and I think he can definitely afford to make these changes. He is getting towards the end of his career and losing before the quarter final of a slam for the first time in 9 years would be a good time to think about experimenting. And I’m willing to bet my house on it that you guys are all for it too. The good thing about changes is that it gives you kind of a new start. A clean slate as it were. A little boost. I think Roger could do with something like that right now. Maybe not at this instant though. It may be a better idea to wait until the end of the year when he has some time off again and then make the equipment change. As for the physical change he can start right away. It will take some time to strengthen his upper body anyway so he may as well start right away.
Then by the start of 2014 he will be bigger in the upper body and have a new racquet. In that way he can reinvent himself for the 2014 season. Changes can be good. In fact it is crucial if you want to keep being successful and happy. I personally like change. It is not always easy because you face the unknown, but remaining in your comfort zone is no way to live your life. I am currently going through a change in my personal life and although there is uncertainty it is exciting and necessary. I think it may be time for Roger to reinvent himself. This could potentially add years and success to his tennis career. It is always dangerous to take refuge in the known and stagnate. That is when the problems begin. I realize Roger is not a player who muscles the ball and being stronger could mess with his rhythm, but the risk may be worth it.
Lets look at what the two changes that I suggested would do for Roger:
- Strengthening his upper body – It would allow him to feel less intimidated by the big hitters and powerful physiques like Berdych, Tsonga, Nadal, and Murray. And I am certainly not suggesting doping. The idea that you have to dope to become strong is a myth. With the proper work out routine at the gym and right diet you can build muscle fast. These players have routinely been hitting Roger off the court and it is time he did something about it. He is not too old and it is not too late. Muscle can be built by anyone at any time. The one thing about muscle is that it is heavy and increasing it will increase your weight. But Roger has always carried some weight around the midsection and he can turn that into muscle without gaining much weight. That way it won’t make him slower. How about a six pack?
- Changing his racquet to a 95 sq in head – This would reduce the amount of mishits for Roger and give him more consistency from the base line in a time when base line tennis has taken over the game. If Roger does become slower because of muscle gain in his upper body then the bigger racquet head will make up for it. In other words if he is not in position to hit the ball, the larger racquet head will be more forgiving and reduce mishits.
All of this will make Roger a more powerful and consistent player from the base line. And isn’t that what tennis has turned into? These days tennis is all about power and consistency from the base line. So in theory my suggestions make an awful lot of sense, if you don’t mind me saying so. Someone said in a comment in my last post that Roger should hire me, and I can’t say that I disagree with them. Changes are difficult because you don’t want to lose what you have gained. But sometimes in order to have something better you have to risk everything you have gained. Change is scary but we must all face it. If Roger makes these changes is could potentially cost him a slam title, but it could potentially make him gain two more as well. It is all about what you are willing to risk, and that is up to Roger. I just think this feels like a good time for some changes.
I was thinking of making a poll asking you whether Roger should reinvent himself for 2014 in the way I suggested, but knowing you you would all vote yes. So instead I’m gonna make a poll asking you whether you think I should become Roger’s personal advisor and motivator. That will be more fun and interesting. For me anyway. I will be able to see who voted what, but don’t let that put you off. Vote whatever you feel like voting. I don’t care either way. It’s not like Roger is gonna hire me. This is just for kicks!