Should Federer Take an Extended Break from Tennis?

Greetings. There have been some good discussions on my blog after my last post again and I thank you for taking part and keeping this the go-to blog for all loyal and knowlegeable Fedfans. One thing that came up in the discussion is a long term break from the game for Roger, or a Nadal-like break if you will. Roger was always the one who was very healthy and still to this day have never retired from a match. He has only withdrawn before a match on two occasions. Nadal was always the one with the knee problems(how serious it was God only knows) due to his taxing game style. I always thought Roger would have great longevity because his game style was the opposite of Nadal’s. He glided smoothly across the court and played offensive, first strike tennis. He also scheduled very wisely, because his health was more important to him than making an easy million in appearance fees.

So I always thought he would have great longevity. That is until his back became a problem. His back has been a problem for a long time now. How long exactly I’m not sure but it is clear to me that he always had a weak back, and that all the years on tour started catching up with it. Probably the first time I can remember his back giving him problems was already back at the 2008 Masters Cup against Murray. Incidentally that was just about the time I started this blog. That is almost five years that Roger has had the back problem that I know of. Probably it started earlier than that. It didn’t seem to bother him much in his prime though, because he was playing a lot and winning just about everything. But like I said he always had a weak back and once it started it seemed to get worse and worse. Despite the back problems and inevitable decline he has still won 5 slams after his prime.

That is impressive. With every slam win after his prime it took more and more out of him to win slams though. After winning 2 slams in 2009 and 1 at the beginning of 2010, he went slamless in 2011. Toward the end of 2011 Roger won Basel, Paris, and the Masters Cup in succession. It was a sign of things to come in 2012 and Roger was clearly making a big push for another slam, which he won at Wimbledon. It took almost 2 and a half years for Roger to win his 17th slam, and it took a lot out of him. He went on a tear of 6 titles and 4 finals. His level was almost prime level. It took Roger a long time to gather himself for that big push, and I don’t see how he can play that well for that duration of time again. I can see him play that well for a whole tournament again, but he won’t dominate again and get back to #1. It’s very hard to imagine anyway.

Another thing which came out of our discussion was that the exhos in South-America at the end of last year took a big toll on Roger. We have said all of this before, but it is worth mentioning again after seeing the way 2013 turned out. I have been speculating about the reason for Roger’s poor form since Rotterdam this year. Probably the first thing I thought of was the toll 2012 took on Roger, because since the US Open last year he was struggling. During the indoor season he struck me as burned out. Roger still had a good Australian Open where I thought he played very well. But it was like the final encore of Roger 3.0. After that things went south for Roger. Also at that point I think the back problems started again, because he was wearing double shirts towards the end there. Someone said the back problems started in the quarters against Tsonga.

Then from Rotterdam onward it was clear that Roger was not himself. And again I think his back was bothering him there. I now believe it is not as much as being mental burnout, but physical burnout, and specifically Roger’s back. If Roger was mentally burned out from 2012 he would not have played so well in Melbourne. And even if he was burned out after that he took a 7 week break after Indian Wells. He never quite got going during the clay court season and then had the loss at Wimbledon. Now it’s finally become abundantly clear that he has a serious back problem. It is clear that his back has been seriously hampering him at least since after Melbourne. That in turn made his confidence suffer. It’s a vicious cycle. His back never gives him a long enough break to play enough matches and get some confidence going.

We may have a situation here where Roger’s back has declined faster than his game itself. But it is also clear that the South-American exhos were a bad idea. Of course we don’t know what the situation was and obviously sponsors would have been involved, but these exhos never seem like a good idea to me. The one he played with Sampras at the end of 2007 clearly took a toll and he should have learned his lesson from that. I was surprised when I heard he would play an exho at the end of 2012 after the brutal 2012 season. It seemed irresponsible. Or careless. Sure it gave him a lot of positive energy, but it was once again emotional and drained him as well. I would have thought some quiet time in Switzerland with his family would have been the best option after such an emotional and draining season.

Challenging times…

Also his body could have done with the rest, but instead he was playing more tennis and getting little rest. So mentally and physically it cost him. I believe 2013 could have been a much more successful season if he did not go to South-America and instead just got away from it all and kept it simple. It is almost as though he relaxed after his 2012 achievements and forgot that he still wants to play tennis after 2012. Never mind the sponsors. This is about Roger’s tennis, and the longer and better he plays the better for the sponsors anyway. In my opinion 2013 has basically been a washout, and I blame the exho in South-America for it. It’s a similar story to the 2007 exho with Sampras, after which the 2008 season was basically a washout too compared to the level of his prime. Back then Roger should have taken a break as well.

Jason came up with these facts again on my last post, and he brought up the time Roger went to South Africa too. That was after he won the Australian Open in 2010 and after that he didn’t win a slam again for about 2 and a half years. He also speculated that Roger could have won an additional 2-4 slams had he not done these outings. I agree with that. It is about priorities I guess. If Roger didn’t play any exhos or did work for his foundation he would look like a pretty selfish guy. That’s not Roger though. He is generous and likes to give back to the sport that gave him so much. That is admirable. It is tempting to be greedy and want everything for yourself. This is an even bigger reason to be a Fedfan and why Roger is such a great role model. He really is a great human being, and not just a great tennis player. Personally I would probably have been a lot more selfish.

I am just being honest. I would rather have had 20 slam titles by now and I wouldn’t have cared as much what the fans thought of me. But that is why he is Roger Federer and I am me. I wouldn’t care as much about the money and appearance fees, because I would have already been so rich. But winning 20 slams and being the untouchable GOAT would have had a nice ring to it. Lets just hope this latest trip to South-America did not cost him #18 because it may well have. Like I said, 2013 has basically been a wash out now. It’s too late to make it a good year too. Roger won’t win a title in the North-American hard court season if he even plays it. He could win an indoor title if he’s lucky, but that would still be just two titles for the year. That would be the least amount of titles Roger has won in 12 years! So now I get to my original question.

Does Roger need an extended break from tennis? First of all what would an extended break do? Right now Roger lacks match practice and confidence. The only way to remedy that would be to play a lot of matches and get his confidence back that way, but his back won’t allow him. The problem with the back is back spasms. This is a muscular problem due to weak muscles. You would think that you can strengthen these muscles and the problem would be fixed, but it is not that simple. I think it is genetic and it definitely can’t be cured. I speak of experience. But I do think the core and surrounding muscles can be strengthened so that the back becomes manageable. I’m not sure Roger has a very strong core or upper body. He always had a bit of a gut and his upper body isn’t very muscular. I’d like to see him get in the gym and really strengthen that upper body.

I have mentioned this  before as a way to reinvent himself so that he doesn’t get overpowered as much. Recently he seemed to have slimmed down. That could help his back in the sense that his back is carrying less weight. But if his core isn’t strong enough it won’t be enough. Now that Roger has lost some extra body fat he may want to start building some muscle and strengthening that core. There is no doubt Roger would have already worked on strengthening his core, but his back is still giving problems which means it can’t be strong enough. I don’t think taking a Nadal-like break would be the right thing for Roger. Eight months is a long time and at this stage of Roger’s career going away from the sport for that long could prove to be fatal. And besides I don’t think he needs that much time to strengthen his core and upper body.

A 3 or 6 month break should be sufficient. A good time to take the break would be after Indian Wells until the beginning of the grass court season. Roger doesn’t need to play the clay court season anymore. With the long rallies I can’t imagine that it is very good for his back anyway. The problem is he needs to take action now, and it’s still a long time before the clay court season. A lot of what I am writing here is just speculation and it is quite hard to figure out what exactly Roger should do. But we do know that he has to try and sort his back out. Like I said he desperately needs matches for confidence but his first priority now is looking after his back. Roger took a 7 week break after Indian Wells already but I think he now needs to take a longer 3 month break. Or even longer if that is what it takes for him to come back healthy.

What say you?

Should Roger take an extended break from tennis?

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Federer Loses to Brands In Gstaad, Reveals Back Problems

It’s a tough old time for Federer and his fans, isn’t it? After today’s loss my first reaction was that Roger has hit rock bottom, so my post title was going to read ‘Federer hits rock bottom against Brands in Gstaad’. Things had really hit an all time low. So I was relieved to hear he has been having back problems of late. Of course you don’t want him to have an injury, but at least there is now an official explanation for the bad form of late. As you can see Roger had serious back problems already in Hamburg, and had to take anti-inflammatory medication and we also saw him wear the back straps. And as he had already committed to playing Gstaad, he didn’t want to disappoint the locals. I think that is the deal here. He was uncertain whether to play right up until the warm up, and during the match he found it hard to play and move.

That shows how much he cares about the fans. He said after the match that he was just happy to play. That tells you the physical shape he was in and the kind of person he is. Roger has always been very reluctant to talk about his injuries. Remember in 2008 when he had mono he didn’t want to talk about it, even though it was clearly affecting his play. That is very admirable and at the same time it makes it hard for the fans, because they are kept in the dark. They suffer through tough losses thinking Roger is just declining fast, when in fact he is hampered by an injury. But at least we have confirmation now. I never talk about Roger’s injuries much because I hate to speculate and make excuses. As far as I’m concerned if you show up on court then you are ready to play. But in this case I do understand that Roger felt an obligation toward the fans.

At least he didn’t humiliate himself out there or withdrew during the match. At one point I did think this would be a humiliating loss when Brands threatened to break for a second time in the second set, but at least Roger was able to avoid embarrassment. The match was a story of missed break opportunities. Of course the injury had an effect but Roger’s confidence is also shot. Hence the missed break chances. As far as his tennis goes this is rock bottom. This is as low in confidence as I’ve ever saw him. At times he looked like a lost child out there. But at least now we know there is a legitimate reason for it. If Roger says he has back problems you better believe it, because he is the last guy to make excuses. He is very stoic in that sense. As always the complete opposite of Nadal, who talks about his injuries non-stop like a little baby.

With Nadal you never know if he is really injured because he seems to always be injured, while with Roger you know he is injured when there is even a hint of an injury. So in a sense this is a great relief. I think we can assume the back has bothered him all year. Or since the Australian Open anyway. He was already playing there with another shirt underneath his tennis shirt. That was the last time he really played well and with confidence. Maybe the amount of tennis he played in 2012 also had an effect. So the fact that he is playing less tennis in 2013 is not necessarily a bad thing. It is less strenuous on his back. It looks like he will skip Montreal as well now. My guess is he will and come back for Cincy and the US Open. It may be wise to skip the whole hard court season and rehabilitate his back. Then come back for the indoor season and add some extra tournaments.

But I can’t see Roger doing that. The slams are too important to him and he still has Wayne Fereira’s record of 56 consecutive slams played in sight. He is currently on 55, just one short. So I think Roger will play but I can’t see him doing much damage. In his current form making quarter finals would be a great result. Personally I would just hope he doesn’t get upset in the first or second round, but at least his quarter final streak has been broken now so it wouldn’t matter all that much. If Roger skips Montreal he won’t have much time to get ready for the US Open. His training will be compromised by his back and as low as his confidence is I don’t see him getting very far in Cincy. We will just have to see how things pan out. For now Roger has not yet withdrawn from Montreal. Personally I’d like to see him lay a solid foundation for the 2014 season by doing well in the indoor season.

And for that he would have to skip the hard court season. Lets say he plays Cincy and the US Open. That means his back will get less rest before the indoor season. He may even end up making it worse, and he could well lose to more low ranked opponents which won’t do anything for his confidence. In that scenario it would be better to just rehabilitate his back, spend some time on the practice court, and add several more indoor events to his schedule. He could for instance start with a 250 tourney like Metz or Thailand. Then the 500 in Beijing, and then the Masters Series in Shanghai. Then he can take a week off and play Basel, Paris, and the Masters Cup. That is a lot of tennis so probably the best would be to start in Metz so he has a week off before Beijing and Shanghai. He would also still be close to home so he can go back for a week.

Then after Beijing and Shanghai he could come back home again to play Basel, Paris, and London. That would be the perfect schedule in my opinion, because he would slowly build it up and there would be sufficient rest. I mean he hasn’t played much this year and if he skips the North-American hard court season he should be able to play 6 indoor events. And that would set him up well for 2014, because he loves indoors and he will probably win a title or two as well. This will most likely not happen, but it’s food for thought. I mean when is Roger gonna sort out his back? Skipping Montreal only won’t give it much time to recover and he will only be able to play about 3 indoor events, which won’t allow him to achieve much. He won’t be able to lay a good foundation for 2014. He has already said he will play Brisbane.

When will he rest his back? During the short off season when he has to train? I don’t know. I think for the first time it may be well worth it for Roger to miss a slam. I don’t think he will, but I think at the very least he should give it some serious thought. Lets get real. He is not going to win the US Open. The chances are better that he will suffer another demoralizing loss. And what is the use of that? Now, I realize the record for most consecutive slams played is important and Roger is within one of equaling the record. But is it worth compromising his back over, thereby compromising his indoor season as well as his 2014 season? Roger has so many records anyway and this record merely shows longevity and health. It is not so crucial. The indoor season has been important to Roger in recent years.

It has been the one surface on which he can still dominate and which hasn’t been affected as much by the slowing down of surfaces. In 2010 and 2011 his biggest title of the year came at the Masters Cup. In 2011 the indoor season was also the start of Roger 3.0, where he won Basel, Paris, and the Masters Cup consecutively. How I miss those days! Just pure indoor mastery. That laid the basis from where he launched his very successful 2012 season. The back is a big problem lets face it, and in hindsight playing Hamburg and Gstaad was a mistake. But Roger didn’t know his back was gonna flare up and that is over now. He can’t just keep taking short breaks though. His back is clearly a serious problem and it needs time and attention to recover. If he skips Montreal he will at least have a couple more weeks to recover.

But his back won’t get much time to rest in that time. On the other hand this is not a problem that will be cured. It is something chronic, something that should be managed. I had this problem myself as a player. As far as I can gather Roger has a weak lower back, which is what I had as well. For me it was really hurting when I had taken a long break and lost fitness. As soon as my whole body got fit and all my muscles strengthened it was better. Also strengthening my abs and stabilizers helped. The most painful was when I was doing fitness drills where I was bending over a lot, or even worse, stayed bent over while moving around. It was excruciatingly painful and would cause a back spasm. In fact I could do these drills only up to a point until I said enough is enough. I am not sure this is Roger’s exact problem, but he also gets a back spasm.

My problem never went away but I managed it pretty well. It was just really bad when I bent over for an extended period of time. I don’t think it’s so much about rest as it is about getting treatment and strengthening the muscles in that area, and that does take time. Rest is important too, but if you get massages every day and treatment it speeds things up. So I am not sure how much time he needs off anyway. He would surely have worked a lot at strengthening those muscles already, and he still having problems. All I know is that it is pretty bad right now and he needs a break. The other problem is that Roger already took a 7 week break after Indian Wells. If he skips the US Open then he takes another 7 week break. However if he plays Cincy and the US Open he doesn’t get much of a break and compromises his indoor season.

In the end he has to do what is best for his health, and no one knows that better than Roger. There is a lot to consider here. Another thing I didn’t mention is that the clay may have been a bad choice for his back, because the points are long and there is a lot of movement. If he gets back on hard court it may be better. So going back to clay after the grass court season turned out to be a bit of a disaster. In hindsight it would probably have been better if he played Atlanta and Washington. Ok I think I have dragged this post out long enough. I’ll make a poll and let you vote whether Roger should skip the hard court season, treat his back, and make a full go at his favorite indoor season, or play the hard court season and possibly further compromise his back as well as his indoor season and 2014 season.

What should Roger do next?

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Highlights:

Federer: ‘I need to play excellent to win the US Open’

Hi guys. Just a quick post from me before things get started tomorrow in Gstaad for Roger. I found this video and thought you might like to see it. It’s a good interview and a nice video as well. Roger reflects back to where it all started for him in Gstaad in 1998 when he received a wild card. Roger has been on tour for 15 years. That is a long time. Many of you would have started following his career way after 1998. I noticed him pretty early on. For the first time around 2000-2001. Immediately I liked his game and noticed how talented he was, but thought he would probably be another of those guys who underachieves. Then he had that breakthrough win at Wimbledon in 2001 against Sampras and things started taking off from there. I didn’t become a fan until the end of 2003 though when he destroyed my favorite Agassi in the Masters Cup Final.

And even then I still had loyalties toward Agassi until he retired. Anyway 15 years is a long time and Roger has had great longevity. He was #1 at age 31 and won his 17th slam at age 30. Those are already great achievements at that age. But of course we hope that he can keep playing for a few more years and hopefully win another slam as well. Roger gets asked about his longevity in the interview and of course scheduling smart and not going after appearance fees out of greed has paid off. He also gets asked about the toll all the years on tour has taken on him because it clearly has. And just like me Roger can’t quite explain why he is not always as motivated as he used to be, because I have always believed the game is still there. I think a lot of it is mental. All those tough losses to Nadal I think have taken a toll on his motivation.

But of course it is physical as well. Roger is also asked about the biological passport and says that he is all for it because he wants the sport to be protected. This is one of the reasons I don’t think Roger is doping, because he is such a fan of the sport and doesn’t want to hurt it. Next is the question about the new racquet, which reveals nothing new really. Just that Roger was always willing to experiment but that there was no reason to experiment with a winning formula. So the Wimbledon loss was a good starting point, and it was funny how Roger came out with the new racquet just after I made a post about him reinventing himself. Then the question about the US Open. As expected Roger does not feel like he is playing bad. That must be surprising to the so-called fans, who thinks Roger should retire. Just because he is not winning everything doesn’t mean he is playing bad.

Roger received a cow from Gstaad again :lol:

Yes he is low on confidence but I don’t think he played that badly in Hamburg either. Winning is a habit and Roger just needs to get back in that habit and become feared in the locker room again. Winning Gstaad won’t be a bad start. Roger knows the time that lies ahead is important if he wants to become relevant again. It looks like he is set on making the necessary sacrifices to make the North-American hard court season count. It’s all about ‘doing all the right things’ and gaining confidence with each step, starting tomorrow in Gstaad. Every day must be made to count. Roger US Open campaign starts tomorrow, not on the 26th of August. If he harbors hopes of hitting back in the best possible way after losing in the second round of Wimbledon, and from all the people that are writing his obituary, he cannot let a moment pass without using it toward his ultimate goal.

I’m not saying Roger must win the US Open to become relevant again. But I’d like to see him make at least semis. Anything else would be a bonus, anything less a disappointment. I just think an important time lies ahead for Roger and he knows it too. After a disappointing year it is important that he at least finishes it strongly. I am actually quite excited about it because when Roger is really motivated only good things can happen, and that could lie the basis from which he can have a good 2014 season. Speaking of the 2014 season, Roger has made it public today that he will play Brisbane in 2014 as a warm up event for the Australian Open, instead of Doha like he usually does. I wonder why he didn’t try that earlier, because Brisbane is played on the exact same surface as the Australian Open and it is actually in Australia and not the Middle East.

Aside from the obvious advantages of playing there I also like how Roger is still changing things up. It is once again something fresh and if things don’t work for you anymore, you make changes. So I am excited about that as well. But it is now all about the rest of the 2013 season and ending it with a bang. Roger has not played much this year and physically he is still fresh. It is the mental part that has been missing and I think Roger is now at a point where he is motivated and dedicated again. We saw that in the match against Mayer in Hamburg and he just needs to win a few more matches like that before he will be back in full flow again. After losing at Wimbledon I do think he needs to win the US Open to get his invincible aura back again, but if not I just want to see a good result from him from which he can build on into the indoor season and 2014.