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 He has only withdrawn before a match on two occasions.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.
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?