A Preview to Federer’s Clay Court Season

It was nice to see in the polls of my last post that most of you wanted Djokovic to win the French Open, even though most of you didn’t think he will. I tend to agree with that. I don’t think Roger’s grand slam record is under any threat from Djokovic, and therefor it is ok if he completes the non-calender slam. If Nadal wins the French and wins Wimbledon afterwards, Roger’s slam record is once again under threat from him. In my last post I wrote about the chances of Nadal and Djokovic at the French Open this year. I said a few things about Roger’s chances but I will now dedicate a post to it. This is after all a Federer blog! I think the winner will be either Nadal or Djokovic but you can’t count Roger out, especially after how he has been playing this year.

I actually expect a lot from him in the clay court season. Even though he lost to Roddick in Miami he is riding a wave of confidence. That loss will do little if anything to affect his confidence. After opting not to play in Monte Carlo he will be rested and ready to make a big impact. He will start off on the blue clay of Madrid where the altitude suits him. I think everyone pretty much expects him to make semis at least, as is the case with all tournaments. Then it is a question of getting past either Djokovic or Nadal. Since Madrid was played on clay Roger has won the title once, made the final once, and made the semis once. On each occasion he played his last match against Nadal. So even though he lost to Nadal twice, he has shown that he can beat him in Madrid.

Who would ever forget that final where he clinically disposed of Nadal to start his resurrection in 2009? But of course he did everything right to the T on that day. To beat Nadal on clay is a gargantuan task and takes nothing less than perfection. So Roger will once again have his work cut out for him if he faces Nadal in Madrid. The reason he beat Nadal in 2009 there is because he played as attacking as possible. He used the faster conditions there to his advantage and didn’t give Nadal much breathing room, but at the same time he used variation. He was using drop shots and slices, and serve-and-volleyed selectively. This is what he has to do to beat Nadal on clay. But it’s much easier said than done. He has to be full of confidence and execute to the T.

Now, we know he has been full of confidence of late. I think he can beat Nadal in Madrid again. He beat him in Indian Wells on a surface that isn’t that much faster. It may even be similar speeds since Indian Wells in not at altitude. He must play a similar game plan than he did in Indian Wells to beat Nadal. Maybe with a little more variation since it is clay. But that match in Indian Wells will give him confidence when he comes up against Nadal again. I think I would prefer that Roger is in Nadal’s half of the draw again. If he beats Nadal then we probably have a nice Djokerer final. If he loses then Nadal comes up against Djokovic again on a surface which will give Djokovic a good chance. If Roger is in Djokovic’s half he will probably have a better chance of making the final though.

Roger played Djokovic only once on clay last year in that epic French Open semi. This year Roger is playing better and Djokovic is playing slightly worse so, Roger will like his chances. I think in the end Roger has a fair chance to make the final in Madrid. Winning it would be just awesome. In Rome Roger has a chance to make up some points where he lost in the round of sixteen last year. Again you would expect him to make at least semis. Then whatever else he wins will basically be a bonus. Then we get to the big one. The French Open has been Roger’s least successful slam over the years, but only because he lost to the clay GOAT in four finals. Last year he had a great tournament where he didn’t drop a set until the semis.

If he can play like that again you can’t really ask for more. Of course he still lost to Nadal, but he beat Djokovic and made another slam final. It looks like Nadal will play four clay events before Paris and there is no sign of his knee problems, so the chances of Roger becoming number two in the rankings before the French is virtually zero. Therefor I hope he is in Nadal’s half of the draw. If he loses then we have that much anticipated Djokodal final and if he wins he has a great chance to win his second French Open. To beat Nadal at the French Open is the ultimate challenge in tennis for Roger. It is what every Fedfan dreams of because it is the one thing Roger has never done. Can he do it this year? It would take a small miracle but if we have learned anything from tennis it is that you just never know.

If he does beat Nadal in Paris it may be the crowning achievement of his career. It is that difficult to do. So no matter how many times he lost to Nadal in Paris, he must keep believing that he can beat him there and try new things. He must be more aggressive than he has been in the past when he was trying to beat Nadal from the base line at his own game. I think he is over that stubbornness now and is willing to experiment a bit more. Maybe the fact that he is now a more mature player is just what is needed to get a win over Nadal in Paris. The main thing is to keep believing and play as if it is the first time they square off there. Then he must not get tight like he did in the past when an opportunity presents itself to take the match away from Nadal.

Well I am gonna stop here for now. I’ll let you guys discuss this subject some more. You are good at it after all.

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23 Comments

  1. “It would take a small miracle”
    According to their H2H – yes, but I have to say (and correct me if I’m wrong) that apart from FO2008, Federer was never outplayed by Nadal on clay. Federer was always there, he just didn’t convert those break points and lost focus. That’s the story. That’s what he has to change.

    I am not convinced Federer will give it all in the next two Masters events. Wimbledon and the Olympics are on his mind. I won’t be surprised if he just defends his points from last year in Madrid.

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  2. Player to watch out for in Madrid other than Fedal, Nole is John Isner. The Top 3 will have the toughest task if Isner is on their path. Still the Favorite will be Nadal.
    Federer has to perform most now, during this clay season, because after this he has lot of points to defend.
    My gut feeling says Federer will perform better than Nole this time in Madrid. By the end of Wimbledon a shift of rankings will be happening for sure in the Top 3. Go Goderer!Go!!

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  3. I have a good feeling about Madrid, Paris and all the way into the U.S. swing. Federer seems very confident and relaxed. I really can’t wait for Madrid to start to unfold and I am anxious as to how Djokovic is going to play too! Nadal will probably have very little to worry about going into the semi’s but I hope, as Ruan stated, that Roger is in the same half as Rafa and that Roger claims another win against the Nadal.

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  4. Ruan–Rafa went on record again today after his match saying his knees were sore. So, I am actually intrigued by why his team has him playing so many events given the action-packed next few months!! Is it a sub-conscious way of giving him a way out if he doesn’t win at the French Open??? Even Djokovic has pulled out of the Serbia Open and that means all will be well rested when we reach Madrid (except Rafa??). I would love to see Fed defeat Nadal at the French, and even though it sounds crazy, I think he is more likely to do it now in his career than when he was in his prime. Why? Because he’s more relaxed, he’s already won the French, and I think he’s enjoying himself again!!

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  5. A repeat of Madrid 2009 but this time on the blue clay would be great. A win in Paris would be even greater; a repeat of the liberation of France; an occasion of national rejoicing. Can the Spanish tyranny be overthrown by the heroic Swiss on the terre battue? Or maybe it’s really The War of the Worlds, in which the hunman hero finally overcomes the alien invaders, for Nadal often seems more alien than human. Roger, the fate of tennis humanity rests, once again, on your shoulders. God forbid he should lose. TV remotes will flick off world-wide until we are finally free of the interminable baseline grinding the game has become subject to in the reign of Nadal.

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  6. I’m feeling a little bored with Roger on his break. This year in tennis seems so unpredictable. Are Nadal’s knees really an issue? Is Djokovic losing momentum? Will Roger come back with confidence? Is someone else going to storm to the top and win a major? Maybe it will all unfold in a way totally taking us by surprise. That’s my feeling. I’m not going to get my hopes too high for Roger especially at Wimbledon. Easier to sleep at night!

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  7. I’ve been re-watching footage of the FO 2011 final between F and N last night and I’m glad I did. Because it gave me a good feeling about Fed’s chances for the clay season, more specifically for his chances at RG. In fact I think that F has as good a chance as anyone else to steal the RG- title this year from the projected winner (Nadal) if he has the right draw and conditions (for example the same type of tennis balls as last year, warm and dry weather, etc…), and the type of tennis that the Swiss maestro has been playing since the AO gives him no reason to give up that chance.
    Of course Federer is cautious about making big pronouncements and he doesn’t talk at all about his chances on clay. He’s smarter than that. He prefers talking about Wimbledon where everything started for him, and about his Olympic dream, because the tennis community gives him more of a chance there. But clay presents advantages to him that other surfaces don’t have. The surface gives him for instance the time to get to balls he otherwise wouldn’t get to, and make up a bit for his eventual loss of speed.
    Sure Federer also knows that he’s not at the height of his physical powers anymore. He knows his body very well and understands that he doesn’t have the reserves to compete with Nadal and Djokovic tournament after tournament. He knows his physical limitations compel him to pick his spots carefully. I think he’ll prefer therefore to be less prominent in the masters events leading up to RG, but that he nevertheless will be ready to make his move in Paris at RG in case the different factors needed to fall into alignment, do present themselves in his favor.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Hi Wilfried. Yes Roger is a dangerous dark horse for the RG title. He is a different player this year and like you say Wimbledon and the Olympics are more important to him. So he won’t feel as much pressure at the FO. He can just go there and play freely, because everyone expects Nadal or Djokovic to win it.

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  8. I’m always an optimistic person when it comes to Roger.I know he can make miracle and can reign again in tennis kingdom.These two mutants from Spain and Serbia will bow their heads to chosen one from Switzerland.Let’s hope and pray for Roger’s success this year.He’s confident and motivated and that’s his weapon along with his genuine talent to topple the two mutants infront of him.

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  9. Hi this is the first time I’m commenting but I have been reading your blog for quite some time, I really like your post so I thank you first for posting all these thoughts on Roger all the time.

    The opportunity for Roger is already presented, he just needs to grasp it. Roger was never weak in clay, it’s just the existence of Nadal which made it seem so. But in fact I think Roger has found the formula to beat Nadal, a similar game in IW will certainly do well (that is constantly attacking and not defending, because when you defend, Nadal will just hit corner to corner and you can’t return the ball). Nadal is like a bully in that he just attacks the defensive people and gets scared when the opposition attacks. Of course Roger can’t keep hitting from the baseline, it isn’t always safe to do so. But lately from watching Nadal’s matches I seem to notice some sort of ‘pattern’, somehow I can guess when the ball’s going to land before Nadal’s even hit it. Hopefully Roger does realise this ‘pattern’ and would be ready to run either side of the court to return Nadal’s attacks.

    Madrid to start off the clay season would be good for Roger. He should play in conditions more preferable to him than Rome and RG. It can sort of act like a transition from fast to slow courts. Also the blue can create an illusion of hard courts, just saying but I think that helps as well. :-P

    Roger has a much greater chance winning in RG this year, why? 1. He’s won RG already, losing doesn’t matter because he has the career grand slam already. 2. He’s pretty safe at the No.3 spot currently, and even if he loses it, he can gain lots in Wimbledon to overtake Murray again. 3. There’s no burden on Roger, he’s playing tennis because he wants to and likes to. Unlike the top 2 who are constantly fighting over each other. Also Nadal’s got the burden of defending RG because if he doesn’t, he’s rankings would go down and even harder to catch up Djoko.

    I have the gut feeling that Roger will be very successful in the clay season. My gut feeling is always right, prior to the Fedal match in IW, I was 99% sure he would win the match, and it turned out it did. The gut feeling was right as well in RG Djokerer and WTF Fedal last year as well.

    Hope Roger will win RG. :-)

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    feddybear Reply:

    i like your optimism man, its contagious… will follow your comments to see how it goes ;-)
    about Nadal chasing Nole at the top – i am afraid that Rafa actualy performs better when he is coming from behind. his best seasons were 2008 and 2009 when he was chasing Fed… so i wouldnt count on him being tired or anxious. i think if Fed wants the top spot he will have to earn it !
    allez…

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  10. well writen post, Ruan.
    i agree with a lot of what you said…
    hope Fed will come back from this long break fcused and ready to roar. he can do great things on clay rhis year.
    as for the others, who can disturb the top 4?
    Isner – he beat 2 of the top 4 this year, so he can do it again
    Raonic – he defeated Murray today with a great display, and he can be a threat to anyone with his bog serve.
    Delpo – if he is in good shape we all know he can destroy anyone, even Rafa…

    i hope all of them are on Rafa’s side of the drwa ;-)
    wish Nadal would shut up bout his knees already, every time he bitches about it and than win the tourny makes him look like such and manipulative creep.

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  11. Hi everyone,
    thanks for your blog ruan
    i would like to share my thoughts about the clay season and especially RG because this year is going to be more special than it usually is. There is a lot in steak in the history of tennis in this RG edition :
    1/ If federer wins it will be a huge acheivement because it will mean 17 slams, 2 carrer grand slams (a new acheivement in tennis history), definitly securing grand slam record, probably beating Nadal in the process, it will be just huge
    2/ If nadal wins it will mean cementing clay goat with borg and he will equal Samprass in 7 slams at the same venue : tennis history again
    3/ If Djokovitch wins it will mean Tennis history as the first man to acheive a non calender grand slam
    4/ If Murray wins it will be history also because of him and because of British tennis history
    5/ If Delpotro wins he will put himself in the big five debate
    6/ If anybody else wins he will be the first man to do something new in slam titles since Safin in AO 05

    This is going to be very special since history is going to be written anyway.

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  12. I dunno guys. What is the difference between 2011 and 2012? We had big hopes at RG last year as well after semi where Roger ended Novak´s invincibility. We were saying the same stuff: he already win RG, he will be relaxed in finals etc. Of course Toger had better start of season this year beating Nadal but that means nothing at RG. He beat Nadal st TM 2011 easily and then failed at AO.

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  13. Very nice article! However, a little detail was omitted: When Federer beat Nadal in 2009 in Madrid, Nadal played an exhausting match that lasted 4 hours 3 minutes against Djokovic the day before which explains Federers win in straight sets. Now, Roger goes to Madrid without practicing in clay and we all know that he never finds his rhythm in his first clay tournament.

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    Conal Reply:

    Excuses from Rafa! When he played Verdasco in Australian Open in an epic five setter, Federer had raped Roddick and had an extra day’s rest. And who still won? Rafa! On his least favourite suface – hardcourt! The reason why it was straight sets, because it was one of those days where Federer plays 110%, where he hasn’t done it very very often against Nadal. There wasn’t anything wrong with Nadal – 6-4 6-4 was tight, it was just Roger who was the better player.

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    V Reply:

    Yeah.Conal is right.If Nadal plays a 4hr odd semi,its not Rogers fault.and if anything this explains Nadals one dimensional game as he is unable to close out games before that time.Credit to him for digging deep though and winning it in 4hrs in a physical duel.but you cant blame that for his loss against Roger in the final.How many times have we seen Nadal play an epic match in the semis of tournaments?.Is it to show that he can win may be two epic matches in a row(inclusive of final)?or is it a ready excuse to have when he losses by nadal fans that he could have won if he had blah blah blah?You Nadal fans really have imaginative and fascinating excuses to give when Nadal loses to Roger.

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  14. Federer has been playing much better tennis this year than he was during the same period last year. In fact, the last time he did this well during the post-AO hard court run was 2006!

    He’s a lot clearer about the kinds of shots he wants to hit and the tactics he wants to use, last year during AO he seemed to be rushing too much and going for winners prematurely, before he was in position.

    He will have to use different tactics on clay than on hard courts, the flat rally balls he used so well against Nadal, Murray, and Del Potro on hard courts won’t be as effective. But there are other tools, like the drop shot and short dinks, that are more potent on clay.

    Another key weapon on clay is his movement. Last year his footwork at RG was better than I’ve ever seen (even better than when he won the title in ’09): efficient, fluid, no wasted motion. This year I expect he will have improved in that department and his timing will be better.

    The older he gets the more important it is that he move properly on clay, because he’s lost a little footspeed and he can’t afford to waste energy by scrambling too much during the rallies.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays on clay and I hope he gets another shot at Nadal for the title in RG.

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  15. My thought on Roger’s chances in these next few months, especially when it comes to Nadal, is that Roger has found a way to beat him the last 2 out of 3 times, one of them on a slow hard court. I think that has given him confidence. He is coming of a long rest time, and look what happened after his long rest after the U.S. Open. In the FO final Roger should have won the first set (just a little luck his way and he would have) and he came back in the 2nd set and could have won that. I think this year he has a really good change of doing well, maybe winning. And in Wimbledon, the last two years he has surprisingly gone out in the 1/4s. He is going to be doing everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen again! He said during his break after the U.S. Open that he had to think about what was happening in those 2-set-up losses that occurred and I think he worked it through. I have high hopes for the next few months!!!

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  16. I was hoping for a Ferrer win today. He came close. Ferrer was next to tears. I really wonder what the other Spaniards think of Nadal.
    Well, onwards to Madrid.

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    Jiten Reply:

    Ferrer went for too much after breaking Rafa in the early part of the first set and when he was serving for the second set (again immediately after breaking Rafa in the previous game). In my opinion that cost him the match. Had he played his normal game during those crucial moments, he could have easily turned the tide against Rafa. Well, that really proves how intimidating the player on the other side of the net is. As admitted by Rafa himself, he was definitely a shade lucky throughout the match including at those multiple break points in the first set. But one positive this match demonstrated was that Rafa can be vulnerable even in his favorite surface, particularly if somebody is able to make him move from corner to corner. I still believe Rafa won’t be able to defend his bastion at the RG this year.

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  17. Absolutely incredible what Nadal is able to achieve on clay, winning tournaments 7 and 8 times! I cannot feel like being a fan of him for many reasons, but my respect he has (as long as their is no proof that his physical abilities are enhanced by illegal means). A true ‘Ivan Drago’. Now I hope Federer is not too rusty after this loooooooooong break

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