Last year I made a similar post and it is still number three on my most popular posts. So lets see if we can get another good discussion going on this one. I have already started a topic about this in the forum. I have also posted videos about Roger’s best points and shots of 2011 there, so check it out. I think it has already become clear that the Australian Open will be an important tournament for Roger. Not that it isn’t always an important event for him. It is after all a slam. But I think it is important for him to win it for several reasons. First of all he is coming off another fantastic indoor season and he needs to capitalize on this rich vein of form by winning the Australian Open. But as we saw this year, the fact that Roger had a good indoor season doesn’t guarantee success in Australia. It is my opinion that he struggled in Melbourne last year.
To me he never looked like winning the thing. He had a tough five setter against Simon, lost a set to Robredo, and then lost in straight sets to Djokovic. If you look at these guys they are all good retrievers. The problem for Roger in Melbourne is that it is pretty slow hard courts. It is much harder for him to hit through the court than indoors or the US Open for instance. The match against Djokovic was painful to watch. Djokovic was very solid from the base line and there was basically nowhere for Roger to go. The courts simply did not allow for him to play first strike tennis and dominate. It was not that he played bad at all. You just felt that the conditions didn’t give him any assistance. But what is different from previous years when Roger won the Australian Open four times? Judging from his track record in Melbourne he loves the surface.
It can be a combination of things. I think as Roger has gotten older the faster surfaces suits his game better. He is slower than he used to be and therefor his defense is not quite what it used to be. He benefits more from faster surfaces where he gets more free points off his serve, and can end the point faster with first strike tennis. If you look at his performance in Melbourne in 2010 where he won his last slam and compare it to this year, it is quite different. In 2010 he lost two sets. One in the first round against Andreev which is normal for your first match, and one against Davydenko who was playing incredibly well. In the final he schooled Murray in straight sets. I mean that was a clearly a very different Roger from what we saw this year. There was a certain air of confidence about him throughout. He didn’t struggle at all against counter punchers like Montanes and Hewitt, and he destroyed Tsonga 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.
How did things change so much in a year? Did they slow the surface down even more? That is something I can’t answer unfortunately. The interesting thing is that in 2010 Roger came off a poor end to the season in 2009. During the indoor season he lost in the final of Basel to Djokovic, lost in the second round of Paris to Benneteau, and he lost twice in the Masters Cup to Del Potro and Davydenko. Is having a successful indoor season a bad omen for Roger going into the new year? I suppose in 2010 Roger was disappointed with his 2009 indoor season and felt like he really wanted to prove something. I don’t think tiredness can play a role as there is a long enough break, but who knows? I suppose there also comes a certain amount of pressure with ending the year so well. Roger is now already many people’s favorite to win Down Under.
Roger never had a problem with being the favorite though. He seems to thrive under the favorite tag. But I can’t help but feel it is a good thing when he is written off and flies under the radar. That is kind of what happened in 2010. There is just no extra pressure. But like I said Roger usually likes being the favorite, and besides he is not quite the favorite this time around. The favorite is still Djokovic, despite his dismal end to the season. The courts in Melbourne is basically just tailor-made for him. It is not really fast enough for him to get dominated by Roger, and it is slow enough to use his defensive abilities to the max. I feel like if he is in similar form to this year then Roger has almost zero chance. Unless Roger brings similar form than he had in 2010. He needs to play with that kind of authority and confidence if he is going to take the title again.
To me it is obvious that something has to change for next year. I can basically tell when Roger is going to have a good tournament. At the French Open you could sense from early on that he was having a good tournament. At the US Open he had a good win against Cilic and then went into JesusFed mode. Conversely I never felt good about Roger in Melbourne after that match against Simon. There was an air of uncertainty about him, and getting schooled by Djokovic was not that much of a surprise to me. These days Roger just isn’t as consistent as he used to be, although I have hopes that he may be more consistent next year. The fact that he is less consistent is an even bigger reason he must start the year off well. If he wins in Australia it takes a lot of pressure off for the rest of the year. I mean if he wins one slam a year the pressure is off.
He also probably needs to win in Australia if he still has ambitions of getting back to number one. If you look at the poll on my blog you will see that most people voted for him to win Wimbledon next year, while Australia is a close second. I think Wimbledon is a good call but Australia is a bit of a question mark for me. A lot depends on Djokovic’s form. If he is firing on all cylinders it is very hard to see him being stopped. Roger has better chances at all the other slams of beating him. And then Roger’s form will also matter a lot. He must have that air of confidence from the start. But more importantly the desire must be there. That is the main thing. At the French Open and US Open this year you could sense how badly Roger wanted it. In his match against Djokovic in Paris you could sense how much he wanted to prove a point.
At the US Open he didn’t go in with a lot of confidence, but against Cilic he played a really gutsy match which propelled him into JesusFed mode. So when all is said and done this is really what it comes down to – desire. All too often these days we see it lacking from Roger. Who knows why? It could be because he now has a family and he has achieved so much already. But somehow I don’t feel like those are good excuses. Roger always makes it clear that he is still very motivated and he still works very hard. He is hungry for more success and we the fans are hungry for more success. So why is he not always equally motivated? Is it just a byproduct of aging? Again that doesn’t seem like a good excuse to me. The game is clearly still there so for me it just comes down to the motivation. Maybe this is what Roger sorted out during his break after the US Open.
He said in a press conference that he had lost some matches that he should not have lost and that he needed to think things over with the help of his team. He then came back to win three straight tournaments. OK Djokovic and Nadal was not exactly a factor but it is a good start at least. It is still hard to tell whether much has changed because indoor courts compliments Roger’s game, and he doesn’t really need to ‘win ugly’. Yet even if Roger has desire next year, some doubts remain. Did he not show desire last year when he beat Simon in five sets? Wasn’t that winning ugly? To me it seems like he was trying very hard, but for some reason the spark just wasn’t quite there. Whether it was from the slowness of the surface or just the rise of Djokovic 2.0, I just can’t quite figure it out. I have looked at this from every possible angle and I really have no clue how Roger will perform in Melbourne next month.
This is why I say a question mark remains over the Australian Open for me. From one point of view I feel like it is his best chances to win a slam in 2012, but from another I feel it’s his worst chance. So from here on I will leave it to you to discuss it. Maybe I can reach more clarity through your comments. These discussions are mainly for our entertainments anyway, since we just don’t know what will happen, no matter how certain we feel we are. Also I am not always sure if you like long posts like these. When it comes to tennis I have a lot to say and since there is no tennis going on I tend to think that you don’t mind long posts. Anyway let me know.
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