Well so much for Roger winning the French Open which the ‘optimistic’ ones were hoping for. There is optimism and then there is idealism. The latter is not realistic. I hope everyone understands now why I was reluctant to overestimate Roger’s chances of winning the title. He couldn’t even make the quarterfinals, his worst result at the French Open since 2004! I think you can grasp now why I kept saying that since 2011 Roger didn’t care much about clay anymore. That year was his last big shot at the French Open title. He was in God mode in the semis against Djokovic and if ever he was gonna beat Nadal at the French it was gonna be in the 2011 final. He also had the experience of previous losses to Nadal behind him, and at the start it even looked like 2011 would finally be the year. But it wasn’t to be.
It was the same old story of missed chances and wasted opportunities against Nadal. Since 2011 Roger has also played only two warm-up events to the French Open instead of his usual three. And if you are still not convinced that Roger have given up the ghost of a second French Open title, then this quote from Roger posted by Girish should convince you:
“Mentally I have already switched to the grass, to be quite honest,” said Federer. “For me, it’s like, ‘the clay-court season was fun, but we are moving on.’ Clay doesn’t need me anymore, I got flushed out here.”
I have to mention that I cannot confirm the above quote is real, since I couldn’t find an interview transcript on the French Open website or anywhere else on the Internet, but I trust Girish would not make something like that up. Anyway, to get back to Roger’s match against Gulbis it was very far from a blowout, with Gulbis winning 6-7(5), 7-6(3), 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. It all came down to one point at 7-6, 5-3 and 40-15 with Roger serving for the second set. Roger closed in on the net, Gulbis threw up a defensive lob, and Roger hit the easiest of overheads straight back to Gulbis who put away the pass down the line. All Roger had to do was to hit the overhead down the line and the match was all but won. But he had to give Gulbis a second bite of the cherry and it cost him the match.
After that exchange, Roger could not recover. It was clear that he lost focus when that happened, just as he lost focus when Djokovic hit that return in the 2011 US Open semis, and just as he lost focus many a time against Nadal when Nadal made an unheard of play. This match also reminded me a lot of the 2009 US Open final where Roger was a set and a break up and cruising to a sixth title, only to lose 6-2 in the fifth to Del Potro. We have seen him lose in the fifth set many a time in big matches. Roger also have a pretty poor record when it goes the distance compared to other great players. He just isn’t as clutch as some other greats and he just doesn’t fight as hard. He tends to get stuck in the past when something out of the unexpected happens, instead of staying focused in the moment.
He loses the plot while someone like Nadal stays completely in the moment. He never regrets and never looks back. His focus is supremely in the now, and he gives 110% no matter what the situation. He never throws in the towel. Ever. You can’t say the same for Roger. He looks back and he doesn’t fight to the bitter end. After Roger lost that pivotal point there was no reason he could not still win the set, but he lost focus and played a poor tiebreak. To put it bluntly; he choked. And it wasn’t the first time. Since there was a momentum shift Gulbis then ran away with the third set. Roger fought back in the fourth set at least and took a 5-2 lead, but then again allowed Gulbis to get into his head when Gulbis took an MTO. When Gulbis came back he broke Roger and held serve for 4-5.
I’d be pissed off too Roger…with myself
Roger just managed to hold onto his serve to win the fourth set, but like someone intelligently remarked on my last post there was another momentum shift. Gulbis had managed to get under Roger’s skin again and he broke right away in the fifth set. It was enough to see Gulbis through to the victory. Just another epic mental collapse from Roger after being well in control of the match. I mean Roger came out playing really well after everyone had written off his chances when he beat Tursunov. He was proving the pessimists wrong, and I was loving it. But then he goes and totally collapses. You may have followed the conversation me and Eric had on my last couple of posts. Eric thought that Roger was poor against Tursunov and that it didn’t bode well for his chances against Gulbis.
In a sense, he was right because Roger lost to Gulbis. But what I want people to realize is that Roger was in almost complete control of the match at 7-6, 5-3, and 40-15. He was actually playing very well up until that point, something I predicted might happen in my last post. But then he just inexplicably lost the plot again. Fist of all, he should have gone down the line with the overhead, but even after he went the wrong way and lost that point he was still in complete control. He still had a set point on his serve! And even after he lost that point too he was still at deuce on his serve! I can go on and on because even after he got broken back it wasn’t over. But instead of focusing on the next point Roger was still regretting what happened at 40-15. This is the crucial point I want people to see.
You have to stay absolutely in the moment in tennis or you are finished. This is where Nadal is again the ultimate example. And I don’t care how much Fedfans don’t like hearing it or don’t want to admit it. It is just a fact. For all his faults, there is a reason why Nadal is as good as he is and why he owns Roger in the head-to-head. If you deny that fact you deny Roger’s greatness at the same time since Nadal owns Roger. Simple as that. So even though there were some signs in the first three round that this might happen, I thought the way Roger player in the first three rounds had nothing to do with Roger’s loss against Gulbis, but it had everything to do with Roger’s poor decision making and inability to stay in the moment. Had Roger put away that overhead down the line he would have had the first two sets in the bag, and knowing Gulbis he would have probably thrown in the towel and Roger would be in the quarter-finals after a straight sets win.
But it’s over now. Like I said there is no point in regretting and living in the past. I was hoping Roger could at least improve upon his 2013 performance or at the very least defend his quarter final points, but it wasn’t to be. It’s not the end of the world. I never thought Roger had a serious shot at the title anyway, and he came into the French Open lacking matches. At least he got four more matches and now moves on to the grass season where he may have his last realistic shot at a slam title. Everything that I suspected have been confirmed at the French Open, which was that Roger wasn’t a serious threat for the title and that he doesn’t care as much about clay as he used to. Thus I am not too disappointed. Roger still kept his slam participation streak alive and he became the first man to win at least 60 matches at every slam when he beat Schwartzman.
At this stage of his career Roger is achieving impressive records even when he does poorly by his own high standards. So in the end there are positives coming out of the French Open and I am excited about the grass court season. Another positive to come out of the French Open is that Roger will most probably be a top 4 seed for Wimbledon. I think the only scenario in which that does not happen is if Ferrer or Berdych makes the final in Paris, which is very unlikely. And even then Roger can pass them again in the warm up events on grass. So all looks good for another serious run at an eighth Wimbledon title after the disappointment of last year. From his presser it is also clear that it is all about the grass court season, so I wouldn’t worry much about what happened in Paris.
Onward and upwards!