Federer Doesn’t Get the Credit He Deserves

Greetings. I didn’t forget about tennis now that Wimbledon is over. Did you? I was once again reminded during Wimbledon how Federer either gets too little praise or too much praise. I thought it would make for a very interesting topic to write about.

This is nothing new of course. For a long time, Federer has been viewed as some kind of tennis deity. He has amassed a cult-like following in whose eyes he can’t do anything wrong. And yet, this same cult-like following won’t give him the credit he deserves when he doesn’t live up to their hopes and expectations.

This just happened again at Wimbledon where Federer almost made the final after hardly playing any matches since the Australian Open this year and coming into Wimbledon undercooked.

I was once again astonished by his level of tennis after all that time out like match fitness hardly affects him. He had no right to defeat a rampant Cilic but came back from two sets to love and three match points down to do it.

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In the semis, he was on top of Raonic too before what I thought was mental fatigue set in and he had a mental collapse in the fourth set. And that is completely understandable after a lack of match practice and the effort it took to overcome Cilic.

You don’t even have to bring age into this. Given the fact that Federer was out after the Australian Open until the grass court season he had an amazing run at Wimbledon. Nothing less.

He wasn’t far off from winning the title but in hindsight, that was simply unrealistic.

  • It Is Not the First Time This Happened

I don’t think Federer ever really got the credit he deserved for the level of tennis he displayed since the beginning of 2014. And the only reason for that is the fact that he didn’t win the 18th slam which had become an obsession with his fans.

If he won only one of those three slam finals against Djokovic you would have never heard the end of his miraculous comeback. Federer never really got the credit he deserves for adapting his game to make up for his diminishing movement and fitness.

He is an extremely versatile and flexible player. With a change of equipment and coaching staff at the beginning of 2014, he improved his serve, backhand, and volleys to shorten points and make up for his loss of speed and fitness.

He needed some time to adapt his game but already in 2014 his results started improving drastically from 2013. It was only in 2015 that his new playing style started to really click. The match against Murray in the semis of Wimbledon was some of the best grass court tennis he ever played.

He was on fire throughout the championships destroying everyone in straight sets but big-serving Groth who he lost one set to in a tiebreak. During the US hardcourt swing, he was at it again not dropping serve once during his title run in Cincinnati and only dropping it once in his run to the final of the US Open.

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He was even more destructive in his US Open run than at Wimbledon not dropping a set until the final and only entering two tiebreaks against big-serving Isner. In Federer’s peak year, 2006, he wasn’t even able to do that when he dropped a set against Blake in the quarters.

In fact, 2015 was the only time out of his seven runs to the US Open final that Federer did not drop a set before the final. Let that sink in for a while. Federer’s level of tennis at the US Open last year may be the highest level of tennis he ever reached.

I’m not saying that to make Djokovic’s win look more impressive. I think it is impressive enough as it is with the drunken and fanatical crowd that was against him. But you can’t deny the numbers.

That was the most dominant Federer has ever been in the run-up to a US Open final dropping serve only once and not losing a set. In fact, it may have been the most dominant run-up to any slam final he ever made.

I want people to recognize that and give Federer the credit he deserves.

  • Getting Too Much Credit Cost Federer Several Slam Titles

Like I said at the beginning, Federer either gets too little credit or too much. There doesn’t seem to be an objective middle ground with him. Just as Federer has not gotten the credit he deserves for reinventing himself, he also gets too much credit when he lets himself down mentally.

Because he was praised so often and praised as some kind of tennis deity it eventually went to his head and he became stubborn when players started exploiting his weaknesses. Nadal was the first to do it.

Federer’s arrogance and stubbornness became so strong that at the French Open he believed the appropriate game plan against Nadal was to hit him off the court from the baseline. Of course, that was never going to work and eventually Nadal started beating him on faster surface slams too.

Federer was always praised for his greatness and hardly ever criticized(except by me when this was still a Federer blog) which caused him to become ‘soft’. When he started losing to the likes of Nadal and Djokovic he was too stubborn to adjust.

It took him a long time(2010-2014) to realize that he may have to adjust his game, by which time it was too late because Djokovic had transformed into a monster. If Federer had adjusted earlier he would have won many more slams including some of the slam finals he lost.

One of the most astonishing slam final losses for Federer was the 2009 Australian Open final where Federer had six break points in the third set to effectively put Nadal away but he failed on all of them and the rest is history.

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Federer should also have put Del Potro away in the 2009 US Open final when he was serving for the second set to go two sets to love up. In the 2011 French Open final Federer blew a 5-2 lead in the opening set to lose it 5-7.

In the second set, he broke Nadal back after being broken early on only to lose the set in the tiebreaker. He ended with break point conversion rate of 5/15. And let’s not forget the slam finals against Djokovic where he had his chances as well.

In the 2014 Wimbledon final, Federer missed a costly overhead in the fifth set after a heroic comeback in the fourth set. In the final of 2015, he was pretty much outplayed but who knows what could have happened if he held onto the break he got in the first set.

In the 2015 US Open final Federer had a shocking break point conversion rate of 4/23 with a rampant and drunk New York crowd behind him. If that was not choking I don’t know what is.

The point I’m making is that Federer gets too much credit when he is upheld as some kind of tennis deity because he comes up short in the mental department time and time again and has a terrible break point conversion rate.

  • Djokovic Is Not Cursed With the Same Problems as Federer

In tennis and in life, it is not so much talent but hard work, a constant drive to improve, and the ability to stay humble which results in success. Federer was blessed with immense talent but it came at a price.

He was almost too talented and it caused him to become complacent which is a recipe for disaster in professional tennis. Djokovic doesn’t have that problem. He is talented but doesn’t have unlimited talent like Federer.

He also has a very different background from Federer which allows him to appreciate things more and not to become complacent. Moreover, Djokovic leaves no stone unturned. He is always looking for ways to improve.

He is hungry and humble. You can see it in the way he takes losses. He is known for being one of the best losers on the tour if not the best. Even in that US Open loss where he was abused by the crowd, he praised their favorite Federer afterward.

I happen to think Djokovic has everything it takes to become the greatest tennis player of the modern era. Sure Federer is great to watch and hits entertaining shots but, in the final analysis, it is not talent or great shots that make a player the greatest.

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It is the effectiveness of their game, the amount of winning they do, and the numbers they rack up. Mental strength is the most important thing in tennis and in life. Not talent. Talent means nothing without work and constant improvement.

Talent fails all the time. Hard work and persistence never fail. Djokovic may be pushing 30 but he is not in any danger of becoming complacent because he is immensely driven and is still seen by many as the villain.

He doesn’t have that cult-like following of Federer which will give him an inflated sense of self and besides he comes from too tough a background for that to happen. Nadal also had the right work ethic but he has too little talent.

Djokovic has found the right balance between Federer and Nadal with enough talent and hunger to improve to become the greatest. It is too late for either Federer or Nadal to become the undisputed modern era GOAT of tennis.

Djokovic can do it.

  • In Conclusion

Federer either gets too much or too little credit. He deserves better but that is just the kind of society we live in. We are a society who worship idols and celebrities and we believe the hype. Federer would have been better off if he wasn’t idolized so much.

That said, he is still playing at a very high level given that he was injured for a large part of the year. The Wimbledon loss to Raonic seemed to be tough on him though and it is hard seeing him winning #18 from here on.

He has had many tough losses since reinventing himself and he may just be getting tired of it. His mind may want to carry on but his body may not want to. I hear he is currently in good health at least and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from the latest loss.

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Ru-an. I agree w you. I really think the beginning of the end for Roger was way back when he showed up for the Wimbledon Final in that ridiculous white suite with a vest and gold bag. To me he jumped the shark and was promenading rather than there for battle and that paved the way for true warriors like Rafa and Novak to take advantage of Roger’s softness and blooming ego. That said I have thoroughly and completely enjoyed his tennis for a good 15 years and continue to be amazed at what he’s still capable of at this age. I also think it’s VERY unlikely that he will win another slam but the reality in tennis is that if he can get to the semis, which he still does regularly, ANYTHING can happen in two matches when one possess his extraordinary talent. We’ll see but I’m happy to watch him try as long as he’s willing to go for it. Congrats to Murray who was by far the best player of the tournament and deserved the trophy. Novak is still just getting started. Gonna be a fun summer.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Hey, Eric! How are you? That is a very good observation you make. That jacket was a sign that he was beginning to take himself too seriously. But I’m totally with you about enjoying his tennis. It was a fantastic run and it still amazes me how little he has declined. And you are right about getting to the semis and winning a slam. The only thing I’m wondering about is his health which seems to be deteriorating. And, of course, Djokovic who Federer haven’t beaten in a slam for some time. It is not out of the question but seems more unlikely after this Wimbledon.

    How’s the writing going?

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    Eric Reply:

    Can’t imagine Fed wins one and if he does it’s not gonna be through Novak, after getting through a tough semi opponent. Would require a golden opportunity like he just had AND an inspired push, but hey, that would be incredible to see. Not holding my breath. The writing is extremely complicated. The notes from the studio are confusing and very very slow, so what should have taken six months has now taken over a year and a half and is exhausting. On the positive side, the same studio is now doing a second project with us and another producer is interested in another project. So… As tough as this is, we’re doing a good job and creating more opportunities. Because I am such a tennis nut like you I cannot help but think of it like a player who is now finally repeatedly going deeper and knocking on the door. If I can keep putting myself in that position and working hard, it’s gotta pay off at some point.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    That’s a great way of seeing it, man. Just keep the faith and you must succeed. You are one of the few real tennis fans too who can appreciate Federer and Djokovic. To me, that is already success 👍

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  2. One of the problems I find with your writing is that you claim that it’s only Djokovic that works hard.

    You need to do a bit more research on Federer rather than just go by tweets from his “cult-like” ungrateful bunch of drunk supporters, as you describe them.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I never said only Djokovic works hard. That is something you yourself made up.

    That is not the way I described Federer’s supporters either. It’s the way I described the US Open crowd without the ungrateful part. And I didn’t make that up. There was a long rain delay during which the people got drunk before the match. People who were there said it and you could see it from the way the crowd acted.

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  3. Basia, there is ample proof that Novak is one of the hardest workers in tennis.Ernests Gulbis attested to this fact in an interview and said that if he would have worked as hard he might have been #1 also. His first coach Jelena Gencic also said he was so focused, hard working and no nonsense at the age of 7 as well as all the coaches he has had. Let’s face it he had to work harder. He didn’t have the sponsors coming from a poor war ravaged country, he didn’t play in good facilities and had to miss many challenger events because his parents couldn’t pay the entrance fees. Funny, I don’t troll Federer articles or his pages but there is always a FEDFAN ready to mix it up on anything about Nole, especially if he should get some praise, besides isn’t it Fedfans who say that Federer is such a talent that tennis is effortless for him? If you would put down your glass, you would see the compliment that Ru -an has paid the man, but your are too preoccupied with the credit that he may have paid Djokovic! Ru-an -1, Basia- 0

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well said, Santorini. Basia just proved my thesis. He didn’t see the credit I gave Federer and only focused on the criticism. It is exactly because of this attitude that Federer underachieved.

    As for Novak, this is what Gulbis said about him:

    “He was really professional already at that time,” said Gulbis. “’I remember we had a friend, a Croatian guy, who was all about the girls at that age already. He was dressing up. He was looking good, putting on perfume, sunglasses, going to talk to the girls. I see Novak, he’s going to stretch. And Novak told me that ‘yeah, you can have anybody, you can have all the girls in the world. But to be really successful in tennis, you need to [be professional]. I remember it still. That’s a kid who is 15 years old. I didn’t forget. But I didn’t listen.”

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  4. Hi Ruan, I don’t think I ever told you, I got to see Novak play Kei in the Miami final, with my son. What a treat. Pretty sure you know that Federer has given me emotional highs, and some deep blows over the years, especially with Nadal around. That being said, he is my favorite player, and I do see what you say about the cult like following. It’s odd to me, but maybe, cause I’m a bit older, I just don’t get too emotionally involved to where my life centers around a millionaire winning or losing a tennis match. I just enjoy the mans style and it’s a treat to see his immense talent on display. His loss to Raonic didn’t makes sense to me. It was on his racket IMHO. Well, Federer sure seems like a good guy, as well as the Joker. Not here as much as I used to be, but I still check in from time to time.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Cool, Gary. I can see you are not the fanatical type. That’s better than I used to do. Federer’s losses were affecting me too much which is why I needed to get away. I get more enjoyment out of being Nole fan. I used to be too attached to Federer’s results. I needed to support the underdog again. That’s cool that you got to watch the Miami final. Wouldn’t have minded being in your place!

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  5. Hi Ru-an, as usual an excellent post.
    As you know already I’m a fanatical Nole fan and sometimes I wish I’d have eyes to also enjoy other players the same way I enjoy watching Nole. Having said that, there is no denying that Fed has all the talent in the world, he is, statically speaking, flawless and beautiful to watch. No wonder some fans compare his tennis to a ballet dance. It’s a pity that these same fans have pushed his human normal status to that of a deity, a tennis god, and therefore ruining the man himself. If you think it was his arrogance, his stubbornness, his unwillingness to adapt and change and win more slams, then this is a lesson to us all.
    He may have been very close to winning that elusive 18th slam last year, now it seems like a bridge too far.
    However, with 17 slams, he or his fans have absolutely nothing to regret. Neither should they take if for granted, but maybe learn to appreciate it instead (especially the fans) as it’s in no way guaranteed that Nole will ever get there or even close enough to threaten it. Rafa was supposed to have reached that number already and even passed it by now, instead he hit a road block.
    As the popular saying goes “Noting in life is certain but death and taxes”. ;-)

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Thank you, Marta. Yes, 17 slams are nothing to regret. 16 and 17 were already bonuses in a way. Even 14 and 15 was you could argue after they started writing Federer off in 2008-09. But it is easy to become greedy and obsessed which is one of the reasons I shifted my allegiance.

    I didn’t like that whole cult worship thing. Then it is not about tennis anymore but a person. And yes it is not certain Djokovic will reach it. As for Nadal, there was a time where I thought for sure he would surpass Federer but that was probably my Fedfan bias.

    My more rational mind always had that number 14 in mind for Nadal because he reminded me so much of Sampras in terms of mental strength and the one-dimensional nature of his game. Djokovic is clearly more complete which is why I think he already surpassed Nadal but will win more slams too.

    Moreover, Djokovic was not an early bloomer like Nadal. He took quite a long time to mature. He is lighter and less injury prone than Nadal. He can shorten points better than Nadal with his serve, returns, and volleys. He is a better offensive player and has already adjusted his game a lot from 2011.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he catches up with Federer but like you say nothing is certain but death and taxes.

    [Reply]

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