Howdy friends. The tennis season is over aside from the Davis Cup final which is being played right now, but as far as Roger goes it is over anyway. Roger’s schedule for 2014 is not out yet but we know he will play in Brisbane which starts on December 30. He will also be playing a charity match with Tsonga in Melbourne just before the Australian Open. As we all know 2013 has not been the greatest of years for Roger, even though it started out well and didn’t end too badly. Roger said at the beginning of the season that 2013 would be a transitional year, where things will slow down for him a bit after that amazing 2012 season where he won his 17th major and reclaimed the #1 ranking at age 30 to pass Sampras’ record amount of weeks in the top spot. It was a monumental year in which Roger also captured his 7th Wimbledon title to equal Sampras.
Of course we hoped that form would last into 2013 but back injury aside, I think it was always gonna be a tough ask to keep it up. Djokovic had already taken the #1 ranking back from Roger during the end of 2012, but little did we expect that 4 more players would pass Roger in the rankings during 2013. Given the kind of year Roger had you’re almost surprised he didn’t slip further down the rankings, but no doubt his semi-revival during the indoor season helped in that regard. The year started out well enough with Roger making semis in Australia and playing some brilliant tennis in the process. You may remember that I was quite excited back then, and that I felt Roger could not have done any better given the slowish conditions and the fact that it suits the likes of Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal much better than it does him.
The surface is really tailor made for their incredible defensive base line games. This has been evident for some time now, because Roger has won in Melbourne only once out of the last 6 years. He has lost to Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray respectively in the last 3 years. Their defensive base line games and two-handed backhands proved to be too much to cope with even for someone with the attacking capabilities of Roger. As if these guys’ defensive games aren’t good enough, the courts provide no assistance for Roger to hit through their rock solid defenses. He is forced to engage in longer base line rallies than he likes which causes his backhand to break down. Given all this I’m surprised he was even able to take Murray to 5 sets. He only did it with a psyche job however, because he was otherwise losing the 4th set.
I think anyone who thinks Roger can still win the Australian Open is a little delusional. In 2014 the final is likely to be contested between Djokovic and Nadal again. Probably Murray would not quite be back to top form yet. I don’t see how Roger could beat either Nadal or Djokovic in Melbourne anyway. It will be hard enough for him to beat the likes of Del Potro, Berdych, and Tsonga. And then there is the young crowd like Raonic, Janowicz, and Nishikori coming through as well. It certainly isn’t getting any easier. That’s why I said quarters would be a good result. But back to this side of 2014. The falloff from Roger’s form in Melbourne was dramatic and drastic. It was like he became a different player overnight. First the loss to Benneteau in Rotterdam, then Berdych in Dubai, and then Nadal in Indian Wells.
It was clear that something was wrong, although at that time I could not figure it out. Later it came out that Roger’s back problem had flared up again, and I suppose with all the effort that went into the Australian Open that wasn’t all too surprising. Probably all the tennis in 2012 also caught up with his back. This back problem stayed with him throughout the year until Cincinnati where I think it started to improve. The clay season was disappointing with losses to Nishikori in Madrid and Tsonga at the French. And even though he made the final in Rome he was destroyed by Nadal and looked disinterested in that match. With Roger it’s tricky to know what’s going on because he keeps things to himself. He doesn’t like using excuses like someone else we know. It was only until after Gstaad where Roger reached the lowest point where we really found out what has been going on.
As a Fedfan you are often left in the dark about these things, but I prefer that to being a fan of someone who is constantly whining like a baby about his injuries, yet despite it wins 10/13 events that includes two slams and getting back to #1 in the world after a 7 month break. After the clay court season it was the grass court season and as always new hope came with it. Roger won his first and only title of the year in Halle. It looked like he was back on the winning path and I had a lot of hope for Wimbledon. I didn’t think he would win it, but I thought he could make at least semis or better. Being drawn in the same quarter as Nadal was a setback, but then Nadal was inexplicably straight setted by an injured Darcis in the 1st round. Roger’s draw had opened up but he couldn’t capitalize, losing in 4 sets to a rampant Stakhovsky in the 2nd round.
It marked the end of Roger’s incredible 36 straight quarter finals at slams streak. It was another bitter disappointment, but things had not yet reached its lowest point. There was more to come. Of course a 2nd round loss at Wimbledon was highly disappointing, but I figured the streak had to end at some point. Stakhovsky was after all playing out of his mind, while Roger just lacked a certain competitive edge. With the lack of tennis Roger played it wasn’t all that big a surprise when Roger decided to add some events to his schedule. It was however surprising that it was clay events in Hamburg and Gstaad. At this point Roger also decided to try out a new racquet, just after I had made a post suggesting he should do so. Great minds think alike they say. It didn’t turn out to be a very successful experiment though, but not because of the racquet.
Roger’s back became a problem again as he lost to Del Bonis in the semis of Hamburg and Brands in his first match at Gstaad. Now things were at the lowest point possible. I mean Stakhovsky, Del Bonis, Brands? What the hell is this! Things could only go one way from here, and that was upwards. Roger’s next tournament was in Cincy after he decided to skip Montreal and let his back rest. In Cincy he finally started showing signs of life again when he beat Kohschreiber and Haas, and then lost in a close 3-setter to Nadal after winning the 1st set. It was a drastic improvement from what transpired in Gstaad. Things were finally starting to look up again. Unfortunately Roger then drew Nadal again in the quarters of the US Open. And this time there would be no early exit from Nadal. Nadal was already waiting in the quarter finals when Roger stepped on the court for his 4th round match with Robredo.
Up until that point Roger had looked to be in superb form, routining his first three opponents in straight sets. So it was very strange to say the least when he ended up getting routined himself by Robredo of all people. Overnight his confidence had vanished into thin air. On every important point he choked like the biggest choker in the history of the sport. I mean he wasn’t even playing badly. It was just that whenever an important point came up he couldn’t make the most regulation of shots. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic. There is no doubt that the upcoming meeting with Nadal was weighing heavily on his mind. Even the knowledge that he has to play Nadal is now enough to psyche him out completely. That is the extent of the damage Nadal have inflicted on the Federer psyche over the years. Another loss to Nadal at the only slam they haven’t played at yet was too much for Roger to bare.
It was a subconscious tank. Nothing more and nothing less. It was another disappointing and confidence sapping loss, but better than getting destroyed by Nadal in the last remaining slam. On to Shanghai and Roger suffered another disappointing loss in the 3rd round to Monfils. To me it was disappointing because Roger looked in good spirits in the doubles with local hero Zhang and did good to beat Seppi in straight sets in his first match. Monfils is also a notorious mental case despite his unreal talent. In the final set it looked like he was trying to throw away another match but Roger failed to capitalize, which frustrated me. But Monfils did serve awfully well, serving an unreturnable serve just about every time Roger had a break chance. It was like clockwork. Also Monfils went on to play a very decent match against Djokovic in the next round, which made me feel slightly better about Roger’s loss.
Either way things had reached a point where something had to change. It was one bad loss after the other which seemed to be a never ending road to nowhere. I had a feeling Roger needed to revive his game in the indoor season or this would continue indefinitely and 2014 would be lost too. It was just a hunch I had. At this point he wasn’t even sure of qualifying for the Masters Cup, something that haven’t happened in more than 10 years. I felt he had to at least find a certain amount of confidence to give me hope that he could still have another good year in 2014, and his favorite indoor season was ideal for doing just that. It was now or never. He had to qualify for London and he had to make semis there at least. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Things went well enough in Basel where he lost to Del Potro in the final.
It was the same result as 2012 and given the rest of 2013 it was a good result. Roger had not yet technically qualified for London though. He still had to win his 1st match in Paris against Anderson, which he did. He then beat Kohlschreiber and would play Del Potro again in the quarters. It was time for revenge, which Roger got. It was only his second win over a top 10 player for the year, which tells you a lot about the kind of year he had. Things were looking considerably brighter though. I felt in a sense that Roger was back, but I still wanted him to qualify for the Masters Cup semis. In the Paris semis he would face Djokovic which would give him a good chance to gauge his form against the best. He started well while an intimidated-looking Djokovic dropped the 1st set. Djokovic soon got his act together then while Roger began looking flat, conceding the next two sets.
Onto London where Roger would play Djokovic in a second consecutive match, one that he lost again in 3 sets. I felt given how ridiculously slow the indoor courts in London had become, Roger did better against Djokovic than in Paris. He also did well to straight set Gasquet in his next match even though the level of tennis was nothing to write home about. It was all down to the match with Del Potro to decide who would qualify for the semis. This was the big test as far as I was concerned. OK maybe not the end of the world if he lost it, but still a very important match to win I felt. Roger was under the gun right from the outset, getting broken twice in the 1st set. But he kept clawing his way back like he was playing for his life. Even being a break down in the 2nd and 3rd sets was not gonna let this one get away from him.
He finally broke Del Potro at the late stage of 5-5 in the 3rd set and held serve for an epic win. It was as courageous(and dramatic) a match as I’ve ever seen him play. He showed the kind of determination and passion that had been missing for most of 2013. Thus I found it to be a very satisfying win. Roger had proven to me that he still wanted it as much as ever and that he could produce under pressure. It didn’t really matter to me how he got it done. It was more about an attitude than anything. After all the tough losses in 2013 where Roger often didn’t look very motivated I had started to doubt his attitude. Was his heart really still in it, or was he going through the motions? Well the match with Del Potro answered that question for me. I don’t doubt Roger anymore. I believe 2014 will be another successful year…
Yes, there were highlights: