Having watched Federer’s match yesterday, I just realized again how much of a confidence player he is. And I couldn’t help but feel a little sad when I compared him to the player he was at the Australian Open this year. Since then he has really been a shadow of the player he once was. It is just clear to me that he has become a player of extremes. He either plays incredibly well or he plays pretty darn average tennis. His very average tennis is still good enough to beat a lot of players, but compared to how well he can play, it’s a sad sight to behold. Don’t worry, I’m not making this post to quash your hopes. I’m just pointing out what his biggest obstacle is in my eyes, which is to find a way to win even if he isn’t playing on that level where he is unbeatable. This is for me his biggest challenge as he ages, because he can’t play at that unbeatable level as often as he used to.
Federer plays a very high risk game, and he needs to be confident to execute it. When he’s confidence is slightly off, it becomes very hard to play that kind of game. He basically stands on the base line and refuses to back up, which means if his timing is just a little off, he start making a huge amount of unforced errors. There isn’t much margin for error in his strokes either. It’s either very good or it’s a bit of a mess. If he’s timing is off just by the slightest degree, he’s going to make unforced errors. This has been happening a lot of late. As he ages maybe he’s footwork isn’t quite what it used to be, and he’s eye may not be as quick as it used to be either. I think this is what will make it so challenging for him to stay at the top of the game as he ages. The challenge is to become less of a black and white player.
He needs to move into a grey area where he can still win even when he is not feeling 100% confident. This is hopefully something Annacone can help him with. I’m not sure exactly how they will do this, but one way is to shorten the points, which is what he seemed to be doing against Chela. This requires him to be more attacking on the return of serve and to approach the net more in general. Somehow he must try to limit the time he spends in base line rallies, because this is where mistakes get made. I’d like to see him serve and volley more as well. I think as soon as he is content to fall back into that comfort zone at the back of the court he is in danger of losing confidence again. It’s fine and all if he does this against Chela who he is supposed to beat anyway, but the real test will come against someone like Berdych.
This is where he will really be tempted to fall back into his comfort zone like he did at Wimbledon, and if he does so he will almost certainly fail and lose more confidence. So for me this is his biggest obstacle right now. He needs to overcome his old conditioning as it were, by trying something different when the pressure is really on. I think it has become clear that this is not just a case of him needing to work hard and thereby get his confidence back somehow. This is not the first time in his career that his confidence has completely deserted him. So although working hard and persevering always helps, he also needs to work smarter and differently than before. And I believe this is what he has in mind by getting the help of Annacone. Annacone must help him to access and make better use of parts of his game that he has been neglecting.
He must become a more complete player where he doesn’t either play amazingly well or terribly. More than anything I think this will determine what kind of success he has in the future, and if he successfully become a more complete player, I think we could well see him pick up several more major titles. He must find a way to be more flexible so that on the days things are not working, that he still changes things up and finds a way to win. I have always said that Roger can make better use of his net game, which may well hold the key for him if he is to be successful in years to come. And Annacone will definitely be able to help him with that as that is pretty much what he specializes in. I’ve said before that I am not too concerned with results at this point. Roger and Annacone is now in a test phase. The most important thing for me is that I see some sort of change in Roger when he faces someone like Berdych.
The result are secondary. I believe if he experiments the results will eventually come, but he must persevere. I’m waiting in optimism.