Federer’s Biggest Obstacle

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.

Roger Federer

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  1. Great post, Ru-an! I’m excited to see how Roger plays at the US Open. It seems like so long since we’ve gotten to see him play! Here’s hoping he can be humble (as far as his playing style goes) and change his game for the better! Who wouldn’t want to see Roger change his game up and start dominating people with a whole different style than before? That’d be awesome! =D


  2. Thank you RU-AN, always get excited when you show up on my email. You did a good job of assessing Rogers game. Looking forward to seeing him play great again.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Susan :-)


  3. Most guys like Gulbis and Gasquet, who have loads of raw talent and a complete arsenal of shots, usually end up as mentally weak headcases who melt down easily.

    When they have to hit a shot they have too many options and they can’t decide which to use, and they make mistakes.

    Federer is exceptional in that he learned to manage his gifts. When he was young he went for trick shots and brilliant winners all the time. He lost against more consistent players because he could not sustain that level and he made errors.

    He learned discipline and how to play the percentages. He played a lot more conservatively, from the baseline. And I think he felt he had to play that way, because he feared that if he deviated too much from his game plan, he would regress to his youthful mentality, start making errors, and lose.

    Now at the moment he’s almost a prisoner of his own discipline, because he can no longer move fast enough or hit hard enough to beat everyone with that game.

    In his recent losses it seemed like his thinking on court was very muddled. He couldn’t decide whether to hit with the guy or try something else.

    He will have to learn how to play more freely and use more of those riskier shots he chose not to use earlier, and become more comfortable with improvising and experimenting on-court. Of course Annacone will be of great help in that department.

    His years of experience should help him, because he understands the game so well now he should be more confident with creating new patterns of play and mixing up his game even more than before.

    I remain firmly convinced that the second coming of Federer will surpass the first, not necessarily in titles won but in the quality of the tennis.

    Go Roger! Show us the true all-court style that only you can master!


  4. Federer’s fine. He’s not going to be playing flawless tennis first match back after a long break. Once he strings some matches together, he’ll get back into the groove. This season has been bitty, but I fully expect Federer to regain his best going forward, health permitting.

    The thing about tennis is if you lose, there is no opportunity to redeem yourself in a tournament, even if you are on the verge of finding your best form. That has happened to Federer a few times this season in close matches. He’s been nipped at the bud and has struggled to develop momentum. Once he gets some momentum, I’d be looking at it to snowball.

    I would not class Federer as a high risk player. He does not play with the huge margin for error Nadal does, but that’s because he can and chooses to play more aggressively. Federer has very good control on his ground strokes when required, but as he said in his interview, he prefers to play aggressively and not wait for the errors of his opponents. This approach has served him well.

    I don’t think Federer fans have to worry about him. You don’t become GOAT and then evaporate when you are still as fit and motivated as he is. There will be plenty more big wins for him in the future, provided he is healthy.


  5. Hi Ru-an, just to let you know am still eager to read your analysis plus all the comments made by your and Roger fans. Great reading from all. I panic when you don’t come through, but appreciate your e-mails now. Thanks a bunch. Kindly, your old tennis fan, Dolores


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