Considering what has transpired during the last year and a half in the career of Roger Federer I thought it would be appropriate to do a post on how he turned things around. There might even be an important life lesson in this. Since the beginning of 2008 things started going south for Roger after a bout with monocluosis. It all started with a straight set loss to Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Later on in the year he got humiliated by Rafa in the final of the French Open, which I believe was a significant moment. It was a preview of what was to come at Wimbledon, Roger’s back yard at the time. Considering this it was a particularly hard loss for Roger to take, and also because it was 9-7 in the fifth set.
This basically marked the end of an era, after Roger equalled Bjorn Borg’s record of five straight Wimbledon titles.Then at the start of 2009 came the ultimate let down, where Rafa beat Roger in another tough five setter in the final of the Australian Open. This loss hurt Roger even more then the Wimbledon loss. He had everything on his side. He had recovered from the bout of monocluosis and had work his way back to confidence with a win at the 2008 US Open. He faced a Rafa that played a marathon semi-final match the day before, whereas he had a day off before the final. And as if that wasn’t enough the match was played on hard court, surely the one surface where he still held an edge over his main rival.
Yet Rafa came out and played an inspired match, and when Roger had chances to finish him off he hesitated. The match was on Roger’s racquet that day yet he let it slip, and the disappointment was evident in the prize giving ceremony. Roger could not fight off the tears. He was overwhelmed by emotion and understandably so. His nemisis had officially ended his unequalled domination of the men’s game and it was the end of an era. And the reason it hurt so much was not because he lost, but because he faltered when the moment of truth came and he let himself down. Now the mouths started talking and the media was having a field day. Was Roger Federer after all not the tennis god he was made out to be? Did he play in a weak era and was all this GOAT talk premature?
It seemed that Roger was simply too mentally fragile and that he would be overshadowed from that moment on by his arch rival’s superior mental strength. It was no surprise when Roger took a six week break after the Australian Open to try and pick up the pieces. The loss at the Australian Open deeply wounded the Swiss and getting away from the game was the only option. Upon his return in Indian Wells things didn’t exactly improve for Roger, he lost to another player who now seemed to have the mental edge over him as well in Andy Murray. And as if that wasn’t enough he lost to the player that started this whole decline business in 2008, Djokovic, in the following event in Miami. But now there was a pattern emerging.
Roger started off his matches in the normal fashion, dominating with masterful shot making. But in the second set he would inexplicably started spraying unforced errors all over the place. So it was no surprise when after another routine forehand into the net against Djokovic that he lost it and smashed his racquet into pieces on the hard court. Things had been building up for a while and the time had come to release some of the pressure. It seemed like Roger’s devastating losses had deeply hurt his mind and his confidence and the wheels were coming off. Was this ever going to stop? It didn’t look like it. Going into the clay court season Roger lost at the Monte Carlo event to countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in only his second match.
It was still early days though and Roger had gotten married the week before. So what he did was go to Italy and started training harder then he maybe ever did to get ready for the upcoming event in Rome. It seemed to have paid off as he got all the way to the semi-finals where he would once again face that annoying nuisance Djokovic. Surely this time he was going to have his revenge. And it looked like he would, he was cruising to a straight set victory. But there it was again, those demons that had been surfacing all too often of late. Another inexplicable collapse followed and things were looking very hopeless indeed. Djokovic looked to have joined Rafa and Murray as bogey players for Roger, was this ever going to stop?
Not likely, or so it appeared. Roger had other plans. He kept insisting in the media that he was gaining in confidence and that he was having a better season then last year. He even went as far as suggesting that he wanted to win the French Open. This made some people wonder if Roger was now completely losing the plot. Yet Roger went back to the practice court after Rome and kept working as hard as he ever did. Going into the Madrid event he needed nothing less then a win to back up the confidence that he showed off the court. Very few people believed he could do it, and who could blame them? In the quarter finals against Andy Roddick Roger was after all not looking impressive in any sense of the word.
Roddick is not exactly known for his exploits on the red dirt to say the least. Yet Roger managed to lose a set to him. But if no one else was going to believe in Roger then he would believe in himself. In the quarter finals against Juan-Martin Del Potro Roger played with a certain confidence that we haven’t seen from him of late, suggesting that he may indeed have an outside change at winning the title. But no one expected him to win it in the fashion that he did. Rafa had a tough match against Djokjovic in the semi-finals but after what transpired at the Australian Open that was never going to be an issue, and for Roger to have bought into it would have been fatal. Yet he was not going to be deterred from announcing his return to the top of the tennis world.
From the start of the match where he made Rafa wait for him to the end where he fought the demons that has been plaguing him of late he played the peRFect match. He looked in complete control throughout the match, in stark contrast to what he have been seeing from him of late. To win in such a convincing manner against the player who is responsible for Roger’s problems of late is a clear sign to me that Roger has made a turning point and that he is on his way up again. This is not some one off lucky match. I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a revival from Roger in the coming weeks and months, and possibly even to the top spot in the rankings. By revival I mean being able to beat his main rivals and winning grand slams.
So, to sum up. How did Roger get his groove back?
- Preparation and belief. When the whole world was suggesting that Roger was declining and speculating about retirement Roger did the one thing that brought him success in the past, hard work and a positive attitude. He kept insisting that he was improving and not declining. The noise on the outside didn’t matter, the belief on the inside was what mattered.
- Willingness to face his personal demons. When the moment of truth arrived at 5-4 and 15-40 when serving for the match all the devastating losses and mental anguish of the last year and a half must have came rushing back. He didn’t go into the final expecting to lose, he expected to win and was prepared to face up to past hurts.
- The genius factor. This is what gives Roger the edge over his opponents, even over Rafa. When the preparation is done and the willingness to face his demons is there the genius factor will make the difference in the end. Roger had to trust it would be enough against Rafa, even though in the past it wasn’t.