Indian Wells SF: Djokovic def Federer 6-3, 3-6, 6-2

I know this isn’t the result you wanted but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I thought Roger played well all week and that he would give a better account of himself than in Dubai, and that is what he did. I thought he came out looking to take the ball early and impose his game on Djokovic. That is after all how he beat Djokovic in the past. That is how he did it in Shanghai, Basel, and the Masters Cup, but those three wins have now been erased by Djokovic’s last three wins over Roger. Since the Davis Cup last year Djokovic has been the in form player on tour and hasn’t lost a match since then. We may as well call him JesusNole now. He is just basically untouchable in this form. I thought Roger did very well to win a set. I mean he played good tennis. Djokovic won the first set with two breaks and Roger repeated that feat when he did the same in the second set.

There was everything to play for but somehow I felt it is still a very tall order. The turning point came in the fifth game of the third set when Roger had just broken Djokovic back. All of a sudden there was new hope. Roger went up 40-15 in a game where he had to consolidate, but after that had a mini collapse and lost serve. The commentator said he finds this an inexplicable collapse from Roger but I knew it was pressure. Even though he was in a good position you have to look at the context of the match. Holding serve would only have put him on an even keel and Djokovic was pressuring him all match long. He just couldn’t keep up the high of the second set. Djokovic could keep his high level for two sets while Roger could only do it for one set. That was the difference. So even though there was a turning point I felt this result was never in doubt.

The main difference is in Djokovic’s incredible defense and solidity from the backhand side. Roger’s one hander just doesn’t have the same consistency and it puts him under pressure. Djokovic’s defensive abilities on the backhand side is also amazing. You think you have control of the point but he makes a great return which puts him right back in the point. All of this creates pressure. He is just very solid in his strokes and his movement. Roger tried his best to punch holes in Djokovic’s defense but it was just too solid. He managed to do it for a while in the second set, but like I said he couldn’t keep up that high level. You could argue Roger would have won the match had he held serve at 2-2 in the third, but he still would have had to keep up a very high level to win the match. It’s all history now anyway.

Djokovic is now number two in the rankings. In the other semi-final Nadal beat Del Potro 6-4, 6-4 after being down a break early in the first set. Del Potro has been struggling with his first serve all week and his overall game seems to me like a shadow of his best. He is not quite back yet but he is getting close. Nadal and Djokovic will now play for the first time since Djokovic has gone on his hot run. I think Djokovic has a good chance to win this. I’d be surprised if Nadal fares much better than Roger did against this Djokovic. We gotta look at the positives and that is that Roger played much better than he did in Dubai. The sad thing is that at a good level he can’t defeat Djokovic, but I still believe that slower conditions suits Djokovic. We will have to see but maybe Djokovic won’t stay in this kind of form forever either.

The three defeats in a row to Djokovic doesn’t look good but at least there is now some kind of hope that Roger may beat him again in the future. Roger won his doubles match with Stan yesterday and I wrongly said that it was the final. The final will be today however against Dolgopolov and Malisse. At least Roger will get the opportunity to win the doubles title and end the event on a high. Overall I feel pretty pleased with Roger’s form during this event. Djokovic is on a hot run and this is just the way these things go. We can’t expect Roger to win every tournament he plays anymore, especially not against the level of Djokovic. Lets hope this is the beginning of something really good. Who knows, he could just carry this form into Miami and do one or two better than he did in Indian Wells. Onwards and upwards.

Roger Federer


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63 Comments

  1. “… this is just the way these things go.”

    Apt way to put it. On hardcourts, Djokovic is at the age and stage of Fed 2004, and we know what Fed did/has done in that glorious stretch of 2004-2007. Djokovic may not be able to duplicate that Fed record — I don’t think anyone can, to be honest — but he has emerged as the man to beat on concrete.

    It pains me as a fan to see those losses and the changing — slow and graceful, I’d argue in Fed’s case — of skill, motivation and career trajectories with the passage of time. But I just take comfort in the fact that though Fed may no longer be the man of 204-2007, when he’s on, there is no one better of conjuring up magic. And I, for one, will continue to be there to await and see the magic when it happens.

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  2. Yep, Ruan, you were right, and that’s because you based your assessment on current form rather than consulting a horoscope, which is what some predictions here of a Fed win were apparently based on. I think you are also right about the relentless pressure that great defensive players like Djokovic place on Federer; Roger can’t sustain his attacking consistency as he used to and is also getting overwhelmed on the backhand side.

    I must say that Djokovic’s game increasingly resembles the Nadal game, albeit with more technical flair. It is a little surprising to me that Djokovic has reached a level in recent months that he didn’t hint at over the last few years, when he was a very solid 3 or 4 in the rankings, and that it has all come at rush since the beginning of the year. It’s hard to believe he was crushed by Federer as recently as December last year at the WTF. He credits his “doctor”, among others. Yep, him and Nadal both – they are not only coming to resemble one another on court but the formula for success for both seems to owe quite a lot to medical advances, whether it’s PRP for bad “knees” or cures for “respiratory” problems. Either way, it’s too much these days for Federer’s apparently more human game. The way things are going, the changing of the guard is likely to see Nole as the new No.1, sooner or later, and I will stick my neck out and say his first step after attaining the No.2 ranking will be to beat the current No.1 in the final.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    You always humor me with your accusations Neil. Cheers ;-)

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  3. ruan
    great blog
    which scenario will be better for roger with respect to ranking points rafa winning or djokovic winning

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Im not sure it makes much of a difference irock. I forgot what Djokovic’s result was last year but probably something like semis. I guess if Djokovic wins it will help Roger in respect to chase down Nadal, but that maybe make it difficult for him to overtake Djokovic again.

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    Nelson Goodman Reply:

    Thinks it’s definitely better for Fed in the points race if Nole wins. Closing the gap with Rafa is what matters. He’ll get ahead of Nole again soon enough. Likely right before Wimby.

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    IROCK Reply:

    i think djokovic lost in quarters to ljublic last year
    even if nadal loses he is still going to gain some points

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  4. Nelson, I think you are waiting for a train that isn’t going to come.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well Roger could have a good grass and clay season. He has been very consistent of late and he has a lot of points to gain.

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    Nelson Goodman Reply:

    You might be right, Neil, but just to be sure we’re not unduly swayed by the latest negative thing to happen, consider the following regarding Fed’s record since Wimby:

    12 tournaments
    Semis: all 12
    Finals: 8
    Won: 5 (Cincy, Stockholm, Basel, ATP London, Doha)
    Record against fellow Top-5: 9-5 (4-3 against Djokovic; 1-2 against Murray; 3-0 against Soderling; 1-0 against Nad

    So, to paraphrase what I said in response to Andrew’s comment regarding today, made in the previous post: Cheer up! I think this was actually pretty positive all-round. The key was that Fed showed that he can still hang with and take out Nole. And I suspect once he showed that there was a little less motivation to actually finish the job and win, for three reasons:
    – keep fuel in the tank for the long haul; the aim is to peak for FO and Wimby, unlike what happened with AO where he peaked the week before in Doha (of course, that might’ve been unavoidable given the need to reassert himself and get going on points with his post-USO tear);
    – no worries if, like in the old days, Nole (and back then, also Murray) get Nole get a little over-confident with wins b/t slams;
    – let’s see how Nole and Rafa match up at this stage.

    I really think Fed’s entire approach has been, since USO, to aim for taking over no. 1 round July while also bagging Wimby. And so far the only real hitch has been AO.

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  5. Only 2 reasons for Federer’s loss – the serve and his confidence. They might even be the same thing. Djokovic came to the match knowing he’s going to win… and Federer also knew Djokovic is going to win. Same issue with Nadal. I miss the old Federer who was so sure of himself that once he broke his opponent he knew the set was over and the match soon followed. And his serve was there to do the job. I’ll say it again, he still has the tennis and the problem is all mental. He should go watch some of his old highlights to remind him what he’s capable of.

    I’m sorry but Djokovic still doesn’t convince me. Nadal is going to spank him in the final. I don’t see Djokovic taking over the #1 ranking as long as Nadal is healthy. Federer still has a better chance doing it if he gets himself together.

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  6. I’d be worried if he was losing to everyone.The fact is that he has lost to one person only and Fed beat Djoko 3 times in a row last year.Is the fact that he lost 3 times in a row the end of the world?We watched him lose to Nadal and Murray 3 times and then he gets it back.No matter the ranking Roger is the 2° best player of 2011.
    Here we go again with “Fed is dead”Come on folks.He lost. It happens.He was near and might very well have gone on to win the set and the match.
    Actually I´m glad to see the Fed haters coming from out the woodwork or under the rocks, giddy with Roger´s loss.Last time this happened he went on to win 2G.S.and
    to a final of the third.So hate on haters. He who laughs
    last laughs best.And remember Murray as the real N1?
    Djoko think he´s already like a kind of Dios, I have never like Nadal but Ihate this guy, so Please Rafa smash his screaming face.Vamos!!!

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  7. Novak looked tired in the third set… just that Roger couldn’t capitalize and was stuck in errorland (and NoFirstServeVille). Novak hasn’t beaten Rafa since 2009, and I don’t think he will tomorrow either. I hope I’m wrong. If he’s going to have this great run of form, the least he could do is beat Rafa sometimes, too.

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  8. Hi everyone!
    I am disappointed at the loss of Federer in both singles semi and doubles final more at the latter but I am pretty much satisfied with his performance. On looking at the recent form of Djokovic I thought that Federer would be thrashed by Djokovic but that was not the case. At 29 years Federer is playing so much these few days and still bravely faced Djokovic who lost only 12 games during his previous matches( he was so fresh!)as Federer lost 29 games during those matches and on top of that reached the final in doubles. I just say Kudos to Federer and I know he still has a bright future. Of course I would like Djokovic to defeat Nadal which would give a better chance for Federer to regain No 1 ranking in future but I think that that is a tall order. But win of Ndal, on the other hand, will give a blow to what Djokovic talked of younger generation replacing the duo of Federer and Nadal. So, in a way I am in a dilemma who to root for, but still I want Djokovic to win this time, though.

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  9. I made a post on the other stream right after the match and although I feel more positive after reading everyone’s post match comments I’m still pretty gutted. I’m normally a very unbeat Fed fan!
    As I said before the key in this match was 1st serve. Roger’s percentage all week hadn’t been great- which is surprising as he’d been playing doubles too so he had plenty of chance to practice it. When his first serve clicks the rest of his game follows.
    The change in momentum in this match was shocking. Roger missed an easy mid court forehand at 2-2, 40-15 in the 3rd set and then just seemed to lose all confidence. Just like when he missed his break point chances at US Open and then proceeded to drop serve and lose the match. I’m not happy that he seemed to just give up when he makes such a error. He should be fighting hard to the very last point. And he needs to concentrate more.
    To top it all off Roger and Stan lost a close doubles match in the final. So it was pointless Roger playing doubles as it didn’t improve his serve or his confidence as they lost. Against Rafa I noted that Rafa double faulted in the doubles to hand the first set to Roger/Stan. I thought that’d effect his confidence going into his singles match v Del Poro but it didn’t seem to for long. Does anyone know how Roger lost the doubles? Was it Roger’s fault or Stan’s?
    I guess I need to look on the bright side- Roger played well and competed well against the Best Player On Tour at the moment. I just get annoyed with him not focusing when he should. As Ru-an says though there’s no certainty that Roger would have gone on to win even if he had won that crucial point on serve. It wasn’t a breakpoint or anything.
    At least I don’t have long to sulk! Bring on Miami!!

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    TGIS Reply:

    Roger/Stan lost the doubles because they ran into an excellent, on-fire team who’d already knocked off the Bryans, Murrays, etc. Their opponants were the better team throughout the match; Fedwrinka competed really well to make it as close as it was. Saved many breakpoints, many clutch holds.
    That said it was Roger who made the crucial errors in the last TB to lose the match.

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    Nelson Goodman Reply:

    Perfect distillation, TGIS. Agree completely.

    By the way, Andrew, let me say as a fellow Fed fan that I hope you don’t look for too much in Miami – it’s even slower conditions than IW and at this stage Fed’s concern has to be gearing up for clay while not losing too much ground on points. So I’m better a semis showing at best, unless the draw opens up and he can get finals/a win without great exertion. The fun stuff begins in Monte Carlo, I’d wager.

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  10. Every defeat must be taken with tons of positivity as viewers there are gaps in his present game he needs to address -BH and running forehand to his ad court. Djoker has been using the same tactic during his 3W over Roger. Roger did anticipate well during the 2nd set but 3rd set was a sham as his serve crumble under pressure. Of course it does not help his confidence is wavering against Nole now. 2 loses on Sat will surely dampen his sprirt. I hope he takes positive from it and learn more.

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  11. I expected to see a Semis showing from Roger and he did exactly that. I expect the same from him in Miami. I just can’t seem to understand how he could lose 11 points in a row from 40-15, 2-2 in the decider. I just can’t. He had Novak frustrated enough for him to throw his racket down. He had him there and couldn’t close out. The difference between the two is right now, the mental edge. Roger got closer this time, I am hoping next time they meet it will end in a victory for our Champ.

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  12. At almost thirty years of age, Roger might have better let Nadal and Lopez continue in doubles and conserve energy and focus for singles but he went for both and that is the main reason he faltered in singles and became a major cause of defeat in doubles (as per the comment from Andrew). Had Roger not been engaged in singles Roger and Stan would have probably defeated Malisse and Dolgopolov. They both enjoyed doubles final and Roger played not such a bad singles semifinal and that in itself ia a big achievement.Had Roger tried to his best to defeat Djokovic he might have succeeded but then after doubles final a few hours after singles semifinal he would have no energy left for final with Nadal and as such, he would definitely be beaten by Nadal. In such a situation, I would rather choose to see him lose to Djokovic rather than to Nadal b/c the head to head with Nadal is far worse than with Djokovic. Federer can defeat Djokovic more easily than Nadal even in hardcourts. Nadal is almost in par with Roger and Djokovic in hard courts but far superior than Djokovic on clay and on grass so should Djokovic defeat Nadal in the final that would be better for Roger in the long run.

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  13. Ru-an do you know that Nadal has only played three top 50 players in 2011 thanks to his easy draws?Cilic, Gulbis and Ferrer.You can check this in Rafa´s player
    page in the ATP.I´m not going to root for anybody.Indian
    Wells has finished for me.

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  14. I was there to watch the semis–the first time I have ever seen Roger Federer play with my own eyes.

    It is amazing how deeply engaged the audience becomes when he plays. Instinctively they seem to hold their breath as the point continues, and there’s a collective groan when he misses–as if everyone, even non-fans, was secretly hoping he would make it.

    And whenever he produced some magical shots, the stadium simply erupted in cheers. It’s like watching the sun come out from behind the clouds.

    There was huge energy behind him even as the outcome became obvious in the third set, and he got a standing ovation as he walked off court after the match.

    Though he lost, there was certainly plenty of captivating tennis and I am glad I went.

    The Nadal-Del Potro semi was a pretty flat affair by contrast. The Nadal fans were quite vocal but there wasn’t the same level of involvement. Then again, it was so one sided.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thats great Steve that you finally got to see him. I noticed how much the crowd wanted him back in the match. Djokovic sarcastically clapped hands when the crowd went nuts at one point. So are you from around there then?

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    steve Reply:

    Yes, I live close enough that it’s not a huge trip to get there.

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    muhammad Reply:

    loved your views steve…i dont get to watch these events here but i don’t think that i actually miss anything reading your views…keep it up…cheers

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    Nelson Goodman Reply:

    Hey Steve, just wanted to say thanks for crafting such a beautiful description. The one you posted on Tennis-x, though very similar, has some slightly different hues that I thought worth sharing here (hope you don’t mind):

    “The atmosphere was remarkable. There’s a huge sense of anticipation when Federer attempts to construct a point–everyone holds their breath. When he succeeded, the stadium cheered, and when he missed, everyone groaned. It’s a communal experience.

    The magical sensation created by Federer’s shotmaking is far stronger up close–it’s light and intoxicating, like champagne. You feel it once and you immediately want it again.”

    Both the champagne effect and the communal experience part of it capture beautifully what, when all is said and done, render all the GOAT debates and everything else pointless. It would have been amazing if a player this absorbing was able to hold off the ball-bashers and shine for a couple of seasons, to offer us all a brief glimpse of magical grace on the court (much like JMac in 1984). But he’s actually managed to be the most dominant, successful *and* beautiful player anyone’s ever seen (even in sheer beauty 1984 JMac is perhaps a very distant second). It’s truly unbelievable, something that you would dismiss out of hand as work of fiction. And yet we have it before our eyes. And the greatest part is, it’s precisely this that motivates him to continue – he *knows* that fans respond to him the way you describe Steve and understands how special it all is.

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  15. How nice Steve that you were there, he lost but you could see him, how is he ? I´m looking forward to going to Cincinnati,I think that in this small events you can be near him…

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    steve Reply:

    Thank you Ines. Words cannot describe the experience of seeing him play live.

    I can only say that the magical feeling you get from watching him play on TV is much stronger live, even if you’re sitting in the cheap seats like I was.

    It’s an addictive sensation; every time he finishes off a point with a beautiful shot, immediately you want to experience it again.

    I hope you are lucky enough to watch him live when he wins.

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    ines Reply:

    Thanks Steve.I´m crazy for watching him
    live, he´s the defending champion in Cincinnati but honestly I don´t care if he lost.An addictive sensation,what´s going to happen with me…an addict fedfan?

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  16. Ruan, I didn’t have to stick my neck out too far: the new No.2 did beat the current No.1 today, as I expected. Djokovic can now play like Nadal – but does it better. Injury apart, he is headed for the top position.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yeah i called it too. Djokovic is just as good a pusher as Nadal now. Ugly tennis.

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  17. Wow Nadal got spanked in the final. What a shame ;-) Although he’s gained more points from getting to the final I think it would have been better for Nadal to lose at an earlier point. His knees hate hard courts and yet he played singles until the very last day and doubles until the semi finals. Now he has a week off but more pounding on the hard courts in a week. So with Nadal I always think- the longer he plays the more damage he’s doing to his body as he plays such a physical game.
    I wasn’t sure who I wanted to win in this final. But when I saw the scores coming in I quickly realised…. I can NEVER route for Nadal!! Urgh! (Sorry Marron ;-) )
    Now there are truly 3 men at the top of the men’s game. Quite a few people said that DJ might become stronger mentally from winning the Davis Cup and that’s what has happened. An interesting development. The top 3 are miles and miles away from the chasing pack at the moment. It should be an interesting clay court season now! And the grass! Let’s see how the top 3 get on.
    Roger still picked up points this week. Quite a few. But so did Nadal. Roger dropping down to number 3 in the rankings is bad only because he is now guaranteed to have to play either Nadal on clay (not good) or DJ now for every clay court tournament in the semi final. At least if he was number 2 he’s be able to avoid Nadal until the final. That would’ve been better for his ranking points.
    All of this is interesting stuff! I look forward to Ru-an’s usual excellent views on what’s happening in a bit. What a run DJ is on!! When will he lose a match!? Can he do the Grand Slam?

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Andrew. Nice to see you have your enthusiasm back. As i expected Nadal didnt fare much better against Djokovic. He is just in his own zone right now. Im also looking forward to the clay and grass seasons. Djokovic is the deserving number two now and him and Nadal may contest the clay finals again. Would love to see Roger there of course and it will be interesting to see how he lifts his game from last year on clay. He could also take back the number two spot in the clay season since he is now playing Monte Carlo. Im hoping for another solid result in Miami.

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    marron Reply:

    Andrew said: ‘I wasn’t sure who I wanted to win in this final. But when I saw the scores coming in I quickly realised…. I can NEVER route for Nadal!! Urgh! (Sorry Marron )’

    That’s OK, Andrew. I’m in the same boat as you… I can NEVER root for Federer. :-)

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    marron Reply:

    Actually, I have to confess, I rooted like crazy for Fed and Stan to win the Olympic Gold doubles, and was very happy for him when he did it! And I recall rooting for Fed as well in his USO win against Djoko a few years ago. See? I’m not totally heartless, LOL.

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  18. The semi was quite a bit like the match Federer played in the same round of this tournament a couple years ago, against Murray: a rather lethargic first set, followed by a fantastic second set, and a mental collapse in the third when he seemed to have the advantage.

    Remember that year, after a string of losses to top players during the spring hard-court Masters and clay seasons, he went on to win the French Open and Wimbledon. Hence I remain optimistic.

    This semi was very different from Dubai, where I felt Federer was outplayed the whole time and never really got it together at any point.

    Here he was able to adjust and completely dominate Djokovic during the second set, this after he had lost the first set handily. He changed his tactics and varied the pace of his shots enough to throw Djokovic off until he could create opportunities to attack.

    He had some idea of the right tactics to use, the problem was execution. The match was on Federer’s racket: when he was playing well, there was nothing Djokovic could do. When he started making errors, then Djokovic could take advantage.

    The match was balanced on a razor’s edge in the the third set when he rushed on a couple of forehands, thus proving the maxim that one shot can change the momentum of a match completely. Until then he had had Djokovic completely unnerved; if he had held for 3-2 it would have been much tougher for Djokovic to win. As it was Federer still had a break point in the last game, which he missed. I don’t know what would have happened if he’d made it, but I don’t think Djokovic would’ve been easily able to just shrug it off. It was a rather shaky and close win.

    Contrast this to the final against Nadal, when after losing the first set (which is usually the kiss of death against Nadal), Djokovic came back and completely dominated in the third. I don’t think he lost a point in his last two service games. Nadal never had a sniff at a comeback.

    Federer’s not losing because he’s physically unable to produce his best tennis; he is attempting to compensate for whatever he may have lost in the way of speed and power, and having some success.

    These losses are due to mental lapses, and given Federer’s undimmed love of the game, I think he will have the motivation to iron out the wrinkles over the next couple months.

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    Ed Reply:

    Steve: I wish I could agree that Roger’s “undimmed love of the game” is enough to change what’s going on. For what’s going on around him is more important than any change he can make. As I watched the Rafa/Novak final I thought, “Roger just couldn’t stay on the court with either of these guys today.” Ru-an might call it “ugly tennis,” but this isn’t a beauty contest; it’s about who is the last man standing at the end of the third set. It’s true that there wasn’t the surgical kind of striking that Roger can produce; but Roger cannot produce that consistently, so he cannot win–not when Rafa or Novak are on their games. Where, before Novak’s ascendancy, Roger had to face Rafa in any final, now he has two monsters, both of whom now beat him consistently. People can talk about “slow courts” or “mental lapses”–and, desperately, one can even pull out the “drug” canard–but to me the truth of the matter is that Roger cannot, now, compete at the top of the game and win big finals. Of course it might happen–luck of the draw kind of thing–and as a fan I always want Roger to win, but what’s going on now is way beyond “wrinkles” that can be ironed out since his situation has less to do with him and more to do with the present #1 and #2 who await him at the end of every tournament. This is not something that Roger–that no champion player who is being eclipsed–can change.

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    ines Reply:

    Fed is doing very well winning against
    all players except Novak, still getting bashing from fans and others.I believe fans expect him to beat all the time, is it fair?How quickly WTF2010 is forgotten.There he beat them all.

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    Jiten Reply:

    Cannot agree more Ines. Fed himself has said after the loss that it is better to be beaten by the same player (the best one at the moment) than to three different players ranked outside 50:

    “I don’t know if I’d rather lose against three multiple different guys ranked outside of the top 50, I guess not. I’d rather lose against a guy that’s ranked very high so I know I’m controlling the rest of the field against top guys. If I’m playing well, I know I can beat them, too. So that’s what it is. At the end of the day I can’t change it, and I’m happy with my game.”

    I decline to accept that Fed is on decline. Remember his performance this time around last year: nothing noteworthy after the Australian open. He has won three more matches than last year in this tournament. Fed just didn’t have luck going on favour that day. Who knows what would have happened if Fed had won one of the points after leading 40-15 at 2-2 in the third set. I also think that Fed is a bit passive this days while up a break point or two. He didn’t attack Nole’s second serve as he did in WTF in London. In his own language, he just allowed Nole to “ESCAPE”.

    I am sure Fed’s happy winning days will be back soon (his performance in the semis is an indication of that). Till then, let’s just enjoy the sheer beauty and elegance of his tennis.

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  19. Not to discredit Djokovic but I always wonder what the outcome of these matches would be if Federer didn’t have the distraction of knowing he has to play Nadal the next day. There is no shame in losing to Nadal but I think the notion of these hypothetical losses at the hand of Nadal have really taken away from what Federer needs to do in the present.

    At the end of the day the game is changing, players are getting stronger, better, faster and unfortunately Federer is not. Rog will inevitably lose more matches, we have to accept this. I take comfort in knowing when all is said and done there is no player on the planet, past, present or future that will be able to create the kind of magic Federer has displayed throughout his career. We may not see it as often but even witnessing a piece of his genius is far more entertaining then 98% of the matches we are likely to see in this lifetime.

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  20. “At the end of the day the game is changing, players are getting stronger, better, faster .. (Addison, I wonder why?) and unfortunately Federer is not.”

    Apart from age, Federer doesn’t adopt the same formula as these “stronger, better, faster” players?

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    addison101 Reply:

    At Federer’s age getting stronger is going to require him to put on weight which will slow him down. He’s got too many miles under his legs to get any quicker and having accomplished so much in his career I’m sure whether he’s willing to admit it or not he just doesn’t have the drive to get into these 20+ shot rallies just to win a single point. I think Annacone has been brought in specifically for that reason-be more aggressive to shorten the points. A 29 year old playing Nadal type matches is going to be burnt out by the quarters nevermind the finals.

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  21. Ed, you are right that Federer can no longer win at the end of the tournament, against what you describe as “monsters” in the game. That, in part, is the result of a player who has lost an indefinable percentage of his game due to age.

    However, it is my view that the drug issue is no mere “canard”: I believe it has hastened Federer’s demise, as he has no chance now to beat players who are capable of physically overwhelming him. Take away that unnatural physical advantage they have and he would still be able to beat them.
    I doubt Djokovic is genuine as I have doubted Nadal and others – their greatest improvement (or decline) results from a dramatic change in their physical, not game, skills. Remember when Nadal couldn’t win anything for nearly a year after May 2009? And now we see Djokovic transformed this year from the player he was in the last 4 years – that Federer drubbed at the WTF – to now be able to beat Nadal at his own game. He is proof that Nadal is not a “physical freak”, as is claimed, but can be trumped by a better player who attains similar physical abilities. That is the formula for the modern game but it is not one that Federer conforms to or ever has.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil: I know your point of view on this is unshakable. I just don’t share it. Perhaps we differ because we have a different understanding of what elite athletes are capable of, of the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly dedication to self-improvement that they commit themselves to. I don’t, for example, see a huge “physical” change in Novak. The change I see is mental and technical. He has gotten back his ability to serve hard and consistently, and that’s a matter of coaching and superior innate (and developed and developing) skills. As his confidence has increased–and “confidence” is the most potent “drug” to any true athlete–his game has improved. As far as Nadal is concerned, from everything that I’ve read about him, from everything that I’ve heard fellow athletes say about him and commentators say, from my sense of the man (and everyone on this blog easily conjures up a “sense” of Roger, so why not Rafa?) Rafa is a pure athlete, trained from the start to win (hence his Uncle insisting that he play left-handed–no mean feat, since it’s the only thing he does left-handed, for everything else he’s a righty), to get every advantage a lefty who is also a strong, amazingly fast guy can get over his opponent. Has he gotten stronger, thicker, tougher, physically? Of course. But I attribute that to his will to prepare physically. Now one can always say that both Novak and Rafa do drugs–anyone, in fact, can say anything without evidence. And in doing so can “account” for Roger’s losses, but I believe that that is an injustice to these men. Remember that for the length of Roger’s run, HE was the monster at the end of the tunnel. Now it’s others’ turn to play that role, while in the background are Raonic and Harrison and Dolgopolov and others, working out, putting in ungodly hours, building muscle and endurance against the day that it will be their turn to enter that tunnel. Like you, Neil, I have no evidence except what I see, read, think and know about what I watch. I really don’t believe there’s a conspiracy going on. What’s going on is a level of work and a commitment to that work that we civilians find it hard to fathom, but whose results we see. It’s not drugs; it’s the nature of sport.

    [Reply]

  22. Ed, the only option for an aging athlete is to find ways to improve physically – to become bigger faster and stronger. So we are now increasingly seeing more and more athletes sustaining their careers for longer – like the British women’s 800m runner who won her first championship race a couple of weeks ago at 37(!), which means she was peaking as a masters athlete. Incredible but apparently it can done. However, there is generally only one way to do it. If he can’t beat ’em, Federer has to join them.

    [Reply]

  23. Ed, thanks for your response and I appreciate that you have a genuine opinion, even if it is somewhat less cynical than my own. I once felt much the same as you do.

    However your confidence in the competitive attitude and work ethic of someone like Nadal as being one ‘out of the box’ contains an assumption that previous generations of champions were naturally lesser athletes and who didn’t work as hard. I saw many of them, so I find it hard to buy that. Furthermore, if players today can train so much harder than players of yesteryear it begs the question of how they are able to do this naturally. Lastly, all professional sports have a drugs problem to varying degrees; there is no reason to believe tennis should be any different. The ITF must, in principle agree, or it wouldn’t conduct approximately 2000-plus tests each year on its players. (Never mind that in-competition testing is still playing an almost impossible catch-up with the cheats, who can mask the drugs they have been using.)

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Neil: I don’t, in fact, think that Nadal is “out of the box.” He’s just better because of natural physical and mental gifts and, to use your apt phrase, a “work ethic” that is not different in kind from the ethic of all elite athletes (to take an example of a less talented but no less dedicated player, Mardy Fish) but different in quality. I do NOT attribute that to “drugs,” but to the drive that all champions have. And by this time it’s no news that present day athletes, simply ARE in better physical condition because of improvements in knowledge about diet and exercise and, combined with changes in equipment–most recently changes in strings (which particularly helps Nadal, though certainly this change helps everyone) they do, in fact, play better. Look what Laver did with a wood racquet. Can you imagine how he’d do today, with the improvements just cited? I’m puzzled by your statement,
    “if players today can train so much harder than players of yesteryear it begs the question of how they are able to do this naturally.” Perhaps this–and your cynicism–are at the root of our disagreement here. The life of a serious athlete, one that is dedicated to physical excellence at a sport is close to unimaginable in its dedication to hard work. That some have abused themselves (and deceived the public) precisely because of the difficulty involved and their lack of integrity does not mean that they set the example for all. Roger, remember, is Roger precisely because of a particular style of greatness: balletic, surgical, preemptive; while Rafa’s greatness is that of a different style: styles are expressions of goals. The ultimate goal is always to win, but just how that’s done is determined by style. Both Roger and Rafa and Novak (and every other tennis player) want to dominate their opponent. How they accomplish that is due to who they are and what their natural gifts are and how hard, for the ten-thirteen year span of a top tennis player’s competitive life they work, every day. in a dedication comparable to monks to their physical perfection. These people are NOT like us–difference in quality, not in kind. Until and unless you offer up proof, Neil, all I’m left with is your cynicism. There are plenty of reasons, always, to be cynical in this human-world, but when cynicism dominates much, alas, is lost.

    [Reply]

    ed Reply:

    I just want to add another point to what I just wrote because it just occurred to me. Before Roger became “Roger” he was very good but inconsistent: immature is, perhaps, the right word. But then, he crossed a line and became “Roger.” How did that happen, Neil? Did Roger start taking PEDs? How else to explain his eruption into a new self, one that in every dimension was more excellent than the self he’d been? I think there are mysteries here that are inherent in sports and in the process of a developing self. But it’s all founded on the very hardest physical work, of not only enduring a regimen of physical training but finding completion in it. And then it’s a matter of things clicking, of time and man and event coming together and then a kind of transcendence takes place, which is the result of hard, hard, unremitting work. How did Roger move that inch forward to become “Roger”? The same way that Novak did; the same way the Rafa did; the same way, at a different level, Mardy Fish did. Drugs? No. Dedication, commitment, will, and, yes, luck. Absent proof, I’ll continue to believe that exceptions prove the rule that genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration: that what we see in Roger–and Novak and Rafa and many, many others–is the beautiful tip of an iceberg of harder work than most of us can imagine.

    [Reply]

  24. Ed, I fully grant that changes in technology, like racquets and strings, have changed the game dramatically, lending much more power and spin to players’ shots today.

    My problem is with the kind of athletic skills that players now routinely demonstrate (not just Mr Nadal or now Djokovic) that are of a completely different order from top players of previous generations. I am regularly seeing speed, strength and stamina that wasn’t there in the game even 7-8 years ago. Frankly, players who exert a tremendously physical game without showing significant fatigue are a red flag to me. I recall Schiavone’s near 5-hour match against Kuznetsova at the last AO – they were running and hitting as hard at the last stages of the match as they were at the beginning. The question is, why are we now only seeing physical qualities of this order relatively recently?

    I don’t buy that better “nutrition” and training are the reason – although I do know that drugs help you train much harder.

    I would wish to offer you rather more than cynicism, although I might not be able to provide what you would regard as proof. But the following facts are inescapable: ped’s have become a problem in all professional sports, otherwise there wouldn’t be any need for the testing that is done – tennis is a high- reward professional sport and cannot be an exception; ped’s can boost athletes’ performances enormously, as lab experiments have proven (and some athletes have admitted) and there is every incentive for athletes to use them if they can get away with it; different ped’s come onto the market all the time and testers often don’t know what they are testing for (IGF-1, for instance, which is an amazing booster, cannot be detected by the usual tests); many ped’s can be “masked” so they don’t reveal a positive result or can be flushed out-of-the system before competition, which is when players are usually tested; sports have little hope of catching cheats if they don’t conduct out-of-competition testing, yet fewer than 10% of tennis testing is done out-of-competition – players can also choose not to be “available” for up to 3 tests. Players themselves have regularly alluded to drugs being used on the tour, though they can’t name names for risk of penalty or being sued. I could go on but I would probably bore you. The point is, drugs are undoubtedly being used – the question is, by how many and who are they? Some athletes are more suspicious than others.

    All this demonstrates that athletes can generally use drugs and get away with it – it is very unusual for them to be caught (but perhaps that shows no system is perfect.) When I put that against physical performances (and exaggerated musculature in some cases) by many athletes today, including tennis players, that defy understanding of what even top professional athletes might be capable of, that also occur in players whose physical qualities and abilties change dramatically (as they would if they were “cycling” drugs) then I have to reluctantly conclude that there is something more going on than talent and hard work. However, if you require a positive test result to believe someone is on drugs then you will probably never see a drug cheat. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Flojo and Marion Jones never failed a drugs test.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    I appreciate your information, Neil, and can’t deny much of what you say. How can one argue against your examples (Bonds, Clemens, et al)and your facts (yes, one tennis player has asserted that drugs are used by players; and, modern drugs are hard to test for). Are then, all marathoners on drugs? Is every man or woman who breaks a record on drugs? (One of the most amazing current sports champions, Michael Phelps, has not been accused–not that I know of–of using drugs. And a swimmer who breaks every record repeatedly and multiply–inhumanly (?) should, given your cynicism be someone who uses PEDs. No?) That Schiavone played out of her mind in a Grand Slam–the ultimate winning of which is ALL that an elite tennis player lives for–does not indict her, to me, of drug use: it points to her willingness (based on years of training and a body conditioned beyond what either you or–I’ll dare to speak for you–can imagine) to die on the court rather than lose. I cannot deny many of your points. But you don’t address my question about Roger’s sudden emergence: drug induced? And, as you well know–better than I know–that drug use doesn’t have to result in “musculature.” Flojo didn’t wind up a weight lifter. So, what about Roger’s ramped up acuity, speeded up preemptive precision? Drugs?

    [Reply]

  25. Ed, I just read your comments about Roger. To me, he is an unlikely user, for a variety of reasons. His physical type is rather unimpressive and hasn’t really changed at all over his career; his game is not as dependent as it is for some others on physical strength – his shots are very low effort – and he doesn’t make his living running balls down 4-5metres behind the baseline. He is also losing some of his physical gifts as he ages. All that is to be expected with an exceptional but aging athlete. I also think his breakthrough in ’03 was the product of gaining confidence – his game didn’t change physically from what it had been when he beat Sampras in ’01. Nowadays we see his confidence deserting him.

    When you also say that the success of players today is based on hard work that we cannot imagine, then you are disparaging the commitment, determination and efforts (as well as the training methods) of champions from previous eras. Tell it to Laver, Borg or Connors, I say.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    OOPS! I apologize, Neil, I didn’t see that you had already responded. But, all I can say is that you’ll have to believe me that I don’t, at all, disparage Laver, Borg, or Connors: I’m not old enough to have witnessed Laver’s amazing career, except at the end, but I certainly and closely followed Connors, Borg, and the rest of their amazing generation. They were the best they could be, given what was known about diet and training, and the very fact that they were such wonderful players (I saw Connors play 5 setters, year after year, at a blistering pace, plus yelling and acting out the role of being a bad boy) helps my case that years of dedicated training can lead to what the rest of us find amazing. But I’ve heard Connors and McEnroe both say that the changes in equipment have changed the game, and, really, it’s not saying much to say that in the years following their wonderful tennis much has changed in physical and diet regimens. I take your point about Roger’s “low effort” tennis as compared to the kind of tennis that Rafa and Novak play. But “low effort,” while it’s a striking characterization (and helps me to more fully understand Roger’s game) is only relatively and in physical reality “low effort,” for it’s the result of being in the right place at the right time, of being perhaps the greatest opportunist in the game: and that requires high effort, high intensity, great training.

    [Reply]

  26. Ed, I can only add about Roger that his extraordinary skills were demonstrated early in his career; his game changed little but he learned better how to win. (Now he seems, at times, to have forgotten.) But the question you ask is a reasonable one: is any top sportsman (or woman) to be condemned a likely drug user by virtue of their excellence? The answer must be, no – not by itself. We would need detailed information about that athlete’s performances and career before suspicion might reasonably be invoked. But the sad fact is that because of the skill and sophistication that drug users are increasingly able to employ in evading being caught, no one can be completely above suspicion. As the great Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix ruefully acknowledged, it is not possible for athletes to prove beyond any doubt that they are in fact clean.

    So where does that leave us? I take the view that there is likely to be much more ped use in tennis than anyone is officially prepared to admit (the view expressed in an article last year by Abigail Lorge, an editor at Tennis.com). As fans of the game, and even of certain players, we should therefore be demanding of the sport’s administrators that they need to be doing much more than they are to ensure that the sport is clean, because unless they do so we cannot watch this wonderful game without the affliction of suspecting we may be witnessing a fraud.

    (By the way, Schiavone didn’t play “out of her mind” at the AO – her mind had little to do with it; she didn’t even look like she was about to “die” on the court, even after 5 hours of play. Way way too fresh for that. And she came out less than 2 days later for more of the same against Wozniaki, even though she lost. This from a player over 30, who achieved little in her prime years as a player in her mid-twenties. Mmm.)

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    I absolutely agree that tennis’ “administrators…need to be doing much more than they are to ensure that the sport is clean.” Were they to do that, you and I would not be having this discussion and you would no longer have the “affliction of suspecting” that you “may be witnessing a fraud.” Tennis these days, for you, Neil, must be an awful experience. Not so for me, though perhaps that’s because I’m naive. As for Schiavone, I’ll stick to my description, and that she’d done little before she suddenly emerged, I’ll believe (until I find out otherwise, at which point I will bow to your prescience and cynicism) is not unusual for players at elite levels who refuse to believe in age or defeat or any other mystique than becoming champion. (And, note, that, as you point out, she lost her next match: what happened to magic elixir of enhanced performance?) I guess I’m on the side of the ledger that insists on innocent until proven guilty. I wonder, though, how what you want to happen can, in fact, occur. I wonder if Roger shares your real and deep concern enough to step up and publicly insist that the sport protect itself from accusations of drug use. He has, so far as I can tell, nothing to lose; in fact, by doing this, he’d be defending the sport from those who debase it. He asked Rafa to play for his charity and then played for Rafa’s; how wonderful it would be if both these champions joined to call for Serious drug testing and the reinvigoration (which you insist is needed) of a culture within the professional tennis world of pride, ethical behavior, and the purity of sport.

    [Reply]

  27. Neil- you asked me a while ago why I said Nadal would be damaged by playing more matches on a hard court. My view is that tennis is painful for Nadal. I’ve had tendinitus in my knees before and when I’ve played a hard game of squash I’m in agony at times. Harder surfaces hurt a lot more. So for Nadal I figure that he hates hard courts as it hurts him. So the longer he plays the more likely he’ll get injured.
    Ed- I don’t agree with a lot of what you say to be honest. Djokovic’s advances this year all of a sudden have been stupid. Last year he couldn’t even win a masters 1000 event. This year he’s already won a slam and the first masters of the year. He also sacked his coach (Todd Martin) and is now working with the old coach only. Less people around? It does worry me that what we’re seeing could not be genuine. Changes in your game take time. It took Roger 5 months to change from a very defensive mindset to his now aggressive approach. It resulted in the WTF victory. You can’t just flick a switch! Also at Indian Wells it was very very hot- DJ suddenly doesn’t have any allergies to the heat!! Very odd.
    On another note I recommend that all Roger fans go and read his interview after the semi. One of the journalists suggests that since Roger started working with his new team he hasn’t been able to beat the top players. Roger sarcastically reminds him of the World Tour Finals. Very funny!

    [Reply]

  28. Before everyone starts to predict the end for Roger I would remind you that we’ve been here before. Roger lost loads of time in 2008 to Rafa and after Wimbledon everyone said he was definately finished. He’s won 4 more slams since then, reclaimed the World Number One title during the summer of 2009 and then he even managed to finish the year as world number one. If he’d taken his chances better in the US Open 2009 final against Del Potro he’d have actually won 4 slams in a row. It would’ve been the ‘Roger Slam’!
    In 2010 Roger spent most of the year struggling to catch up because his nasty chest infection cost him weeks of practice. The he had to get used to playing with a new coach who has helped him evolve but his mindset is now attack attack attack. It wasn’t so long ago that he used to just slice/chip/push every second serve back into play!
    So let’s see where he is now compared to his last major crisis in 2008:
    ….
    1) He is now the GOAT. He’s won 16 slam titles and he is considered by most to be the greatest person to have ever picked up a tennis raquet. Not bad! He himself has said clearly that he never dreamed of achieving so much. He only ever had dreams of winning Wimbledon once. To win it 6 times is incredible. He’s also now completed the career slam. So his legacy is safe regardless of how Nadal does. Roger has put milestones in place that even Rafa will find hard to overcome.
    ….
    2) He’s still hungry to keep playing. After all his success he could have said he wanted a break or he could be winding down his schedule- but Roger still loves playing tennis!! That’s great for us fans
    ….
    3) Since his losses to Nadal in 2008/2009 Aussie Open he’s beaten Nadal 2 out of 4 meeting on tour (World Tour Finals last year and Madrid in 2009) So he’s been through the Djokovic losing streak before and has come back to beat that player. Much like when he beats Murray at every slam
    ….
    4) He has a new coach. And a new mentality. Volleying is better for his immense talents. Aggresive players win slams (apart from Rafa)
    ….
    5) He is now able to play more freely. He has nothing to lose. Even not holding a slam at the moment doesn’t seem to be bothering him.
    ….
    6) He is hitting the ball better than ever. He’s not as quick or as strong mentally as he loses concentration but he has new weapons. Forehand drop shot on clay will be interesting this year. The tweener is fun. He’s not getting worse- 1 player (Djokovic) has improved. It’s hardly anything to panic over. Yes he’s getting older but so what? He has to age. It happens to us all.
    ….
    7) As Mirka once said; He is Roger Federer. He will stop when he wants, on his terms. This article sums up this last point:

    http://m.bleacherreport.com/articles/640377-roger-federer-why-his-third-straight-loss-to-djokovic-isnt-all-that-bad

    [Reply]

  29. But Ed, it was only in November that Federer demolished six of the world’s best players, including the #4, #3, and #1, on his way to winning the WTF, for the loss of only one set. Surely that is a big final, and there can be no question about the difficulty of the draw: it was the best of the best.

    In any case, I have made a deliberate decision to not always be worrying about the impending end of Federer’s career and focusing on the signs of age and decline; there will be more than enough of those for anyone who cares to go looking for them. No matter how long he continues playing, the end will still come all too soon; so why spend the time fretting about it?

    He will certainly lose more often, and one can’t expect him to do things like win 24 finals in a row, or 12 titles a year, but he will continue to win plenty of titles even in his waning years, and against the best players too.

    I don’t think it’s appreciated how far off the charts Federer is. Youth and PEDs may bring others closer to where he is, but he still lies way, way beyond the curve in terms of raw talent.

    But what truly sets Federer apart is the ability to utilize the talent he has. He won’t win by getting faster or stronger, but by using even more of his shotmaking abilities in ever more-refined ways to get the jump on his opponents and prevent them from overpowering him.

    It will be more difficult for him to do this consistently in his later career, but I think he will be able to do so enough to keep winning some big titles. He has the will and heart to dig much deeper and draw further from his enormous well of talent.

    Losses bother me but I don’t spend time dwelling on them. I paid money to go to Indian Wells only to watch him lose, and it was still a wonderful experience. There was plenty of magical shotmaking and a great atmosphere. I would have been happier if he’d won but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.

    As long as he plays I will enjoy it. That’s my philosophy.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Good post Steve. I agree with everything you said pretty much.

    [Reply]

  30. Steve, I find it hard to watch Fed these days. It reminds me too much of Ali’s last fights.

    However, in years gone by I recorded many of his matches. Sometimes I go back and watch them just to remind myself of how the game is played by a complete master: Fed v Roddick at Wimbledon in ’06, Fed v Blake at the WTF ’06, Fed v Nadal at WTF ’06, Fed v Nadal (and then Ferrer) at WTF ’07 – no one has played better tennis – and then there was possibly his greatest match – his record-equalling 5th Wimbledon when he fought back to close out Nadal in the 5th set. There are others of course. Last year’s WTF was pretty damn impressive, too. With all those matches that I mention we knew we were watching something really special, that we might never see again.

    [Reply]

  31. Neil, I still think there’s plenty of special tennis left in Federer. Just that he won’t be able to produce it every time, as he could in his early days when he won more or less every tournament he entered.

    In those days he could simply pick his spots and strike winners at will from the baseline. Now with power players and tireless retrievers the game is somewhat more complicated for him. But I think he can still win quite a bit.

    I guess we’re a bit spoiled by his incredible dominance. Now we have to pay the price of disappointment at losses in order to enjoy his wins, like fans of other players do.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Fully agreed Steve. Some fans cant handle this stage of Rogers career because they were spoiled so much. Its just a matter of lowering your expectations somewhat. Being a fan of Roger while he is more human still tops being a fan of anyone else. For me anyway.

    [Reply]

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