Rome Rd 3: Gasquet def Federer 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(4)

I really thought Roger would win this match. And after playing well for a set and half it looked like he would do just that. But I should have known better. The Roger of these days are not guaranteed to win any match, even if he is a set and a break up. After being a break up in the second he dropped serve. At 4-4 he was up 40-15 on Gasquet’s serve again, but failed to break. By failing to put Gasquet away, he allowed him to gain confidence. Then it was down to two tie breaks where Roger failed to impress. I say this again and again, but it comes back to Roger’s lack of mental fortitude. In the old days he would have put Gasquet away and it would have been an easy straight set victory. His lack of mental fortitude also showed in the tie breaks, where he used to have a very good record. If you look at his game itself there is really very little wrong.

It was a high quality match in which both players hit more winners than unforced errors. This is all a mental thing. He doesn’t have that killer instinct anymore which he needs to put players away. We have seen this time and time again. He is losing to players these days that he once owned. But that is just part of aging I guess. Another mistake that Roger made in this match was to go too often to Gasquet’s backhand, which is his strong side. Another mental mistake. In Roger’s presser he was still optimistic, as you would expect. He said that he is happy to have some extra days off before Paris, and that Gasquet has always been a good player. But optimism does nothing to obscure the facts. Roger’s lack of mental fortitude is clear for everyone to see. I really hoped he could make at least semis here and test Nadal again.

Now he hasn’t really convinced me that he is having a better clay court season than last year. He doesn’t go into Paris with an awful lot of confidence either. I don’t care about the extra days of rest that he has either. He would have been better off getting another couple of wins under the belt going into Paris. He is showing more vulnerability with this loss, which will not go unnoticed with the players. I don’t expect him to do better in Paris now than he did last year. If he gets past the quarters then great, but I’m not gonna allow myself to be disappointed again. And again, the problem is not that he is playing bad. His strokes and everything is fine. But as soon as someone shows up in the early rounds of the French Open that plays a particularly good match, I doubt he has the mental fortitude anymore to come through it.

I guess that is the difference between the old and the new Roger. When the old Roger ran into an opponent that was in the zone on a given day, he would still win. These days he just hasn’t got that confidence anymore. So I think Roger can make at least quarters at the French Open, unless he runs into an opponent who is on fire on a given day. Then his quarter final streak may even be broken. Elsewhere in the draw both Nadal and Djokovic had easy wins. It looks like another Nadal/Djokovic final. It is always disappointing when Roger loses, because it makes the rest of the event less interesting to view. With Roger’s lack of form these days, I am reduced to being interested in the demise of Nadal. I am now looking forward to another final with the two best players in the world, where hopefully Djokovic will take the silverware again.

Highlightshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_hbLIMkav4&feature=player_embedded

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51 Comments

  1. Ruan, I feel bad today. Federer looked as if he didn’t want to win today. I don’t think mental fortitude has anything to do with age, it has to do with sincere belief in oneself. Federer is now either a hit or miss,I don’t think Annacone nor anyone can change this. Roger will have to ask himself, can I possibly beat and play better than Nadal, Djokovic or anyone for that matter. Like I said before can this true champion defeat his biggest opponent,himself. Roger has lost many tournaments not because someone was better than him but that he didn’t believe in himself. I believe in Federer and I’m willing to except his losses as long as I see him play some great games.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes Dave is disappointing when he makes a decent showing in Madrid and then we are reminded of his lack of self belief in this match once more. I hoped he could show at least some more consistency.

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  2. Gasquet is a streaky player of enormous talent, perhaps as naturally talented as Federer himself. Remember, he was one of only four men (Safin, Nadal, and Nalbandian being the others) to defeat Federer in 2005, when Federer was #1 and in his pomp (and that defeat also took place on clay). He’s not consistent enough to be near the top, but on his day he is the equal of anyone, even Federer.

    Nevertheless, Federer had the lead and threw it away. I don’t think he is clear in his mind what he wants to do on the court, and is still trying to figure out how to make the adjustments he needs to make. If he’s not fully sure of what he wants to do, he can’t play well in the clutch.

    I think he can potentially make semis of RG. Winning the title would be very hard even if he were fully confident in his game. At this point, I think it would take a minor miracle for him to win.

    But best of five is likely to benefit Federer, since it’s harder to maintain the kind of level Gasquet displayed over five sets. He should be able to dispatch most of the journeymen-level players, at least until he runs into Nadal/Djokovic.

    This is a frustrating loss, it hurts more than the loss to Nadal or even to Melzer, because he had the lead, but couldn’t convert.

    Without more matches it’s hard to see how he can build confidence in his game so that he can execute without hesitation.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I dont think there is much wrong with the way Roger plays. He was in a winning position after all. Its all about the mental aspect, no matter what anyone says.

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    manu Reply:

    I didn’t watch the match, so I’ll go by your opinion of Federer’s play. Lately, talking about tennis as a whole, it is not great shots that win you matches but solid moonballs. They are getting more and more successful by the day; taking in mind, you are prepared to run them down. Federer has lost both his solidity off the backhand wing(which consequently affects his forehand) as well as the mentality to grit it out. Yet he is hitting more and more beautiful shots like tweeners, etc. I have noticed that Rome 06 set up the standard for both this tournament and Federer’s future play, particulalry with Nadal- play beautiful, show flashes of uncomparable genius, lose consistency off one wing, and give the match to the opponent. In Rome 06 though, it was against an opponent who would chase every ball down till death, but yesterday, it was against a player with Roger’s talent, style and seemingly “weak” backhand. Gasquet certainly did play well, and brought the game to Federer- but had Federer done more in that second set, he would still be in Rome. Roger’s exit now makes this tournament- a tournament, along with the Paris Masters, I want Roger to win-a boring ballbashing feast. Come to think of it, tennis is nearly a century and a half years old, and it is only now that there is an abundance of player who run faster, hit harder and fight more. Interesting, no?

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    manu Reply:

    Federer needs to sew his torn mind. Did I mention this is not the first time Federer has thrown away matches? Roger that. :-)

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  3. Another disappointing match: once again, Roger is in a clear winning position, somehow loses his hold on the lead – and so the match – and the win – goes. There isn’t even the sense that he knows the match has changed – he just keeps playing as though nothing is really different – except for the scoreline. There is no real feeling of a battle with him.
    It’s a recurrent theme these days. The Roger of old would come from behind and seal victory against an opponent who presumed to challenge him. Now he often starts well, is in cruise control, and then the match slips from his grasp against an opponent who refuses to accept his assigned role of losing. To me, the aura he once had of a player quite above all the rest seems to have gone.
    The tie-breaks are telling: once part of the match where he would go to heights his opponent couldn’t possibly follow, we now see the draining away of self-belief under pressure and the invasion of fatally loose errors: he seems to fear the breaker more than his opponent does. His break-point conversion rate (that ranks him a revealing 38th on the tour) tells a similar story.
    Why did he keep playing to Gasquet’s backhand? The Frenchman fears no one with that shot when it is on – and it was on. Gasquet saw that he could win, and so he took it. Towards the very end of the match, when it was clear what the outcome would be, I saw an expression on Roger’s coach Paul Annacone’s face of profound disappointment; that no one could do anything to help Roger if he couldn’t help himself. I didn’t see that expression when he used to coach Pete Sampras.
    There is only one adjustment that needs to be made to Roger’s game; he has to want to win – and really want it – because his opponents often seem to want it more. Clever shot-making is no longer enough.

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    manu Reply:

    Neil, Federer can get his old form back. however, what I’ve seen is tired and old Federer- unlike Djoko, who is, to coin a phrase i shall now keep using, a “Tech Mech”. If roger can sort out that problem, he can “keep up” with the marathon runners.But before we can accuse others of doping, we better be sure our own man can keep up with the chemical brothers, lest their fans think we are bad sports.

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    Babel Reply:

    We could call them the Toxic Twins. ;-) It would be felictious, especially as the reasons for the coining of this nickname are similar.

    But in all seriousness, I concur with MOST of what everyone here has already said. I think I can add a couple other things:

    1) Roger did not attack Gasquet’s second serve enough. This was one of the things he did well against Tsonga. He allowed Gasquet to win, I believe, 67% of his second serve points.
    2) His clutch play (especially in the tiebreakers) was disappointing. Granted, Gasquet played superbly in both tiebreakers. But Federer wasn’t able to serve or return well on big points.

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    manu Reply:

    the real two things(technically of course) that have let federer down in these recent years are his serve and net play

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  4. I’m finding it more and more difficult to look on the positive side when Federer loses these days. It’s not that he’s declining physically or in ability which could be excused- he’s just losing his mental edge. he had this match in the palm of his hand at 4-2 up in the second but he just…. bottled it! Gasquet then started to believe and played some good tennis. Also- Roger’s tactics were awful!! He played everything to the backhand. So stubborn! It’s like he was trying to have a backhand to backhand contest rather than trying to do what he needed to in order to win the match.
    ….
    We’ll know in a few months whether this is the beginning of the end. If he doesn’t win one of the next 2 slams i’m not so confident anymore that he’ll win anymore. Djokovic has made everything uncertain. At least Murray won today- that’s good because he could potentially take the Djoker down…. if Murray can challenge Nadal on clay then he can challenge Djokovic. Murray’s game should be suited to clay- baseliner- but he just seems to have a mental block about it.

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    Ed Reply:

    Andrew: I’ll just add, to support your hunch, that I, too, saw–in one rally, clearly–that Roger was in a pissing bh contest with Gasquet, immediately after Gasquet blistered a bh winner. In fact, Roger won the point. But I, too, was struck by his stubborn–really, foolish–insistence on challenging RG’s bh on a day when RG could do no wrong on that wing. We’ve all seen this stubbornness before in Roger, but it’s been in abeyance: that, I thought, was Annacone’s influence. What’s going on–and I’m only seconding what others have said–is that Roger didn’t know what to do: and it’s that lack of on-court imagination that ominously points to an incapacity anymore to do what he can imagine: and that was (to me) the secret of Roger’s dominance. Along with this is Roger’s increased testiness, which is becoming more common. He looks like a man in free-fall.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Hi Ed, weve been over this as well and is a good point. In his prime Roger was dominant and never had to think much about tactics. Now that players have caught up with him he is still living in that dream world where he thinks he can beat anyone without making adjustments. When it comes to tactics he is just clueless. He is unable to make the smallest of adjustments. Just way too stubborn/dumb. Its time for him to wake up.

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    neil Reply:

    “He looks like a man in free-fall.”

    Ed, that’s about it, in a nutshell. I, too, was struck by his persistent – even stubborn – playing to Gasquet’s backhand: it became a foolish contest of who had the better stroke – and played right into Gasquet’s hands.

    The lack of appropriate tactical adjustment, the inability to match his opponent’s determination and intensity at the critical moments, reminded me of why he lost so many finals to Nadal. As Federer’s talent seems to be leaving him we are seeing exposed the flaw that underlay it.

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    Ed Reply:

    Neil–As an aside, but on this mystery of the inner Roger, I’ve noticed that Mirka has gained weight. And I’ve been thinking that it can’t be easy being Mrs Federer these days. This, of course, is ridiculous supposition on my part, but I wonder what it’s like to talk to Roger about what’s going on. What eggs Annacone must walk on! It’s hard, more than hard, to be surpassed, to not be in the spotlight, to not win before you leave the locker room: I’m just repeating now what you’ve and others have said. The iron discipline that Roger exerted to outgrow his callow, volatile self has now, perhaps, grown rigid, perhaps it masks him from himself. Who knows?

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    Ed Reply:

    To come out of the highly speculative, I want to cite what has forcefully struck me about current Roger’s game and judgement. It’s this: how often he comes in behind a bad approach shot! I’ve found myself yelling out, “What are you doing?” And this happens enough times in a match to now mark Roger’s play. What is he thinking at those moments? What you call the “lack of appropriate tactical adjustment” covers this whole area, but what’s so troubling is this is such an obvious gaffe that it leads me to say (with others) that he’s trying out new moves. Ok. But this kind of error? Repeatedly? So it’s part of his rushing the rally, disrupting the opponent, but his errors in this area are the equivalent of those inexplicable fh and bh shanks that time after time put him behind when he serves. One new and lovely shot of his is his return, when he’s serving, of anything close to midcourt: in two, three quick steps, he sets up what turns out to be, very often, a gorgeous, sharply angled fh to the ad corner or above it, which is unreturnable. But, as I think about it, though that’s an outstanding shot, Roger’s game has now been (I’m not sure of the right word but I’ll try) “reduced” to a series of different “shots” rather than a flowing game in which what he wills is what he’s able to do.

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    Ed Reply:

    Oops! That’s “Roger’s current game and judgement.”

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    neil Reply:

    ‘I’ve found myself yelling out, “What are you doing?”’
    I know exactly how you feel. I agree also that his game is often reduced to a series of apparently disconnected ‘shots’ rather than a calculated pattern of execution. As I said earlier, I used to see that kind of unravelling of his game in his contests against Nadal but now it’s become a prevailing characteristic of more and more of his matches. It seems strange to think that the winner of the most grand slams in history has forgotten how to play.

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  5. I don’t know if you have touched upon this Ruan, but perhaps Annacone is not the coach for him. Don’t know his style, and don’t know his approach to get Fed to win. I’m not giving in till Wimbledon. There, I think we will truly see if the King can get back the Thrown. The one thing I am not used to in the past from Federer is the shank balls. Lots of them, and his placement isn’t nearly what it used to be. Because he has been losing so much of late, I don’t take the losses as hard, and I can sense, you don’t either, cause it’s expected now. Whether or not he wins another slam is up in the air, but The Maestro will always be my favorite player ever. I used to think I liked Mac and Sampras, but this guy blows them away. GO FED!!!! We just want a little more. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps. G

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  6. My belief is that Federer’s mental issues are more complicated than lack of motivation or desire to win; that a lack of desire is not the source of his current problems.

    In my opinion, Federer’s greatest strength is his ability to select the right shot at precisely the right time, for maximum impact. In his prime he would recognize the precise moment when he needed to raise his game, and he would know exactly what he needed to do on court in those instants. That’s what makes his game so efficient and lethal; he only expended 100% effort at those crucial points on which the match hinged. The rest of the time he simply played maintenance tennis at a slightly lower level, just enough to stay in it.

    Perhaps he’s the best who ever lived at this particular aspect of the game: the ability to identify the crux of the match, and hit it with precisely what was needed to break it open. To develop this ability required much time and effort; it was not instinctive.

    When he was young, he lost a lot of matches like the one he just lost to Gasquet. There was nothing technically wrong with his game then, either; his strokes then, as now, were flawless, but he made poor decisions: either failed to recognize the key moments, or failed to choose the right shots at the key moments, and as a result, ended up losing. Because he had nearly limitless options at his command, he would pick the wrong ones, and screw up.

    He disciplined himself to restrict his choices, so he would know exactly what to do at the key moments. When earlier he would confuse himself with too many options, he learned how to stick to a smaller number of high-percentage ones. He had to curb his natural tendencies to go for the flashy or complicated shot. He had to put himself inside a cage to become a champion.

    Now he can’t win playing the style he so painstakingly developed, but he spent so long training himself to stick to those patterns that they’ve become unthinking habit, and now he’s forced break himself of those habits.

    It’s not that he’s forgotten how he played tennis; it’s that he’s not playing tennis in that style anymore, and hasn’t gotten used to the new way.

    I liken Federer’s tennis to dancing, which looks completely natural and spontaneous in performance. But that apparent spontaneity is the product of endless hours spent in practice, under the merciless tutelage of choreographers. If the dancer has to stop and think about what he’s doing, even a little bit, the performance is ruined. He has to train himself until it becomes instinctive.

    So too with Federer; since he relies so much on recognizing those vital moments and playing the right shots at those times, he can be vulnerable if he fails to do so. It doesn’t matter how well or beautifully he plays on the less crucial points, if he messes up on those two or three important points, he’s likely to lose.

    When before he had taught himself to know exactly what to do, i.e. pick a spot and make a winner from the baseline, now he has to think more, make more choices: shall I bring him in with a drop shot? Shall I come to net myself? Or should I just stay back on this point?

    This makes him slightly hesitant; he’s bound to unconsciously backslide into the old ways and become indecisive. The pressure moments are where that hesitation is going to make its appearance. Not at the beginning of the match, but when he serves for a set, or during a tiebreak, or when he needs to break his opponent; in short, at the worst possible time.

    Change is uncertain and messy, ugly and chaotic. We’re seeing chaos, uncertainty, and mess when before we saw only serene, harmonious perfection. This is painful, unsettling, and unpleasant for us fans, who were used to seeing him rack up Grand Slams as easily, it seemed, as he breathed.

    He isn’t making changes simply for aesthetic reasons, but because he has no choice but to use more complicated patterns of play and combinations of shots if he hopes to win. If he could win playing the same kind of tennis he did in 2004-07, he would, but he no longer has the footspeed or power he had then, and in any case the physical supermen that presently rule the game are too fast and strong for him to overcome from the baseline. Something new is required.

    Maybe he won’t pull it off; maybe the challenge of being forced to use even more of his shotmaking arsenal in subtler and more complex ways is beyond even his formidable powers. But I believe he will work it out.

    He is essentially relearning how to become a champion again. When I think of where he is now, in his career, I think of him not as Roger Federer, 16 time Grand Slam champion, but as Roger Federer, the talented young journeyman aspiring to win Wimbledon someday.

    The formidable reputation is gone, the imposing aura of invincibility, the burdens of the world #1; all that remains is a player, struggling to work out how to get the ball past the fellow on the other side of the net. And that’s as it should be. That drama, to me, is infinitely more compelling than any number of trophies he has won or could ever win.

    When Federer was much younger, his fans loved his beautiful, creative shotmaking, but were often frustrated by his lack of mental strength and consistency, and his tendency to lose matches he should have won against opponents he should have dominated. If only he had a cooler, more patient head on his shoulders! they lamented. If only he had more fighting spirit! Then he would surely win Grand Slams and be #1.

    Ten years have gone by since then, and here we are, right back where we started, having come full circle: Federer, after having been the master, has once again become the pupil, who plays beautifully but loses matches he should be winning. And we fans find ourselves making the exact same laments! “New Roger”, it seems, is really just old Roger–now with a family in tow and just a wee bit more silverware in his trophy cabinet, but once again struggling to master the game.

    He figured it out then, not without considerable effort, and he can figure it out now.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    He keeps ding the same thing wrong though. He keeps being stubborn when he should clearly use better tactics. This is nothing new. Nadal was the first to expose this side of him and others are now doing the same thing. How much time does he need before he learns? I mean its not like its difficult. Its just him being too proud and hard headed. I hope you are right that he will learn to win ugly, but there is no guarantee that he will. His coach can tell him a 100 times but its up up to him to make the change. There will come a point where he loses to often to win any more slams. He needs to make a change before that happens or his slam winning days are over.

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    neil Reply:

    Steve, you are putting too many thoughts in his head – at the highest level tennis is an instinctual game. There is no way a professional player of 30 is going to be able to play any other way; he can’t relearn what has taken him 20 years. Sorry, Roger – time’s up.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Its not a question of relearning anything. He just has to make some mental adjustments and i dont let anyone tell me its too late for that. He has to want to though.

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    Babel Reply:

    “That’s how it goes sometimes, I thought I was playing well and then in the third I wasn’t playing at all, it’s a disappointing match for me.

    “It was tough to play out there, it was a slippery court. Richard started to play better as the match went on. In particular he was serving better, my level went down and Richard made it worse.

    “It was tough, I never felt I was probably going to win the (third set) breaker, it’s not fun to play that way.”

    This is precisely what is wrong with him. Under the pretext of being stoic, this is what he says after every match that he loses. Of course Gasquet played well. But Roger too had some part in his victory.
    He NEVER acknowledges that he played the big points badly or that he has things in his game that he needs to work on.
    This is something for which Nadal must be appreciated. He has canned responses to most of the questions that he is asked in English, but he is always very forthcoming about his own performance.
    Roger, his candor notwithstanding, gives me good reason to think that he actually believes everything that he says in his pressers.
    Everyone around here is right in saying that he just refuses to make the requisite tactical adjustments at crucial points in a match. The approach shots bit is something that I myself was thinking of pointing out.
    A typical point against Nadal – Roger gets a good serve in, gets a deep return, hits an average approach shot, rushes to the net and gets passed. And this happens multiple times in a single match. Isn’t this devoid of tennis logic?
    Sometimes, especially in big matches, he starts S & V-ing too much, so much so that it becomes predictable. What he forgets is that in this age of power base-liners and counter-punchers, the effectiveness of serve and volley tactics is dependent on the element of surprise. You do it too often and you’ll get murdered. Sample the performances of players like Llodra or Belocq against say, Nadal.
    The shanks are unforgivable too. He has a marked tendency to get riled up in matches in which he is under pressure. Good examples are – the 2007 Wimbledon Final, This year’s Austrlian Open Semi-Final, Indian Wells 2008, this year in Madrid vs Nadal, etc. He has had some problems for ages. He has trouble, as we all know, with his backhand on bouncier courts. Does he seem to have done anything about it?

    Sampras was a less gifted player, but he had a champion’s spirit, whatever his failings. Roger needs to discover that spirit in order to win a slam when his body is not what it once was and his mind fragile.
    It is disheartening to see how his game deserts him when he needs it the most. It is tough to see him lose to the likes of Djokovic and Nadal, when he makes no effort to find a way to beat them. It is exasperating to see him play superbly in patches during a match, only to throw it away later.
    There’s no doubt that it’s still a treat to watch him play at most times, but losing so often is likely to exhaust the patience of even his most ardent fans. Despite what we all say, we DO want to see him win and it is better for tennis if he does.
    He cannot simply rely on the law of averages. It can’t be like – “I’m going to play till I’m 35, so I’ve gotta win a slam at some point, right”? He is doomed to fail if that is what he thinks.
    Now, I was ten when he won his first Grand Slam. I was a fan before that. Despite everything, I continue to be a fan because I want to see him do well. But losing to people like Melzer is damaging his legacy and he doesn’t seem to care about it.
    If Federer can’t win Grand Slams anymore, tennis needs players like, say Gasquet (he seems to have grown a pair and has always had the talent), Harrison (the next bright American prospect) or Dimitrov (who plays a little like Roger) to win a few. Even a couple for any one of them will go a long way in bringing back finesse to the game. These fellows – Nadal, Djokovic, Murray need good competition – better than what they have currently.
    Ruan, the mental adjustments are an obvious step. Maybe he needs to see a sports psychologist. But he also needs to admit, if not to anyone else, at least to himself, that there are chinks in his game and flaws in his game-plan.
    That is the first step.
    I hope I don’t come across as too pessimistic.

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    Ed Reply:

    Babel: I think that one of the things you quote from Roger’s post-match interview–“It was tough, I never felt I was probably going to win the (third set) breaker, it’s not fun to play that way.”–is as much of an admission as we’re going to hear from Roger. The “spirit” that you talk about is notably–revealingly–absent from his remark: what he’s saying is that he couldn’t imagine that he could win: “I saw I couldn’t win the match today.” You note that he doesn’t, ever, “[acknowledge] that he played the big points badly or that he has things in his game that he needs to work on,” but here we have him making a devastating admission that takes us to the heart of the matter. You also, rightly, say that “These fellows – Nadal, Djokovic, Murray need good competition – better than what they have currently,” but they won’t get it from Roger, not now, and not, I fear, in the future.
    The long and (to my mind) very good postings on this current thread are focused on two areas: 1. physical/technical mistakes (shanks, coming to the net on bad approach shots, losing his serve (time after time against RG he started his service games 0-15), shakiness at net–and another, which no one, I believe, has mentioned, how off-balance Roger looks on so many shots) and 2. Roger’s mental status (his lack of fire, his defeatist body language (how often, I’ve thought, what his body is broadcasting is, “I’m not having a good time out here, and I can’t do anything about it”), his apparent lack of motivation or will or deeply held self-belief that he can beat the guy on the other side of the net, if that guy is firing back hard, accurately, and consistently. Some, I’m one of them, do not think that Roger can recover from this moment when, as Steve suggests, he has to change his game at this point in his career and is caught in the mental and physical complexities of doing just that, of learning how to win–again, which is a holistic (mind/body), which Steve (and others) believes he can accomplish. But Roger’s not in this alone, and the competition is not standing still: And that, I think, is the reason Roger cannot move forward. He doesn’t believe he can win anymore–Oh, he hopes, but deep down? The game has moved on; Roger has become a footnote, not years after he has retired, but right now. Imagine living as a footnote. Novak’s terrific run; Rafa’s dramas of strength, endurance (pace, Neil’s insistences)have seized the news. THEY are what tennis is now focused on. I don’t think that a sports psychologist–believe me that thought has occurred to me plenty of times, too–can resolve the problem of a man losing his role in the life he’s chosen. That’s where the man has to come to grips with deep-down issues of self and worth and achievement, and move from being smart to being wise. That, I believe, is what Roger needs to learn at this moment when all he sees is the dust those ahead of him are leaving behind.

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    neil Reply:

    Great post, Ed. It pretty much sums it up for me – “the problem of a man losing his role in the life he’s chosen” and “imagine living as a footnote”. That is very insightful. We can feel the confusion and doubt that has entered Federer’s mind. He doesn’t play with the pressure-free enjoyment of a player who knows what he has accomplished – and can now play for the fun of it; he plays like someone who no longer knows what his racquet is for, when it was once the instrument of his destiny. It is painful to see. This is no routine pro coming to terms with a career coming to a close; this is a player who flew close to the sun – and took us with him. His loss is ours too.

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    marron Reply:

    Man, reading some of this is – how do I put it nicely – enlightening?

    If – and a big fat IF here – Roger is ‘done’, if his career is coming to a close, as many of you put it, which I rather doubt, well, fine then. All of these posts above, poetic and full of pathos as they are, will have meaning.

    I dunno… I don’t see Roger as ‘done’. Maybe struggling, yes. Maybe lacking some reason to keep going out there every bloody week, training hard, doing the same old, same old. How many years has he done this? Methinks, perhaps he needs a break – a longer break than his usual 3-week blocks. And, bigger yet, he needs another reason to keep doing this.

    Consider – Agassi found an answer in his school. He rededicated himself to playing for that – worked hard, didn’t let the fact that he didn’t win every tournament bother him. He told himself any win was a win for his foundation. Pete? I don’t know as much about him, but I do recall reading how he was so hurt by the press saying things about his wife – that she was the reason his play had slipped so far – he came back with a reason to compete and win again too – for his own and his wife’s honor, no?

    Perhaps simply winning tournaments isn’t quite enough anymore… especially when you’ve already won so much. How does one stay motivated?

    Perhaps this is what Roger is struggling with? Consider what’s going on in his life – beautiful twin girls who, each day, need their father more and more. A lifestyle that doesn’t really require him to ‘work’ for a living. A rewarding job – he says many times how much he loves tennis.

    I’m just blue-skying here….

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Marron–The “poetic” quality of some of the posts is, I think, the way the writers acknowledge what Roger has meant–still means–to the writers; it’s their way of trying to find language to adequately articulate that combination of power, grace (not just in its physical but also in its intuitive form) and skill that has given us, in Roger, an example of what can be embodied in human form that refuses and refutes the general mess of life. A hero of sport is an intersection of the three forms of excellence, and we’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed it. Just as Roger raised the game, he raises his fan’s understanding of it and of many other things, about himself and about life, itself. I don’t think I’m making a big deal out of something that doesn’t deserve it.

    I think you’re right, Marron, about Roger needing to find a reason to win and about all the mitigates against that: his amazing success, his new status as a father, a “lifestyle that doesn’t require him to ‘work’ for a living. And, what you don’t happen to mention, but know very well, is his sudden demotion in rank and in (apparently) his own expectations in the face of Novak and Rafa, especially, but now also the Second Tier (but still very, very good) players who, smelling the blood in the water, are gathering at the feast.

    Roger has his foundation, but, to me it seems a rich (and good) man’s project, being, as he says in what’s basically an ad, “a father of girls.” I’m not demeaning it, merely noting that while it undoubtedly does good work–and clearly is a an excellent example of meaningful charity–doesn’t seem in the same league as Andre’s total commitment to his foundation. But then, again, each man has a different story. So Roger, like many incredibly wealthy sportsmen/women, has a project, but it’s distant from the issue of how he now plays tennis.

    Roger seems a very private man who has lost the spotlight pretty quickly in a very public sport. He was the paragon whose play has become troublesomely pitiable: confused, inconsistent, occasionally still thrilling but not to be trusted. (Roger’s current story parallels Andy Roddick’s in a number of ways.) To me, the inner drama is something we’re not likely to know, unless, later, Roger decides to hire a good writer to help him produce his version of his story.

    For my two cents’ worth, Roger needs to start believing in having a worthwhile life after tennis: that’s the “good reason” he’s lacking now as he (to use your word) struggles every time he comes up against yet another player who, suddenly and dismayingly, isn’t awed.

    [Reply]

    Babel Reply:

    Ed- I concur with your suggestion that Roger needs to think about a life after tennis. Maybe that is the light he needs to see flashing in the distance. This is, however, easier said than done. What could possibly motivate, act as an incentive for a man who has everything? This is particularly hard for people like me and you to envision. Marron talked about Agassi in his earlier post. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect Federer to be as ardent a philanthropist (though, as you pointed out, his foundation does a lot of good work in South Africa) as Andre. Every man charts his own journey and destination. Roger is probably the best person to decide his. The consensus we seem to have arrived at is that now is the right time to start thinking.

    I do, however, believe that improving his fitness to the level of someone like Ferrer,who is the same age, will help him catch up with his, as of now, more fancied contemporaries.

    I do have a question, Ed, which relates to your earlier post. You talked about ‘moving from being smart to being wise’. I’m sorry but I wasn’t able to capture the meaning you were trying to convey in this context. Could you please elaborate a little? Thank you.

    Marron – I do share your belief that Roger isn’t ‘done’. I mean, at 30, he is still the no 3 player in the world and most of his predecessors were probably worse off at his age. But surely, despite being a Nadal fan, you would agree that that is not where he belongs. Also, it is not likely, in my humble opinion, that a long vacation will help him. He will fall in the rankings and will have before him the tall task of working his way back up, like Andre Agassi in the late ’90s. Now, Roger, despite all his technical prowess, is no Andre mentally. So this could possibly make his self-professed goal of being No. 1 again even harder than it already is.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Babel–What I mean when I say that Roger needs to move from being smart to being wise is this: most of us learn enough to figure out the basics and more than the basics. This is being smart. But being “wise,” for me, is the next and hardest step. It means seeing more deeply, thoughtfully, and feelingly into things: ourselves, others, to the degree that we can, the world. I reserve the word “wise” for folks who take the next step in self-knowledge, see beyond all games (including tennis) to whatever truths reside in the origin and structure of game–and as much of anything else that they can. Roger’s been smart about being professional, about training, about (one assumes) his money and his friends. The question for me is whether he can now become wise about himself: the role he plays (and has played) in tennis; his life as a husband and father; a life after tennis, when the deeply complex game, the central game, is confronted and must be lived with, hopefully, grace, humor, and intelligence.

    [Reply]

    Babel Reply:

    Ed – There is one thing I respectfully disagree with. I do not agree that Roger is a footnote. Wherever he goes, he is still greeted with warm applause and he still has more fans than anyone else. Actually the fact that we are here discussing at length his predicament proves that he is far more than a footnote. Having said that, I do understand if you were referring to the tennis media’s relegation of him to the second rung.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Roger will always be “greeted with warm applause,” Babel, because he has earned it. And, more than any other player in recent years, he has earned our awe, and, yes, even our love, for what he has shown us year after brilliant year. But now he is not in the spotlight; he can’t be. Tennis is sweeping by him into its next future, just as he swept by Pete and the tennis era that he (and, of course others) defined. It is in that sense that he has become a “footnote.” Those now “writing” the history of tennis have relegated him to this status. But then again, he joins the likes of Laver, Rosewall, Sampras and, of course, others.

    [Reply]

    Babel Reply:

    “But then again, he joins the likes of Laver, Rosewall, Sampras and, of course, others.”

    And that’s hallowed ground, isn’t it? There, you said it yourself. This is our positive.

    Come to think of it, that DOES make me feel better.

    But I get your point and I somewhat agree with you. Lets shake to that.

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    “Hallowed ground”: absolutely. I’ve never believed that Roger doesn’t belong there–not for one moment. What we’re all wrestling with is this twilight phase of his career: this most difficult passage out of the center of tennis, which oppositely parallels his amazing passage into that center.

    [Reply]

    Babel Reply:

    “I’ve never believed that Roger doesn’t belong there–not for one moment.”
    Neither have I, for that matter. I simply forgot it, for a while. What I meant was this: even if Roger’s results of today frustate anyone, there always remains this silver lining. His place among the immortals is secure. That is reason enough to rejoice.

    [Reply]

  7. OK folks, I figured it all out. I’m sittin here doing the Youtube thing, and found an incrediblely wonderfully hi-def video of the 2008 final between the King, and the Grunter. The grunter, as we all know won. It was, and still is one of the greatest finals ever. IMHO, the one I enjoy the most is Fed coming up to Sampras, and WINNING, as C. Sheen would say. At that time, I was a Sampras fan, and absolutely hated Federer, with a passion, just so you know, and I’m sure you know what I’m saying. He was young, arrogant, and extremly talented. How could I let this guy into my heart and route for him? I just felt he was an obnoxious a-hole. Sampras was done, but at least he won that last one at the US Open. I was very happy for Sampras.

    Sampras retires. He’s out. Then there is this guy who just won one after another. It was Federer. All over the place, and he won time after time. I grew to respect him, cause Sampras was out. I didn’t watch to much, but I know he kept winning all the time. I saw his demeanor, and slowing became to like the guy.

    Yes, he lost this one, but he ended up winning a few more grand slams. IMHO Davidenko is the greatest of all time and that is where the humor comes in, only because of the debate. Lets be honest folks, the most exciting player at this time and way back is, “The FED”.

    He lost this one, and gained it the next year. Fed has done a wonderful job of keeping our interest, and here he is at 29, and we are still entralled. Don’t give up on him yet. I still think he has a Sampras in his back pocket. A few month ago, I saw in at the year end championships, and he killed the Grutner!!!! We might even have a few more years to chear him on.

    As Forest Gump would say, “Thats all I have to say about that”. Go Fed, and I wish the very best for ya.

    G

    Heres the link, and the video is incredible. None of that BS music to deal with. Just the announcers.

    [Reply]

  8. Watching Gasquet v Nadal. The Frenchman has played some incredible tennis today but has lost the first set. Nadal finds the lines again and again – even with the wild nature of his strokes and their ballooning trajectory. A footnote: his average groundstroke speed at the end of 2009 was 107kph – that was the ‘slimline’ Nadal who couldn’t win a set at the year-end championships. Today, his groundstrokes are averaging an incredible 131kph(!) – and that is after he claims to have had a fever only two days ago. No one can tell me the guy is not juiced to the eyeballs. Quite simply, only another juicer can beat him when he is like this. Novak, are you ready?

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  9. hitting the lines has nothing to do with steriods. Steriods can give you more stamina, more speed, even more power but they cannot help you with the accuracy of your shots.

    [Reply]

    IROCK Reply:

    rafa produces enormous topspin which makes the balls stay in the liner.Generating so much spin consistently is next to impossible for such a long time

    [Reply]

  10. Yes, they can make, because they improve your ability to get to the ball to hit it on balance and with more time to execute. Also, with the extra power and spin Nadal generates, his balls will go deeper and thus closer to the lines when he is juiced. When he apparently isn’t (like at the WTF in ’09) his balls drop consistently short – as well as being nearly 25% weaker in terms of pace. (By the way, he added nearly 10% on his groundstrokes just this week.)

    [Reply]

  11. no they dont. If i start taking steriods today i am not going to be able to hit the lines any better. Hitting the lines comes from practice.

    As far as the pace of his shots, who knows why he wasnt hitting hard at wtf 2009. Could be some injury problems or it could be a lack of doping as you claim. Its very hard to know for sure

    [Reply]

  12. Marron’s comment touched on something that I would like to give mho to respond. Thankful for Ru-an’s blog to voice our opinions about our champ, Roger. Do enjoy reading all comments. We all want to see Roger back to the “old” Roger – winning! Your comment, Marron, about Roger’s personal life is something that is hardly ever mentioned. When Roger was in his prime he was a young, carefree man. The last two years have brought many changes in his personal life. Husband, Father of twin girls, change in his tennis life having a new coach. Just read two interviews that Roger gave that touched his personal life, one in Madrid with Rene Stauffer in Basler Zeitung, the other in Schweizer Illustrierte also on his personal life. Both are in German. It is food for thought to read.
    Remember when Nadal’s tennis suffered back a year of two, his parents were in the process of divorcing, it affected his personal life, too.
    Am hopeful for a Roger come-back, Wimbledon would ever be so nice.
    Kindly,
    Dolores

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Dolores: Is there a link to these two interviews by any chance?

    [Reply]

  13. Am not a computer buff, so I may be of little help on this subject. I can help you by getting you to the website:
    http://www.schweizer-illustrierte.ch
    scroll down to photo of R.F., this will be the interview.

    http://bazonline.ch
    click on Sport,
    click on Tennis,
    scroll down to article:
    “Am liebsten mag ich den Geruch meiner Babys”.

    These are the two interviews I spoke of in my comment. Don’t know if I am much help.
    Pardon my explanation is not very professional, am blaming my age of 85.
    Kindly,
    Dolores

    [Reply]

    Ed Reply:

    Thanks very much, Dolores. Your instructions worked, to the letter. If I might, since you mentioned your age, one of the most important aspects of the ‘Net is that all that counts is the intelligence of the writing–nothing else, not race, not gender, not age are relevant. That’s, to me, so very heartening.

    [Reply]

  14. We have a new clay king, it seems. Nadal again had no answers for a technically superior player with stamina and strength equal to his. The Spaniard played well–even varied his tactics to the limited extent that he is able to do so–but was nonetheless edged in all of the important moments.

    He’s being forced to play the kind of tennis Federer –tennis that depends on being able to raise one’s game in the key moments and produce different kinds of shots to get one out of trouble–and it’s not working for him.

    If you take a look at Brad Gilbert’s Twitter feed, you will see him defending Djokovic against accusations of doping:

    http://twitter.com/#!/bgtennisnation

    This is well and truly becoming farcical, too farcical for even the sport’s elite to deny.

    [Reply]

  15. Ru-an, just saw the very end of the Nadal/Djoko Final in Rome. Another loss for Nadal. Djoko’s behaviour is awful, his chest-pounding with screaming is hard to take especially for an upcoming possible #1 tennis champion. Oh, how we miss Roger! Btw, Nadal/Djoko hardly gave a handshake at the net…..
    Kindly,
    Dolores

    [Reply]

  16. Awful, yes. But Nadal himself has been guilty of such behaviour in the past, so it is only fair that he gets paid back in kind. And his behaviour notwithstanding, I think Djokovic deserves to be No. 1. He has earned it. Sorry to butt in if your comment was addressed to Ruan alone.
    Regards

    [Reply]

  17. I’m sorry for butting in if this comment was addressed to Ruan alone, but Nadal himself has been guilty of such behaviour in the past. So it is only fair that he gets paid back in kind.

    His on-court behaviour and his entourage notwithstanding, I think Djokovic has definitely earned the No. 1 ranking. Yes, his conduct is probably unbecoming of the lofty position he is almost certain to occupy in men’s tennis in a fortnight or so. But to be fair to him, we’ve seen champions far more boorish and abrasive than he is, in the past.

    Regards

    [Reply]

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