The War of Words

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24918160-2722,00.html

ROGER Federer began a psychological battle yesterday on another front, questioning the merits of reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic’s decision to change raquets so close to his title defence.

The world No2, who failed against Djokovic in a semi-final at last year’s Australian Open when ill with glandular fever, tipped Djokovic could struggle in tight moments, given a lack of familiarity with his new equipment.

“It’s tough because there’s always a factor with the weather, how do you play, day form, you know, other contenders, the pressure, now a new racquet,” Federer said.

“I’m quite surprised he made a switch like this in the best phase of his career, you know. He can for sure play good tennis, but I think when it comes down to the crunch you just have that bit of a doubt maybe, you know, because you are not quite that comfortable with that racquet.

“But we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a big test for him.”

While it is worth noting that Federer is sponsored by Wilson, the brand dumped by Djokovic, his questioning comes after he repeatedly highlighted this week Andy Murray’s failure to capture a Grand Slam tournament.

Although the Swiss star trails Murray 5-2 in head-to-head battles, Federer proved superior in their US Open final clash last September and says that to prove himself, the Scottish world No4 needs to win a Grand Slam tournament.

Djokovic, who moved from Wilson to Head, has already complained of his struggle to adjust to his new racquet, blaming his failure in Brisbane last week in part on the change.

“I changed the racquet and it’s not easy to get rhythm right away,” Djokovic said.

“I’m under the contract so I have to play with the racquet. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the first match. I’m trying not to be pessimistic.”

In contrast, Federer is full of praise when questioned about Rafael Nadal, the player who seized both his Wimbledon crown and No1 ranking last year.

Asked to remove himself from the equation when considering the likely Australian Open winner, the $3.50 equal favourite with Murray for this year’s title said he would always choose Nadal ahead of every other rival.

The Swiss champion did have some kind words for another rival yesterday, praising Davis Cup hero Fernando Verdasco after beating the Spaniard narrowly 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) at Kooyong.

Federer, who will play the winner of today’s match between Swiss Olympic team-mate Stanislas Wawrinka and Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, said Verdasco should now be considered a real threat at Grand Slam level.

“He seems like he’s playing more consistently and he’s got that big shot that everybody is scared of. So he’s got that going for him,” Federer said.

“I think he’s got confident more and more, so that he can hang with normal players and occasionally beat the top players.

“The Grand Slam level, I guess it comes down a lot to mental and physical as well. I think this is what he has to prove this year.”

Former world No1 Carlos Moya is certain his compatriot, who lost to Radek Stepanek in last week’s Brisbane final to continue his rise to world No15, can challenge for a major title.

“Verdasco, I think he’s a really top guy,” Moya said.

“He has the tennis inside of him to be a top 10 player.

“Now he has to believe in himself. And once he does he can become a very dangerous player and one of the top guys.”

It is self-belief Verdasco, 25, who is dating Ana Ivanovic and met the King of Spain following the Davis Cup victory in December, says is the difference between now and last year.

“With the Davis Cup it was a great moment for me, a lot of confidence after that tie also, because it was really tough,” Verdasco said.

“In this position I was thinking different than in other years. All the things and all the motivation, believing in myself much more, and I think that is the key.

“I’m so motivated in this 2009 to be top 10 for the first time. And I will try so hard. I will do my best to be there and I’m already practising so hard, trying all that I can to be there. And I will not stop until I am there.”

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Gotta love it! This is the second time in a week that Roger has directed a psychological attack on one of his main rivals, and I’m really enjoying it. In my previous post he was playing mind games with on form Andy Murray, this time it’s defending Australian Open champ Djokovic. And it seems to have worked. Djokovic lost against the Fin Jarko Nieminen today in Sydney 6-4, 7-6(3). The significance of this loss can’t be overstated. If Djokovic won this match he would have overtaken Roger in the ATP rankings, therefor going into the Australian Open as the number two player in the world. That would have been a significant psychological boost for Djokovic, especially since he is drawn to meet Roger in the semi-finals.

Now it doesn’t even look likely that he will make the semi-finals, with another disappointing loss before the Australian Open. Some of you may remember the psychological warfare that was going on last year at the same time. After losing to Roger in the final of the US Open in 2007, Djokovic went into the Australian Open saying that Roger wasn’t as dominant as he once was. Roger was ill at the time and when the two met in the semi-finals Djocovic won in straight sets. So i’m sure Roger would not have forgotten that little incident and have responded in grand fashion. Talking about Djokovic’s new raquet certainly seems to have unnerved the Serbian, and taking the number two spot form Roger was a mental barrier he couldn’t pass. 6-0 Roger.

As I said the draw for the Australian Open is out and you can view it HERE. What i like about this draw is that Roger and Murray is not in the same half and therefor as the two favorites they could meet in the final. But both of them have some tough obstacles to overcome first if they want to get there. Murray has last years finalist and danger man Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in his quarter of the draw. If he gets to the semi-finals he also have some potentially tough opponents to deal with. Potential opponents in the semi’s for him include Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and the number one seed Nadal. Roger has in form danger man Juan Martin Del Potro in his quarter of the draw and potential semi-final opponents for him include David Nalbandian and Djokovic.

So neither of them have an easy road to the finals but they are probably the most likely two players to make it to the finals. It has to be said though that Murray probably has the tougher draw of the two, and if he gets into long drawn out matches the heat may take it’s toll on him. Murray’s best result at the Australian Open has been a round of sixteen appearance in 2007. Other then that he’s had two first round losses, including last year against Tsonga. So really Murray has a lot to prove, and his first big test will be in the form of Tsonga in the quarter-finals if he can get that far. Murray has been working very hard at his fitness so it will be good, but not going very deep in the tournament before  will make this unknown territory for him and it’s yet to be seen if he can deal with the heat.

On the other hand Roger has gone the full distance on three occasions where he won the title and he will know all too well what it takes. So in the end Roger is still my favorite to win the title, and for good reason.

Is Roger's mind games working?

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