Two Articles: Does Federer Need A Coach?

The following two articles comes from the Swiss newspaper Blick. The first one was written by Boris Becker:

“Roger, drop Davis Cup!”

By Boris Becker | 15:38 | 22.02.2009
Roger Federer is in the most difficult phase of his career. Here’s what “Ex-Tennis-Crack” Boris Becker advises to the multiple Laureus World Sportsman winner.

This phase that Roger Federer is in is not easy. I can feel what is happening. But I’m convinced that it’s not a crisis. It’s much more a pure Nadal complex.

Federer is motivated, he radiates joy when playing. This was seen in Melbourne. He was superior to his opponents, played freely. And then came Nadal. I can see it, he visibly cramps up. This is due to Roger’s lack of experience playing against players who can meet him eye-to-eye.

Federer was untouchable for many years. He didn’t know this situation of having a real opponent. Suddenly, Nadal appeared in Paris. And this was probably an ‘Aha!’ experience for both. Someone came from zero to a hundred into his kingdom and now this person has even defeated Roger on a hard court. Such defeats sit deep.

For me one of the worst defeats was in the semifinals at Roland Garros, when I clearly led against Stefan Edberg before he took me in the fifth set. That stayed with me. It took a while for me to process it. Young challengers are tough to overcome mentally. When I saw Sampras rising at Wimbledon, I brooded over the situation for a long time. It was almost like a midlife crises for me, you start thinking that he is younger, faster, unspent. You focus everything on that one player and how to play him, no longer playing instinctively, thinking too much.

Like Federer in Melbourne. He broke immediately, but lost his service again. That was an exclamation point of nervousness. But I am convinced that Nadal is not shortening Roger’s career, but will extend it. For Federer it must have been boring to play against players of the caliber of Hewitt and to win every time. He is an intelligent player who can learn, train even harder.

Borg lost Wimbledon to McEnroe once and then stopped. But Federer sees it as a challenge. What he needs to change is his attitude towards Nadal. I’m always surprised at how nice he is. He can like him off the court but only there. On court he needs to be aware and needs to think: “He cost me the last three or four Grand Slams. Without him I would have long been the greatest in history. He wants to take something away from me. Today he is my worst enemy.  And I am his.”

I am convinced that Federer remains motivated. If he eventually starts being eliminated in the semis on a regular basis then he will not be motivated any longer. But as he has been in the last four major finals and has won one of these, this is far from a crises.

He needs to set priorities. This means that he should leave the Davis Cup. I also did the same, and in Germany they nearly crucified me. But that same year, I became number 1 in the world – and everyone was satisfied.

The second one was a live interview with Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi, who is the closest thing Roger has had to a coach over the last few years:

Q. Do you think Roger Federer is the best player the world has ever seen?

Lüthi:. I hope that he’s considered the best in history one day, but right now we’re about winning more Majors and beating Pete’s record.

Q. What’s Roger doing now?

Lüthi:. Training and preparing for Indian Wells and Miami.

Q. Can Switzerland win Davis Cup without Federer?

Lüthi:We always believe it, but first let’s look at the first round (against the U.S.A.). And we want to win! Even if we are not the favorites. We have not traveled here to lose.

Q. Roger seems blocked at certain stages against players like Nadal, Murray and Simon. Could Peter Lundgren help psychologically, as he did in other transitional phases of Roger’s career? He and Roger made it back then, why not today?

Lüthi: I do not think at the moment that Peter is an option. He’s working with Dimitrov, a very talented young player.

Q: How do you see the rivalry between Federer and Nadal? Does Federer have a “Nadalkomplex”? How else to explain his uncertainty in matches against Nadal?

Lüthi: A complex, it is not. One must simply see that Nadal plays on an incredibly high level and dominates against almost everyone. In Australia and Wimbledon, Roger has two matches which he can win again, another time.

Q. Who on the DC team is the best at ping pong?

Lüthi: (after much deliberation) It is a very delicate issue. The winner is not always the same. We need a play off. Chiudi (Marco Chiudinelli), Stephen (Bohli) and Rog are mostly in the Leader group, but Stan (Wawrinka) and I make their lives difficult.

Q. The precise, deep slice in different lengths and speeds would be an effective variant against  Nadal. Federer dominates that shot like no other, I think. In Melbourne, Roger showed that too little. Topspin duels against Nadal are not a good tactic. What do you think?

Lüthi: From the outside, it might look more simple than it is. But try once to play an aggressive slice on Nadal’s topspin. If the slice is too passive, Nadal dominates the point completely afterwards.

Q. Did Roger make the right choice in skipping Davis Cup?

Lüthi: For him, it is the right decision, because he wants to prevent injury to his body and have many more years of top performance. As Davis Cup Captain, it is of course a pity that he can not be here. But all of the team understands his decision.

Q. Do you believe that Roger can really win Roland Garros?

Lüthi: Absolutely!

Q. Do you think the season is over for Nadal, physically?

Lüthi: One should not underestimate Nadal. It’s been said for years that he has is physically problems. But he wins his games more easily than before and can thus save energy. It is clear, however, that his game is physically complex.

Q: It’s snowed in Alabama! I hope you can use this as a “home” advantage! Do the players feel comfortable in the environment?

Lüthi: We feel very comfortable. We are in a super nice hotel, and have a Swiss chef to cater to our every desire.

This article was originally in German and my friend at Go To Tennis Blog did a great job of translating it and gave me the permission to use it. Thank you freakyfrites :-) Check out his blog it’s one of the best.

I will try not to drag this out I know there is a lot to digest here, so I will just touch on the things that stood out for me. First of all I have always respected Boris’ opinion because he knows what it’s about and says it like it is. I think he makes a great point about Roger not ever having had a real rival before Rafa came onto the scene. It was always pretty much plain sailing for him. So while Rafa has dealt Roger some severe blows Boris sees Rafa as a good thing for Roger. This does seem like an idealistic point of view but it exactly the way Roger should see it. Had Rafa not come on the scene tennis might have become boring for Roger and he might have lost motivation eventually. Rafa is a huge challenge for Roger and keeps him interested and honest.

He also says Roger should be more confrontational towards Rafa and view him as an enemy. I know Roger has a lot of respect for Rafa but I can’t help but agree with Boris that he has almost too much respect at times. He needs to show Rafa that his time is not up and that he is still the king. When it comes to Rafa Roger is way too nice a guy. Also it’s good to see that Boris agrees that Roger should not play Davis Cup. It is of course disappointing for many people, including myself, but I would rather Roger last longer and win more grand slams then play Davis Cup. It’s no shame, many top players like Boris himself did the same thing. I have to say Boris’ comments have probably been the best I’ve seen so far about Roger’s issues with Nadal. Respect!

As for the live interview with Roger’s ‘coach’ I don’t agree as much but as someone who has worked closely with Roger it is noteworthy comments. First I don’t agree with what Luthi has to say about whether Roger has a complex with Rafa. I’m going to have to go with Boris on this one. It’s clear that Roger is not as comfortable against Rafa as he is against other players. He seems to be out of his comfort zone and lacks belief in his own abilities, which is very uncharacteristic for Roger. Because Rafa is such a in your face and confrontational kind of player he is getting under Roger’s skin. So Roger must find a way to become immune to Rafa. How will he do it? One thing he might want to look into is hiring a full time coach.

I think Roger has tried long enough on his own now to beat Rafa and its’ clear that he is having trouble. I say he should make a change. When things are working for you then you don’t want to be making changes. But when things clearly aren’t working and you have done what you can do then it’s time to call in help. What does he have to lose? Now I know Roger is more on the conservative side and he is kind of stubborn. Just look at how he insists on taking on Rafa at his own game. Now that is the wrong way to show Rafa who is king, especially if you have tried it before without success! So I really hope Roger will come to his senses and think of hiring a coach. He could use that support, even if it’s just emotional support.

He must know by now what he must do to beat Rafa so it’s a case of belief. Right now Roger does not believe he can beat Rafa. And a coach might just help him with that. Once again I ask the question what has he got to lose? He is losing as it is. Anyhow I’m sure Roger is trying to make the best decision for his career and is probably sick and tired of everyone trying to give him advice. That is not what I want to do. No one is in a better position then Roger himself to make a decision, I’m just trying to use my logic and giving people something to think about. Who would be a good coach for Roger? Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert and Boris himself have all been mentioned. My personal feeling is Cahill. He is a calm, easy going Australian who coached Agassi as well.

Gilbert is maybe the best coach in the world in my opinion but it might be a risk for Roger to hook up with him. Andy Murray was with Gilbert but they didn’t get along too well so they parted. Gilbert might not be the right personality match for Roger and he shouldn’t be taking any risks at this point. Boris is kind of a high profile guy and although he has great insights maybe that isn’t the perfect match either. Cahill just looks like a down to earth guy who is not too much in the lime light and gets the job done. He looks like a better match for Roger to me. And if I am not mistaken he was a serve and volley player in his day which would be an added bonus for Roger as Roger needs to serve and volley against Rafa more.

Ok I will stop now. I will let you vote on this one with a poll. Comments are of course always open.

Do you think Roger needs a coach?

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  1. Hey Ruan! GTT here…just to clarify, Freakyfrites is a girl and the voice/writer of GTT,
    and then there’s me Freakyfritters, who is married to Frites, and I help her out with the graphics and web programming.


  2. Pete Sampras would be Rogers ideal coach. They are friends, respect each other, and Pete would shore up Rogers server and volley game and transform him for his later career years as an agresstive server and volleyer.


    ruanz3 Reply:

    Hi Steve. Yes that would be an interesting partnership for sure, but to be honest i dont see it happening. Thanks for the comment.


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