What is Wrong with Federer?

I think there are enough reasons now to ask this question. These are 1) Federer has been on the worst run of form since the Australian Open than we have seen from him in a very long time 2) He lost before the semi-finals of a slam at the French Open for the first time in 24 appearances 3) He lost only his second match on grass in 74 matches against Hewitt in Halle. If Federer did not lose against Hewitt in the final of Halle, I would not have made this post. But the fact that he cannot even win on his favorite surface these days, especially after being up 40-0 on Hewitt’s serve in the second set, does make me worry just a bit. So why does a player that was once so utterly dominant struggle so much to win any tight match these days? The obvious answer is age and natural decline. This is something that happens to all players. No player stays at the top forever, no matter how dominant they once were.

But why does age make a player lose form? There are several examples of players who have had some of their best results in their thirties. Guys like Rainer Schuettler and Tommy Haas has had their best results at Wimbledon in their thirties, both making the semi-finals. Andre Agassi won the Australian Open at age 32 and made the US Open final at the ripe old age of 35. Surely if these guys can do it, so can Federer, who has taken the best possible care of his body and scheduled in such a way that he won’t burn out early. So why has Roger struggled so often since 2008? He has of course still won four majors during that time, but lets look at overall titles from 2001 when he won his first tournament:

2001 – (1)

2002 – (3)

2003 – (7) – 1 major

2004 – (11) – 3 majors

2005 – (11) – 2 majors

2006 – (12) – 3 majors

2007 – (8) – 3 majors

2008 – (4) – 1 major

2009 – (4) – 2 majors

2010 –(1 so far) – 1 major

If you look just at the overall titles, you can see that there has been a significant drop from 2006 until 2009, and 2010 isn’t looking good as far as total titles go thus far. As far as majors go, 2010 is right up there with 2004, 2006, and 2007 so far. But you can’t help wondering when the lack of success in the smaller events is gonna start filtering through to his success at the majors. It may already have. His lack of success in the smaller events may already have caused him to lose his semi-final streak at the French Open this year. Even in 2008 and 2009 where he had relatively poor starts to the year, he still won a clay court event before the French Open in both years. Then came Halle, a tournament where he had won 25 consecutive matches since 2003. He literally owns this tournament. Yet he still manages to throw away three consecutive break points in the second set and in the process the match.

So again, why has Roger struggled so much? I don’t know if there is a definitive answer to this question. It’s probably a variety of things, but one thing I do not think it is is lack of motivation. I’m often a bit surprised when people say Roger is just not that motivated anymore, and even more surprisingly, most people seem to think that. Roger has stated time and time again that he wants to keep playing for many more years and that he has no intentions whatsoever of retiring any time soon. It’s strange how perception can differ so much at times. Where other people see a player who looks like he just does not care that much, I see a player who is desperate to win but simply lacks the confidence to do so as often as he used to. It may look like he doesn’t care, but I can tell you almost for sure that he cares very much and that these losses are painful for him.

Even though Roger has a life outside tennis now, I still think tennis is a huge part of his life, and these losses are no less painful for him than any for any of his dedicated fans. Believe me when I say that his recent lack of form is on his mind. He has also said recently that he enjoys his tennis more than ever. So I don’t think there is any doubt that he is still very passionate about the game. Personally I think his problem is a combination of mental and physical reasons. As you get older you do lose a step, and movement is such an important aspect of the game. But that begs the question: Why did Roger move peRFectly fine at the Australian Open just a few months ago? Every time people starts using that as an excuse, Roger plays one event where he moves just fine. So in fact, I’m not even sure if it’s a physical thing, although that may play a small part.

Rather, I think this is mostly a mental thing. At the Australian Open Roger felt confident so he moved well too. All of a sudden he is not missing any forehands because he is out of position. Footwork and confidence go hand in hand. It goes both ways. When you are confident you move better, and one of the best ways to become confident when you are not, is to move your feet more. Think about it. Why would he win the first set against Hewitt and have three break points in the second set, only to lose the match. He didn’t all of a sudden become slower. Something in his mind hesitated. It comes back to the same old principle: Winning is a habit. And since the Australian Open Roger has not been in the winning habit. He had the lung infection, then lost one close match, and then another, and that’s when it all started. At the moment losing is a habit for him, and he needs to change that.

That is why I was hoping so much he could win against Hewitt in the end, because once you come through a close one it gives you confidence. But the damage was already done when he wasted those break points in the second set. It’s that same old pattern of winning the first set and then faltering thereafter. The last time Roger did well at the best of  three set format was in Cincinnati last year. So it’s not out of the question that he can do well in this format of the game still, but like I said he needs to be confident and have the winning habit. As far as the grand slams go, things have been more consistent for the GOAT. I just hope this quarter final loss at the French Open is not a sign that his poor form outside the slams is starting to filter through to his slam results. The fact that Federer lost in the final of Halle does make me worry just slightly.

I’m sure Roger will make the semi’s at Wimby at least, but I’m just a little worried for him from there on. But it is also a great opportunity. An opportunity to really put all this recent poor form behind him and shut the mouth of the critics for the umpteenth time. If he wins Wimbledon then at least he will already have two majors this year and have equaled Sampras’ seven Wimby titles. Suddenly 2010 will be a success, no matter what happens for the rest of the year. Federer has owned the center court of Wimbledon for the last seven years, and it may well be his last line of defense. If that line is broken then Roger may just become very vulnerable. One thing Federer does have on his side is his love for the game. That may just be his biggest weapon. When things are just not going your way, all kinds of doubts start entering your mind, including what the critics say.

And once you start taking on board what the critics say, you are done and dusted. But in the end Roger just loves the game so much that he won’t let anyone dictate to him when his time is over.  As long as he holds on to that love for the game and believes that he still has the game, good things must happen. And I am positive that both those things are still true…

After this serious post, I think it is just appropriate to end with something funny. In the end tennis(and life) is a game, and it is important to try and enjoy it. Roger did a new ad with Wilson which you can view HERE.

How did that make you feel? ;-)

May the Fedforce be with you.

Please click HERE. Thank you.


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18 Comments

  1. Dear Sir,

    Please read this explanatory e-mail I sent to webteam@rogerfederer.com
    For me personally Roger Federer will be the greatest player in my lifetime considering the fact that I have followed tennis since the days of Laver, Emerson, Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Sampras, and Agassi. I also consider Roger one of my role models.

    Let’s ask the real question…

    “Was it a mistake for Roger to have committed playing to the 2012 Olympics in London?”
    Once again, as a truly loyal fan I consider myself a better analyst of the game than a player and therefore here are my observations of of Roger’s game in the last 12 months with the exception of the Australian Open…
    Roger…

    * starts out slow and then loses concentration

    * starts out quickly and loses in the third set
    * starts out quickly and loses in the fifth set (5 setters used to be his strength)
    * tie-breakers are starting to be an issue (used to be his strength)
    * in the last year I have been able to tell as Roger walks on to the court if he is going to win or lose the match; it’s his body language and the intensity or the lack thereof in his eyes
    * the trouble capitalizing on break points
    * losing service games, more recently his first service games at the beginning of each set
    * spraying forehands when he gets tight
    * showing off with the between the legs shot
    * playing the power game with big guys instead of using his arsenal of brilliant shots and God given talent
    * remarks declaring he is happy with his game when on given day he can lose to a much lesser player
    * even the most talented player in the world needs a “real” coach
    * self proclamation about his game especially when he loses makes him sound arrogant
    * acknowledging his accomplishments, especially after losses
    * the loss of the #1 ranking should have been taken more seriously, the lesser players did not beat him, he beat himself in the Masters 1000 events preceding the French Open
    * at the French Open, Roger may have been over confident prior to his match with Soderling
    * at Halle, well! 16 and 0 against Hewitt, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings!

    Having said all this, I believe Roger can still win Wimbledon and other grand Slams!
    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Hi Salim, I think you make some very good points. He seems to be stubborn and aloof, which is not helping him. He needs to change things. Like you said, a proper coach and not going toe to toe with big hitters. Things like that. I may use some of your comment in a post of you dont mind.

    [Reply]

    Kelly Reply:

    What an awesome analysis of Roger’s current problems. I’ve never understood all these years why so often he loses his concentration (or has brain farts, like Ruaan says)& loses the serve at the beginning of the second set after winning the first. Why doesn’t he go for the final kill like Nadal and not give his opponent any chance to make a comeback.

    If Roger had killer instincts like Nadal, I’ve no doubt he would’ve won at least 70% of the finals he lost to Nadal (including Grand Slams) and others.

    I just wish & dream he could find a way to beat this doping animal called Nadal once in a French Open final. Beating him at Wimbledon again would also be a dream come true. Why can’t Roger summon all his immense talent & weapons and work day & night to make this happen before he retires. He should since he’s after all the GOAT.

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  2. Roger was at his invincible best at AO., and in 4 months we can say is in a decline.I think he´s struggling with confidence, not age,Hewitt is 29 (father of 2 kids,and his wife is pregnant),and with 2 hip surgery and one kne surgery after AO.That´s Hewitt¨s
    picture…it can´t be worse…
    Even though after the AO.09(heartbreak) Roger ended up winning the French and surpassing Pete at Wimby(during Mirka pregnancy) is just one of those things that I would have never thought possible if I hadn´t lived through it.
    So all this worry analysis is premature, if he wins Wimby this will be another good year, if he doesn´t
    nothing will change his greatness.
    Tha´s the attitude good for my health and sanity too.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well at least we fans have each other so we can grieve together if things really get bad ;-)

    [Reply]

  3. Hmm… I think that the biggest problem of us humans is that we are unhappy because the world is not as we want to be. In this case we can, extremely easy, be unsatisfied with everything around us, even with ourselves. I was surprised to see how much pain caused me the loses of Roger. Definitely more than the joy of seeing him wining. Roger cannot be anonymous, is that kind of person that has people who loves him and people that hate him. I really think that the “indifferent” category regarding Roger is extremely small. One of my colleagues is hating him because he is playing too good, flawless some times. Obviously if we are concentrated in seeing his errors we will end up thinking he is making only errors.
    At the end of the day is just a game and what is important, apart of records broken etc., is that people enjoy the game and, why not, learn something that can be applied in real life. It depends of what everybody thinks that is his true mission in this world. Roger is for sure passing one of this periods that sometimes occurs to every cerebral person (I am not talking about so called humans that are thinking life is just food and sex, combined with spicy parties). I couldn’t see that so called “killer instinct” in his game anymore. It seems that he is taking care more of the opponent state of mind than of his own (or the one of his fans :)) . Still his “killer instinct” wasn’t so huge like the ones of Nadal. I think that Roger prefers to loose with style than to win as Nadal is doing. I think that when too many people are telling you that you are God you finally end in believing that you really are. I think that Roger realized or is realizing that in tennis you cannot be God for ever. I don’t know if he keeps trying to be the God of tennis that he was between 2004 and 2007 or he is just trying to be a different type of God by allowing others to win against him. And who won against him lately (except Nadal)? Just normal persons that are not such infatuated ass wholes as is Andy Murray or even Nadal. I am not sure what is happening, but what I believe is that Ru-an you can be sure that what it is happening it is happening only in Roger’s mind. I think it is the time when he is establishing what he wants from tennis and life (not only from tennis as in the first years of his glory) or even from life and tennis (in this particular order). I think that he is experiencing (by his own will) how his pain can make his opponents happy as an antidote of the long time when the pain of his opponents made him happy and us happy too. I think that the terrible kid of the tennis from 2004 is transforming in a REAL MAN and us fans have to be happy about that. I think that even if he losses a match or a tournament at least a part of his game is going to make vibrating our harts. And I also think that somehow we have to decide what we like most: Roger Federer’s game or Roger Federer the MAN (not the God of tennis)…

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Good points Dragos. I like what you said about him believing he is God after everyone told him so, and now he feels like too much of a God to change. He is still trying to play the same game but its not working anymore, and he is too stubborn to change.

    [Reply]

  4. Roger is in a completely different place in his personal life.No matter what he says about how smoothly the transition has been, it has affected his focus.Athletes like him needs to keep the fire burning. I think Roger lacks that fire.
    Nadal last year won the AO.and then a terrible decline.
    Even though in the ATP.site said:”The Rafa renaissance”
    The same will be said for Roger.

    [Reply]

    jane Reply:

    rafa’s decline is due to his injury and his parents breaking up, i think roger got a more serious problem that we dun knw what it is bcos as long as nadal is healthy, i actually can see him winning alot more titles bcos he got the passion

    [Reply]

  5. Hey Ruan, those are some pretty serious stats you produced! This run of form is pretty shocking, but even though it’s been months now, him winning the Aussie this year is a very good sign to me that the motivation is there. With his game, I think the Australian is the second-toughest Slam for him to win. The fact that he can still do that and wants to do that at this stage in his career is impressive. He should be in good shape for Wimbledon.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Agreed Van. The fact that he won the AO shows he is still very motivated.

    [Reply]

  6. You answered and also questioned my previous comment :-) I am trying very hard to be objective about his current form and yet still too raw over his defeat to Le Hewitt on Sunday. At this juncture, I just got to remain positive about SW19 and hopefully he comes back with a big BANG taking 7th title. In conclusion whatever issues he is facing only he himself knows and how to fix it. I am speaking for myself, I think I can only speculate on his issues and etc. It has dawn on me that perhaps I should look beyond this and just sit back to enjoy/agonize over his current tennis. Do note there are moments of brilliance, just need to keep it flowing more.

    [Reply]

  7. Since I can’t reply my own comment, just wanted to add Roger’s new Wilson ad is very ironic. Him being a tennis shrink with the couch and all using ‘how does it makes you feel’ tagline.

    [Reply]

  8. He’s a family man now. Ultimately I think that will prolong his career and help him avoid burnout, because it will give him something to concentrate on besides tennis and make him a more mature and whole person. But it also means that he has family responsibilities. Even he can’t have everything.

    Consciously I’m sure he’s as dedicated and motivated as ever. But the level of his game is not completely under conscious control. His concentration will start to waver occasionally at important times and that means he’ll lose more often.

    We’ll still see his best tennis, but we won’t see it as often. The days of eleven titles a year are long gone. But I think we’ll still see great tennis from him at the majors, and maybe once or twice a year in the best of three.

    [Reply]

  9. When it comes to the rest of the year who knows what we will get from Roger? It is a guessing game as to who will win the majors or any other tourney: Nadal, Djoko, Murray, Roddick, Soderling. Who knows?

    [Reply]

    jane Reply:

    for sure do not want murray to win any of the slams

    [Reply]

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