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.
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