Should Federer Reinvent Himself in 2014?

Should Federer Reinvent Himself in 2014?

Hi folks. I hope you are feeling better after reading my last post and that you realize by now that Roger’s loss is not the end of the world. I received a comment a couple of days ago asking me what I thought about Roger changing his racquet and strings, because it was something Brad Gilbert said Roger should consider. That got me thinking. Ever since Roger passed his prime people have always been coming up with changes Roger should make after a disappointing loss. And then when things are going well again they have nothing to say. Well that was just silly. Losses are a natural part of tennis, and it doesn’t always call for a change. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t place for change, which is why I’m making this post. Roger just lost for the first time in 9 years before the quarter finals of a slam. If there was ever a time to make a change it is probably now.

When things weren’t really going well for Roger he hired Paul Annacone, and it has been a successful partnership. That was a pretty big change and it paid off. I’ve been thinking about this equipment change idea as well as a different fitness routine which would focus on strengthening the upper body. Lets face it. The game has become very physical and Roger is often getting overpowered. Berdych is one player who routinely overpowers Roger and in recent times Murray overpowered Roger in Melbourne. Nadal also overpowers Roger with brute strength. There are more examples I’m sure, but I just named a few off the top of my head. Roger has never been the biggest hitter in the game. But he had more than enough power in his prime to keep any big hitter at bay. What made him such a tough opponent is that he stood on the base line and took the ball on the rise.

He played very fast and his opponents were under constant pressure. It was just another level from what they were used to, which is why Roger almost never lost in his prime. It was only when Nadal showed up and used brute strength and unbelievable speed, as well as a match up advantage that Roger’s aura was infiltrated. Roger was as close to perfect as a player could come, and it took something extraordinary to make him vulnerable. Ever since then Roger became slowly but surely more vulnerable. The other players that started beating him more regularly were the power hitters like Berdych, Soderling, and Tsonga. Del Potro also beat him in the US Open final. Roger hasn’t always struggled with these guys. He does hold winning head-to-heads over all of them, and pretty convincing ones too. It’s not just these guys though.

Murray and Nadal are both strong guys and I have seen them both overpower Roger. It is just that extra upper body strength that they have. Just good old muscle. I think if Roger is going to make any changes from here on one of them would have to be strengthening his upper body. You can see strengthening his upper body was never really a priority for Roger because he is pretty skinny up there. That is not to say he is weak in the upper body. Of course he did some work there, but because he was such a natural talent and great timer of the ball he didn’t strengthen it as much as Nadal or Murray for instance. These guys can really muscle the ball. I’m not saying Roger should muscle the ball. It’s not how he plays. He plays with talent and timing. But strengthening the upper body could just give him that little extra to be able to compete better with these guys.

The other thing is the equipment. Roger plays with a Wilson BLX Pro Staff 90 racquet which you can view here. The 90 stands for the racquet head size, which is 90 square inches. That is pretty small folks. This is not a racquet I would ever recommend for a club player. I played with one of the first Head Prestige frames early on as a player and it had a 90 sq in head as well. The sweet spot is small and it is not easy to play with. Later on I switched to the 98 sq in Head Prestige, and played with it until the end. Check out this article in the New York Times about the racquets of the top 3 men. It was written back in 2011 but as far as racquets go the top 3 hasn’t changed much at all. It’s a very interesting article which you should read. What is so interesting is that Roger, Nadal, and Djokovic all have a different playing style, and therefor each uses a different racquet tailored to their specific needs.

I find this all very interesting. Roger’s racquet places emphasis on control, Djokovic’s racquet on counter punching, and Nadal’s on spin as expected. With the 90 sq in racquet head you obviously have to have impeccable timing and hit the ball very cleanly, which Roger does. Djokovic and Nadal’s racquets are more forgiving, but then again they are not as talented as Roger. Djokovic doesn’t hit with an awful amount of spin. His backhand is quite flat actually. So for him it makes sense to have a racquet which gives both control and spin. Roger hits with the least spin while Nadal hits with the post spin, and therefor are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The more spin a racquet gives you the harder you can hit the ball, because the more spin you hit with the less the chance is that the ball will go out. On the other hand Nadal’s racquet provides the least control, which the spin makes up for.

Roger can afford to hit the ball flat because his racquet provides the most control. He plays with an eastern grip on both sides as well which means a more open racquet face on contact, with less probability of a mishit. Djokovic and Nadal have western grips on their forehands and needs bigger racquet heads because the racquet head is more closed on contact, and therefor it’s harder for them to hit the sweet spot. It’s all pretty scientific and interesting. I had to just figure it all out for myself again because I always thought of racquets in terms of power and control, but if you bring the spin factor in it all makes sense. Anyway we all know Roger have started struggling more with mishits after his prime. Not entirely sure what the reason is for it. It probably comes down to footwork. When Roger is not feeling it out there his footwork suffers, and as a result he gets more mishits.

It is really quite incredible how Roger can take the ball on the rise from the base line and get so few mishits in his prime. Agassi used to take the ball on the rise too but he played with something like a 110 square inch head, and therefor a much bigger sweet spot than Roger. Sampras played with and even smaller head than Roger, an 85 sq in. But of course Sampras didn’t take the ball on the rise from the base line. Sampras was even more fussy about change than Roger. He wanted everything exact and there was no room for experimentation. I think there were people calling for him to make equipment changes when he started struggling at the end of his career too, but there was no way he was gonna change. Only after retirement did he experiment with bigger head sizes. Roger is more adaptable than Sampras because he is more talented and versatile.

Therefor I think it may not be a bad idea for him to try a bigger racquet head. There is a 95 sq in version of the racquet he uses which you can see here. Dimitrov and Dolgopolov uses this racquet as well, and this is the racquet I want to get myself. I haven’t picked up a racquet in years, and if I can find a place where I can play regularly this is the racquet I’m thinking about getting. I think if Roger tried this racquet we would see less mishits from him. It’s just a slightly bigger sweet spot. Maybe he will lose some power but it won’t be a lot and by strengthening his upper body that won’t be a problem anyway. So these are the two thing I think Roger can experiment with; strengthening his upper body and playing with the slightly bigger head. Sampras was too set in his ways to experiment at the end, and who knows what a change in equipment could have done for him.

Roger is however more adaptable like I said and I think he can definitely afford to make these changes. He is getting towards the end of his career and losing before the quarter final of a slam for the first time in 9 years would be a good time to think about experimenting. And I’m willing to bet my house on it that you guys are all for it too. The good thing about changes is that it gives you kind of a new start. A clean slate as it were. A little boost. I think Roger could do with something like that right now. Maybe not at this instant though. It may be a better idea to wait until the end of the year when he has some time off again and then make the equipment change. As for the physical change he can start right away. It will take some time to strengthen his upper body anyway so he may as well start right away.

Then by the start of 2014 he will be bigger in the upper body and have a new racquet. In that way he can reinvent himself for the 2014 season. Changes can be good. In fact it is crucial if you want to keep being successful and happy. I personally like change. It is not always easy because you face the unknown, but remaining in your comfort zone is no way to live your life. I am currently going through a change in my personal life and although there is uncertainty it is exciting and necessary. I think it may be time for Roger to reinvent himself. This could potentially add years and success to his tennis career. It is always dangerous to take refuge in the known and stagnate. That is when the problems begin. I realize Roger is not a player who muscles the ball and being stronger could mess with his rhythm, but the risk may be worth it.

Lets look at what the two changes that I suggested would do for Roger:

  1. Strengthening his upper body – It would allow him to feel less intimidated by the big hitters and powerful physiques like Berdych, Tsonga, Nadal, and Murray. And I am certainly not suggesting doping. The idea that you have to dope to become strong is a myth. With the proper work out routine at the gym and right diet you can build muscle fast. These players have routinely been hitting Roger off the court and it is time he did something about it. He is not too old and it is not too late. Muscle can be built by anyone at any time. The one thing about muscle is that it is heavy and increasing it will increase your weight. But Roger has always carried some weight around the midsection and he can turn that into muscle without gaining much weight. That way it won’t make him slower. How about a six pack?
  2. Changing his racquet to a 95 sq in head – This would reduce the amount of mishits for Roger and give him more consistency from the base line in a time when base line tennis has taken over the game. If Roger does become slower because of muscle gain in his upper body then the bigger racquet head will make up for it. In other words if he is not in position to hit the ball, the larger racquet head will be more forgiving and reduce mishits.

All of this will make Roger a more powerful and consistent player from the base line. And isn’t that what tennis has turned into? These days tennis is all about power and consistency from the base line. So in theory my suggestions make an awful lot of sense, if you don’t mind me saying so. Someone said in a comment in my last post that Roger should hire me, and I can’t say that I disagree with them. Changes are difficult because you don’t want to lose what you have gained. But sometimes in order to have something better you have to risk everything you have gained. Change is scary but we must all face it. If Roger makes these changes is could potentially cost him a slam title, but it could potentially make him gain two more as well. It is all about what you are willing to risk, and that is up to Roger. I just think this feels like a good time for some changes.

I was thinking of making a poll asking you whether Roger should reinvent himself for 2014 in the way I suggested, but knowing you you would all vote yes. So instead I’m gonna make a poll asking you whether you think I should become Roger’s personal advisor and motivator. That will be more fun and interesting. For me anyway. I will be able to see who voted what, but don’t let that put you off. Vote whatever you feel like voting. I don’t care either way. It’s not like Roger is gonna hire me. This is just for kicks!

Should Roger hire Ru-an as his personal advisor and motivator?

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30 Comments

    1. I can easily follow your rationale, and it seems to make sense to start using a bigger frame to make up for lost precision due to slower footwork. But will Roger go for it? Is he smart enough to take good advice from Ru-an? I would want him to start using another frame right now, not wait until end of 2014.

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Exactly Chris, a bigger frame to make up for lost precision due to slower footwork. There is more room for error in other words. I don’t know if he should make the change mid season though. What if he wins the US Open? Would you still want him to make the change? Also he will need some time. Actually he has more than a month before the Roger’s Cup, so you may have a point. I just thought he could make this change in the off season after he has assessed his 2013 year and then he can make a decision and a change if necessary.

      [Reply]

      rich Reply:

      I think the analysis that Roger needs to become stronger – to keep up with many of the other top guys – and perhaps change to a more forgiving racquet, is spot on. But he’s a stubborn guy. It’s hard to see him changing, but if he doesn’t the traffic is likely to be only one way for him now. At 32 he is unlikely to regain a lost edge of speed but he could definitely benefit from more body strength to compensate for a gradual loss of power in his game.

      Players often don’t like to change racquets – as you say about Sampras (and I remember Borg in his “comeback” tried to stick with wood!)- and Djokovic struggled for a while when he changed frames a couple of years back. It can certainly take a while to adjust. But for Roger it’s definitely worth trying, because he’s not maintaining his consistency with his present racquet like he used to a few years ago. (By the way, I promised not to use the “d” word, but looking at those photos of Murray, just what kind of gym program turned him from a weed in Schwarzenegger! I would be very interested to know exactly an ectomorph tennis player can end up looking like a pro body-builder who spends all day in the gym. Where would he find the time to hit tennis balls?)

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Well the racquet I am suggesting is very similar to Roger’s current racquet and given how talented he is he should have no problem adjusting. As for Murray having a ripped upper body it can easily be achieved with gym work and diet. Some guys don’t even need the diet. They just have the genes that allow them to get ripped very quickly. I know people like that personally. In fact some of them don’t even gym. They are just naturally in great shape. Very annoying when you are someone who has to work your ass off to get ripped but true nonetheless.

      [Reply]

      rich Reply:

      Perhaps Roger could find a way to learn from the experiences of a player like Tommy Haas, who at 35 is playing some of the best tennis of his life. He is a similar build to Roger and is phenomenally fit, and doesn’t seem to lack power. He is also likely to have made a racquet change in these his later years. Two other players who are fitness dynamos in their thirties are Jurgen Melzer and Tommy Robredo, and both are playing well.

      [Reply]

    1. Great post as usual, Ruan. Federer was actually asked this question last year in one of his TV interviews. And he actually said he was not opposed to changing his racket but that it was hard to do so given his schedule. In other words, he said he needed a good chunk of time to practice with the racket before he used it in tournaments. I think this is now going to be biggest issue for Federer. All the panelists on ESPN and Tennischannel (Gilbert, Patrick M., Darren Cahill, Johnny Mac) have all been saying that part of what has hurt Federer is his lack of play. They all thought he might add an extra tournament in before the US Open to build confidence. Given all the changes going on, how does one fit in a new racket, and also should Fed play more?

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Yeah he says this in the article I posted too. Not enough time to make a change. So I think he should do it after the WTF thus year and perhaps not play a warm up event for the AO again.

      [Reply]

      Marcus Reply:

      When Sampras lost in Wimbledon 2002 rnd 2 he played masters Cincinati and Toronto and threw in long island for the extra matches

      Also of note is that Connors switched from the Wilson T2000 that he had used since 1968, right after 1984 Wimbledon; to a mid sized Wilson racket

      which was a really big change because the T2000 strings were strung inside the frame and not through the frame like everything else

      [Reply]

    1. Hi Ruan–I see you answered my question about the time needed to break in a new racket. Could you just speak to my query about whether he should play more to build confidence?

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Yeah he does need matches. His confidence isn’t that low but more matches won’t hurt. Maybe he can play Washington. May be a good idea actually. It will help his ranking too.

      [Reply]

    1. Not an expert here but I did hear that adjusting the strings o the racket can add or take away power from the hitting. He could change that on the racket as well, to get more power on it. Nadal did something to his racket about a year ago I think which has made his hitting a lot harder that it used to be.

      Of course a change of racket and string adjustment needs a long time to get used to. I think it’s worth doing.

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Yes I didn’t talk about strings because I am not educated enough about the modern string types. But the tighter you string your racquet the more control you get and the less power. When you string it loose you get more power but sacrifice control. Roger already strings his racquets pretty loose. But if he switches to the bigger head and keep his string tension the same he will get more power from the strings. That could well be worth doing as well.

      [Reply]

    1. He needs more matches too apart from racquet and upper body strength. Noticed now he wears double layer of clothing in almost all his matches now. His back will continue to be minor hindrance if he does not take care of his body. Hope he will perform well this US Open

      [Reply]

    1. interesting observation about spin. They did a study about 5 years ago where an average Nadal forehand was hit with 3200 rpm, while the Federer forehand was at 2700 rpm. I am not sure where Djokovic is but i don’t think he hits with alot more spin than Roger. They are pretty similar in this area.

      [Reply]

    1. I think there’s always room for change and improvement. I hope Federer can make the needed changes to keep him at top of his game. Sometimes getting past stubborness and habit can prove to be most difficult to overcome.

      [Reply]

    1. He could increase his racket size, but that might lead to more injuries.

      He needs to be slim and lean to remain flexible and explosive and maximize his footspeed; his footwork will be totally screwed up if he puts on more muscle. The more muscle mass he carries the greater the risk of injury, especially at his age. Have you noticed his left arm is much smaller than his right? Clearly he wants to keep unneeded mass to an absolute minimum.

      If he can strengthen his upper body without getting too massive, maybe he can make a switch. But I dunno. I think his core muscles are already very strong, even if he’s not cut like the other guys. There is probably not too much he can do there.

      Bigger biceps are not going to help him since his power comes from torso rotation, not pure arm strength.

      It might be a good thing for Federer to add a little weight to the racket, perhaps. That might increase his offensive capability because he could generate more pace (the heavier racket would impart more momentum to the ball) and penetrate the court more easily, but it would mean he would tire a bit more quickly because he would be swinging a slightly heavier racket.

      To avoid that, he would have to seek to shorten the points even more. But of course that is what he should be doing in any case. He certainly cannot hope to grind with these guys for five hours at a time. And a racket that helps force him to play more offense might be just the thing he needs.

      But who knows? After looking back on the year, he might decide not to change anything. Or he might make a couple changes. Who knows?

      [Reply]

    1. Excellent piece Ru-an, really well done.
      I have thought about Fed changing to a 95 for quite a while, and I do think it would be a good change. I think the best time to do so would be right now with the long break he has until Wimbledon. I don’t think the change would be that dramatic – I went from 110 to 90 and my game didn’t suffer at all. Speaking of he 90, I use it (the 2010 BLX) and I love the racket, but I do want to switch to a 95 as it just gives that forgiveness that the 90 doesn’t when you start to mistime balls.

      [Reply]

      Kyle Reply:

      Oops, meant to say until Canada.

      [Reply]

    1. Hey guys, look at these two articles.

      This is an article from a stupid writer. What is the first thing you notice? That he is either jealous of Roger or that he really wants Roger to be gone. He uses the words ‘ego’, ‘dumped out’ and ‘arrogant’.
      http://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/411301/Setback-or-the-end-for-Roger-Federer

      Second article is what more fair. I loved the whole article, yes, of course, it too is asking about Roger’s decline, but still. But look at the first comment of Micheal9. It is a long one, but a really good one.
      I especially loved the fact that he spoke about something I have also been saying.
      That Roger should quit beeing President of the ATP Council.
      He is doing it for players (ranked lower) who are not even respecting him anymore.
      And while all the other big ones keep winning and practising, he is stuck in board meetings, etc.
      Ps: I love the piece about the banners from his fans…
      http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/tennis/news/20130629/price-cult-of-roger-federer/

      [Reply]

    1. Ru-an, the timing of your excellent piece does well to address concerns most of us have. Re-invent is a great word in his case. A changing sport requires changes from its athletes and Roger who’s now in his 3rd decade as a pro needs time off to revaluate his tools and technique. Post 30 years, Agassi is a classic example of re-inventing his fitness and game. McEnroe also tried new things after taking 6 months off, but it didn’t work for him in the era of Lendl, Becker, Edberg, Wilander and then Sampras & Agassi. I think Roger and his team are aware of all this and more; they have access to the best resources in sports science and the best advisors money can buy. It’s a question of what to go with and in how much time plus how comfortable he feels in adapting.

      Fitness: I agree with Steve on Roger’s physique. While he is not as cut as Murray, Nadal or Djokovic , his core is already strong from training and years of playing. His shots, when he plays them well, have as much penetration as can be afforded to a top-5 player on the slow, made-for-grind courts. To counter slow hard courts more effectively, he could build up his strength and endurance further to get more explosive and to be consistent. This would mean he’d have to add a few pounds of muscle weight where it matters with minimum risk to his movement. We have seen that Roger at his best, has incredible foot movement in precise patterns that is beautiful to watch. This is his foundation to a high-quality range and depth of strokes that facilitates his rapid switch from defence to offense. Of late, I haven’t seen roger’s feet move with the predatory stalking skill of 2012. It’s one of the reasons why he has frequently been caught between staying back and moving forward against the top 10. I’d like to see those feet at their decisive, dancing best again.

      Mental fitness: I believe that when the body is faltering, the mind will follow. A Roger at his fittest with no back issues will breed a ‘bring-it-on’ confidence to last the distance with the top 10 and that will flow into his already strong mental approach.

      Equipment: I’m sure team Roger is aware of the benefits of switching to a 100 square inch racket space from his current preference of 95. I currently play with a 2006 Wilson N-Code N-Tour 95 strung with Babolat’s RPM Blast. It’s a beautiful racket at 11 plus ounces and challenges me to be technically adequate. My second racket is a lower end babolat 100 which is lighter, more manoeuvrable and definitely more forgiving. That said, I prefer the Wilson because of its high demands and it can be rewarding when I get it right. I don’t know what Roger’s reasons are for not switching. Surely, it can’t take more than a few weeks to adjust.

      Game/Tactics/Strategy: I think much of this depends on the higher bounce and surface slow-downs. Roger had the greatest forehand in the game and one of the best service returns. His serve was untouchable at best and his backhand was strong. These days, his serve can falter when under pressure, forehand errors seem to appear from nowhere and his return game has dipped which surprises me because I saw him return some thunderbolts at practise in Wimbledon 2009. He seems to be using a lot more of ‘ late wrist snap’ on his forehand which demands extraordinary concentration and coordination. The backhand was under pressure this Wimbledon. Tactically, I have no doubts Annacone is adding value; perhaps the execution is faulty? McEnroe commentating in Roger’s match with Stakhovsky noted that he doesn’t seem to want to go to plan B or C and instead insists on going toe-to-toe. We saw how this didn’t work with Del Potro in 2009 US open finals and with Nadal also in 2009 AO finals and 2011 FO finals. Maybe there are other such matches that I can’t seem to recall. An additional coach on a consultant basis may do no harm at this stage, although it is possible that too many cooks can spoil Roger’s broth.

      It would be interesting if the Federer Camp can take a few months off after this year’s commitments. It could mean skipping the Australian Open and Indian Wells. The new, improved Roger could test himself on one of the worst surfaces – Miami and then move on to Clay. Finally he would be ready for Wimbledon et al. All this is of course, easier said than done from the comfort of my armchair. We don’t even know how much more Roger is willing to sacrifice to reinvent himself. Besides, it is his choice to continue in a sport where he must maintain his standards while he is around. The growing demands of fatherhood must become a priority at some point. Before that happens, this would be a good time for Roger to do what he has to do. Sometimes, it is a good idea to take a step back to go two steps forward.

      [Reply]

    1. Don’t know much – unfortunately – about racket technology and the physical consequences of an eventual change. But my philosophy is one of adapting to change, and not to fear the future. So I’m certainly not against the idea of change.
      I for my part, I’d like Roger handling the breakpoints in a different way. He plays often percentage tennis on those break points instead of going for a bit more with the return. I’d like Roger to be a bit more aggressive on these returns (if possible).
      I’m gone, Ruan, somewhere in the boonies for some time, and shall have the privilege to visit some remote places (where Americans soldiers fought heroic battles in the past). Won’t be able to comment for a while though…

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Enjoy Wilfried. Agree about going for more on break points.

      [Reply]

    1. I am confused by Fed’s decision to play Gstaad, a clay court tournament when he is headed into the hard court tournament. WTF? Can someone explain? Is it because it is a better holiday spot for his family than steamy eastern USA? What is going on here?

      [Reply]

      leon Reply:

      It is in his home country, and I guess that’s the biggest factor. Lots of fans will be able to see him play there for the first time in 10 years. And,of course, it is easier for his family to travel a 100 miles, than a few thousand miles all the way to Washington (if he were to play it).

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Yeah I would have liked to see him play Washington Sakhi. More points up for grabs than Gstaad and better preparation for USO than clay.

      [Reply]

      Dolores Reply:

      Ru-an, The twins will be celebrating their 4th birthday on the 23rd of July, maybe that plays a role on his Gstaad decision? My guess.
      Dolores

      [Reply]

      Ru-an Reply:

      Maybe Dolores. I’m about to make a post.

      [Reply]

    1. Hate to admit it, but the women’s game at Wimby is more interesting this year with all that’s going on. G

      [Reply]

      veronica Reply:

      Couldn’t agree more, Gary!!

      [Reply]

 

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