Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Herr Forehand
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Herr Forehand 07/24/2008 - 3:42 PM

FedThis one is harder to explain.

Roger Federer has lost more often this year than in the recent past, but there were extenuating circumstances to his most significant defeats. They could be boiled, roughly speaking, down to two things: Illness and Nadal.

Federer’s loss in his opening-round match to Gilles Simon last night in Toronto, however, is tough to link to anything in particular. His own explanation was hard-court rust—he hadn’t practiced much on the stuff after Wimbledon—and the usual difficulty players have finding their groove right away in a first-rounder. Nadal himself suffered from the same thing when he went down 1-4 in the first set yesterday to Jesse Levine.

What made Federer’s match less explicable was that he didn’t have much trouble to start. He seemed determined to take the initiative against his counterpunching opponent, who looked a little overwhelmed by his first experience facing the world No. 1, and in an evening session to boot. Federer did what he could to increase that pressure by working to finish points quickly and at the net. Coming into the match, I had wondered whether Simon could give Federer trouble—they’d never played and the Frenchman won last week in Indy. But as the first set ended, I decided Simon was just too defensive for Federer. Like Nadal, he could run shots down; but unlike Nadal, he couldn’t respond to them with much force of his own.

There was a shift in the mood of the match early in the second set. Simon had settled down—he was finally ready to take his best shot and see what he could do—while Federer was showing signs of the forehand troubles that would explode on him at the end of the match. He was misfiring in particular on his approaches down the line; he looked like he was rushing and moving through them in an impatient effort to get to the net. Has he been listening too much to his many critical fans who have spent the last three years urging him to move forward, particularly against Nadal? (I think the Tennis Channel’s Robbie Koenig would like to see him take every ball out of the air. Which would be entertaining when you think about it.) But no matter how many times he came to the net when he beat Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, Federer is a power baseliner who can volley, rather than a natural net-rusher—his biggest advantage over other players will always be his forehand ground stroke—much the same way that Sampras was a server who could volley, rather than a classic serve-and-volleyer.

Or maybe Federer was just anxious because Simon had begun to get a read on his movement around the net and find the range on his passes. While Simon is an unimpressive presence (he's 5-foot-11, 150 pounds) and a less-than-imposing ball-striker—he caresses his backhand over the net—it’s hard to imagine Federer beating him any other way than running him off the court. He wasn’t going to out-defend him. Simon hits what looks to me like a tricky ball—low and slow, but not as slow as you might guess from watching his gentle swing, and just deep enough to keep his opponent from hauling off and hitting a clean winner on it. The Frenchman broke after a long game to go up 4-2, then gave it back by hitting a sitter volley into the tape. Again, I assumed he was going to lose, this time because it was clear he wasn’t ready to actually take a lead against Federer.

That still seemed to be the case even after Simon won the second set. He reached 30-30 on an early service game of Federer’s in the third, then went away again. Federer went up 3-1, and then played a superb game to reach 4-3. Still, the forehand was a problem. It even got to the point where Simon began serving into it on crucial points.

No matter how up and down Federer was through the evening, I don’t think anyone was prepared for the final game of the match. He served at 4-5 and immediately hit four wild, highly unforced errors. This was the point where Federer usually hangs on and survives an early-round test; instead, he “lost” his forehand. The only thing I could compare it to was a similar meltdown that Steffi Graf suffered against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the early 90s. We forget that Graf did anything other than mow down her opponents. But she had her days when she couldn’t keep her forehand inside the doubles alleys.

Graf relied utterly on her forehand, but it was a flat, late shot that was dependent on her athleticism more than her technique. In other words, it could go haywire. We’ve always thought of Federer as a complete player, and his forehand is much smoother than Graf’s was. The German's shot was a raw force of nature; Federer's is a kind of Platonic ideal of the stroke. But from a practical perspective, how much does he also rely on it to elevate him above his opponents? How much would his game suffer if it went just slightly more haywire, slightly more often? It’s a beautiful shot, but he takes risks with it by hitting it early and on the rise. With his ascent to the top of the rankings came a major decrease in the number of shanks he hit on both sides. But his whippy technique, on both his forehand and backhand, didn’t change or become any less risky.

Federer will be 27 on August 8. When Sampras turned 27, in August 1998, he was in the middle of his sixth and final full year as the No. 1 player in the world. Federer’s relinquishment of that spot at some point was always inevitable. And so was his increasing inconsistency. As much as age slows you down and robs you of explosiveness, it also does something more basic: it makes you miss more often. That to me is the simplest explanation for why Lleyton Hewitt is no longer in the Top 5. His game was predicated on not missing; as he got older, he missed more.

But what isn’t inevitable is seeing Federer lose his shots, particularly his forehand, completely. The times when Graf did were painful to watch. There was something not right about seeing her blast that famous roundhouse stroke 10 feet wide—her nickname was Fräulein Forehand, after all. There was something not right in seeing Federer do the same with his effortlessly lethal and elegantly efficient forehand as the match went on last night. Maybe it’s the pressure of the Slam record. Maybe it’s the rise of Nadal. Maybe it’s the Wimbledon final. Maybe it’s the lack of hard-court practice. Maybe it’s the aging process. Maybe it's the "monster" of expectations. Maybe it was just one match. Maybe it won’t last. I’m all for changing of the guards at No. 1, and I understand that losses happen. But as with Graf, if nothing else I want to see Federer hit his forehands in. Her force of athletic nature, his Platonic ideal: Those shots were put on the earth to work. The sport just wouldn't seem right otherwise.


 
89
Comments
 

Posted by Anne 07/24/2008 at 03:50 PM

First!

Posted by 07/24/2008 at 03:50 PM

first?

Posted by Mike 07/24/2008 at 03:58 PM

Well put, Steve.

Posted by Ten G 07/24/2008 at 04:03 PM

Well said Steve....I couldn't agree more.

Posted by Jan 07/24/2008 at 04:13 PM

I agree Steve. Let's hope Roger can bounce back from this.

Posted by crazyone 07/24/2008 at 04:14 PM

Steve, great post.

The comparison to Graf is comforting, I much prefer it to the comparison to Henin.

The other thing that wasn't working for him yesterday was his serve.

Posted by Marcus Shaffie 07/24/2008 at 04:15 PM

Well said...The hunger needs to come back for him...

Posted by abybaby 07/24/2008 at 04:15 PM

'But as with Graf, if nothing else I want to see Federer hit his forehands in. Her force of athletic nature, his Platonic ideal: Those shots were put on the earth to work. The sport just wouldn't seem right otherwise'.

You summarized my feelings there. I can deal with his overpowered by someone, but every forehand miss makes me cringe.

Posted by Markic 07/24/2008 at 04:21 PM

So funny: just before I got to the part where you mentioned Graf, I thought 'this sounds like what used to happen to Graf'. She got it back together though, and so will he.

Posted by Rob 07/24/2008 at 04:22 PM

Nice piece.

One of Fed's strengths has been his consistency, his ability to hit hard and keep it within the lines, make few unforced errors. His game is predicated on that strength (unlike Sampras's, who went for bigger shots with less margin of error, less topspin ... and he relied on his serve and later his volley more).

If Fed loses that consistency, he'll need to make up for it in other ways.

Posted by Master Ace 07/24/2008 at 04:43 PM

One of the things that surprised me about last night was that he lost serve 5 times(3 of them at love, I believe) after the first set and a half. In the 3rd set, he would do a good job in getting the lead but somehow play a loose game where in the past, he would tighten the "screws". Gilles was steady as usual and kept his errors to a minimum once he adjusted to Roger's game but Roger was missing FH consistently. He was probably surprised that Gilles was playing the FH more than his opponents(especially Rafael) usually does. Opponents would "pepper" his BH.


Roger Federer will win Cincinnati on 08/03/08 after he make the proper adjustment(s)on hardcourts.

Posted by CL 07/24/2008 at 04:47 PM

Steve - its your 4th paragraph I find the most interesting. For all the talk about Fed at the net, the fact remains that he is NOT..nor do I think he ever will be... an INSTINCTIVE net player. He is not as Kamakazi-ish as Andy Roddick in some of his net approaches but neither does he seem to have that genuine, innate, sense of when to go in. So many times when he has an opponent pulled very wide and off balance I want to scream "Now you dunderhead," because he has, at that point the perfect opportunity to put away an easy shot. He couldn't seem to read that he was getting killed trying to come in on Simon's BH side. And he hesitated badly at times. This is no McEnroe/Edberg up there. Perfect to say that Sampras was a server who could volley. Fed is a great baseliner who can volley.. though not quite so well as Sampras. People who want Fed to come to the net more mistake aggression for net play. And have no sense what the changed racket technology gives the passer. Fed is at his best when he steps into the court.. .. not necessarily when he steps up to the net.

Posted by marise 07/24/2008 at 04:51 PM

great article. how can one explain being rusty after having such a fast start, afterall he was 4 love in the first set and ended up winning it 6-2. Anyway, here is hoping that Roger bounces back for tennis sake

Posted by svelterogue 07/24/2008 at 04:52 PM

steve

another work of nature, this piece, a sublime work of nature.

Posted by crazyone 07/24/2008 at 04:58 PM

By the way, I just loved this part:

*I think the Tennis Channel’s Robbie Koenig would like to see him take every ball out of the air. Which would be entertaining when you think about it.*

Koenig and Goodall want EVERYONE, not just Fed, to become serve-volleyers. It's hilarious when you're watching say, Gonzalez-Tipsarevic on clay and they're exhorting both guys to come to net.

CL, you're making me long for "Gentleman Tony" to come back...

Posted by jb 07/24/2008 at 05:00 PM

master ace - i have rarely, if ever seen you so confident of a prediction. I find it oddly comforting. Makes me want to hug you, but i'll settle for sporting hand shake, pat on the shoulder and a mumbled - 'er, good show, man'

Steve - i'm voting for the 'Maybe it was just one match' theory - but i think it's prolly a bit more complicated than that. And i think Fed will have more of these matches as he transistions, where things just go awry. His game is so precisely timed, it seems to me if it goes just a wee bit off its Waayyyyy off, as he doesn't play with much margin for error typically.

we'll see. i also think, maybe incorrectly, that had he been facing someone else in the draw, he would have handled the match. but not last nite, the winner of indy who he had never played before, on his first match back on hard courts. pfft. its done. He and Stan will get some match play in doubles then can go to cincy early to get used to the conditions there.

and game on, again.

Posted by Joe 07/24/2008 at 05:06 PM

I agree with CL's comments above. I believe it to be apparent that all the talk about increased aggresiveness has gotten into Roger's head. It almost seems like he is confused about strategy out there. Some of his approaches were ill timed affairs.

They always say that it takes longer to develop instinctive habits at the net. I think that Roger's baseline play the past four years has inhibited his development around the net, and that he is probably at a stage in his career where it is not going to become a great option for him.

I see a comparison with Agassi being much more fair that with Sampras (although neither comparison is particularly strong). Roger should stay up on the baseline and make players move with his ability to move the ball around the court. I think that if he stayed back consistently last night he would have won that match.

Posted by lulu 07/24/2008 at 05:15 PM

It's all in his head, hey, no doubt.

Posted by MZK 07/24/2008 at 05:18 PM

I actually think, despite the unsettling nature of its finish, this match was consistent with the losses Fed has had over the past couple of years. Take a persistent, wily counterpuncher or defensive player on a good run of form, a rusty or unfocused Fed, and harass and frustrate him into a barrage of errors. This explains the Murray losses, the Cañas losses, the Nalbandian losses, the Djokovic losses, and yes, the Nadal losses, though of course Djoko and Rafa represent this paradigm to the Nth degree and obviously won their matches rather than Fed losing them, and Nalby was always a challenge for him. So while troublesome, I don't think it's cause for panic, especially considering Simon has had a week to gain in confidence and form (winning a title along the way) and has the type of game to stun a rusty Federer as he did.

So in my view, the Stepanek and Fish losses were the REAL headscratchers this year. They won through positive play and an offensive-minded gameplan, which almost never works against Federer (who was admittedly subpar in those matches), who will just do it better than you can. I would also classily the Gonzalez loss as a similar anomaly, but Gonzo had been coming close for years and was due a win, so it was less random (and consequential, coming as it did in round-robin stages).

Fed will undoubtedly have a less tricky draw next week - in terms of opening rounds - and will be able to play himself into form as he could have done this week.

Posted by Orag 07/24/2008 at 05:30 PM

I did not see peace in Roger's face at the beginning of the match, and thought "Uh oh, he's not over the Wimbledon disaster yet." Roger seemed testy and cranky throughout the match, which seemed to confirm the diagnosis. I thought this fragile mental state interfered with his performance.

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/24/2008 at 05:31 PM

Steve-

You should be posting one piece a day, excellent!

I'm concerned, for a moment there last night, when Federer was serving to stay in the match at 4-5 and he made those unforced errors it seemed to me that he didn't care... That is what has stuck with me since last night. I'd much rather to see him trying a being outplayed or rightly beaten than looking careless.

Posted by joger 07/24/2008 at 05:31 PM

right on the spot steve. i agree

Posted by jonathan stirling 07/24/2008 at 05:51 PM

sampras was the best ever, period...his second serve is still better then federers first. his running forehand, overhead, and choice in women, much better!!

Posted by PlayRod 07/24/2008 at 05:51 PM

Federer is losing to everybody this year and playing horribly.
Nadal is just taking full advantage of him and his losses to overtake him in the rankings soon because of Federer's bad play and serving and losses moreso than anything Nadal is doing.

All of these other losses to inferior players PROVE that it's not Nadal's greatness overall and against Federer, but it's Federer's bad play and serving against everyone that is leading to these losses, and next week in Cincinnati, he WILL lose early again to another inferior player that he should and he used to blow off the court regularly in straight sets, not just 1 good set a match, like now.

He will officially lose the #1 ranking after Cincinnati next week, and the way he's playing this year and now, he'll fully deserve it, and probably won't get it back until early next year with so few points to defend then from early losses this year in the first 4 hardcourt tournaments fom Australia to Miami.

Posted by Vie 07/24/2008 at 05:55 PM

Steve, regarding declining or aging: reflexes change, internal rhythms change, desire, confidence and courage changes. One who used to weave in and out if traffic with nary a ticket, suddenly sees other drivers whiz by.

Posted by Europefan 07/24/2008 at 06:04 PM

Steve,
Federer deserves all of the blame for this loss. He was horrible. Bad serving. Bad 1st serve %. He made 50 mostly easy, very makeable UNforced errors in just 3 sets. In 5 sets, that's way too many. He blew break leads in the 3rd set.
He lost his serve 5 times.
This is his 10th loss this year already, his most since 2003 already.
It's his 6th against Djokovic, Roddick, Murray, Simon, Stepanek, Fish.
Next week it'll be his 7th against someone else.
He will probably lose 15-20 by year's end.

If he kept up his level in the 1st set for the whole match, he would've clearly won the 2nd set by the same score 6-2.
It's nothing his opponent did.
He just played badly.
He just kept on missing 1st serves after 1st serves, and he kept on making easy, makeable Errors after easy, makeable errors after easy, makeable errors until he lost.

The total games were still EVEN for this match at 15 games apiece.
So his F- - worst game is still EQUAL to Simon's A+ - best game.
That's the ONLY positive he can take out of this loss.

Posted by Vie 07/24/2008 at 06:07 PM

I think Federer is young and #1 or #2 still. He needs to be less proud, get confidence and to play with less pressure on himself. I think he'll win 2 to 4 slams at the least.

Posted by prettsg 07/24/2008 at 06:10 PM

He also lost another 350 ranking points this tournament and will lose more next week, when he won Cincinnati last year.

He will drop below 6000 total ranking points for the first time since 2004 after Cincinnati next week and even lower after the US Open.

I guarantee it.

Mentally, he loses all of these matches. It's all mental in most of his losses this year. Most of them are all mental.

Posted by Drop Shot Dragon 07/24/2008 at 06:11 PM

Hmmmmmm. The posts from Europefan and PlayRod seem eerily similar. I'm sure it's just an amazing coincidence because only a total loser would constantly post under several different names.

Anyway, I liked the post, Steve. Well done.

Posted by August 07/24/2008 at 06:24 PM

[Moderator deleted]

Posted by Drop Shot Dragon 07/24/2008 at 06:34 PM

August: Rubber and glue, bro. I just feel bad for the moderators who have to constantly mop up your troll messes. Anyway, you have a good day and I'm sure Federer is going to be fine once the U.S. Open comes around.

Posted by naughty T 07/24/2008 at 06:42 PM

true steve, the universe and its natural laws just seem out of kilter when Fed misses so much. It is as if we suspect that something has slightly altered the gravitational field or that the planets have slightly shifted in their alignment. Those two things are somehow easier to believe than give credence to the idea that Federers forehand is not functioning.

Posted by My Perspective 07/24/2008 at 06:48 PM

Really it is quite horrifying to see Federer shank this bad at the most crucial times.

For most part since 2006 Federer forehand was not the same as was in 2004-2005. He did shank a few outrageous ones, but still get it right at the most important times to win.

But my mind goes back to two important forehand misses in his career: Rome 2006 - 2 championship points against Nadal. One Forehand Long, Second Forehand Wide. That to me made him lose the plot to Nadal on Clay. Fed was never the same against him on Clay.

Likewise it is a bit worrying to see Fed shank forehands left, right and center against too many opponents at crunch time(quite a few of them way below his calibre). If this continues, I just wonder if his confidence will drop to a level (like it did against Nadal after Rome 2006) where he will never recover from it. Hopefully he will correct it. Hopefully.

Posted by sandra 07/24/2008 at 06:54 PM

Great article, Steve. Finally, someone is breaking things down from a realistic standpoint and not just based on awe and superhuman respect of Federer. Federer is human, with all the faults and foibles brought about by advancing age for a professional athlete in a highly physical sport like tennis. No-one can stay on top of a sport like tennis forever, and all the weaknesses that Federer is currently exhibiting are those that come with age. Yes, he's still ranked #1 technically and he is still substantively the #2 or #3 player, but age will take its toll. What's happening with Federer now is simply the inevitable.

Posted by dennis 07/24/2008 at 07:06 PM

steve,

im glad to see you backing what ive claimed for a while now: federer's forehand is his one weakness; its the one side that can break down and in every one of his losses, it has been the single cause. its not that he just misses it, but that he expects himself not to miss so that when he does miss, he puts more pressure on himself and criticizes himself more for doing so.

his forehand was impeccable through 03 to 05. then we started seeing some hiccups with it in 06 and especially 07. now in 08, its hit rock bottom. it seems as his reign has declined, as you observed so has his fh. i agree that its the single most important shot in his arsenal and to his confidence.

your post made me curious about one thing: why do you think age makes a player miss more? imo, its not age per se but that awareness that comes with age that your chances are finite. its sobering a realization that roddick had had, and it seems federer is currently going through this right now. it makes you more aware of everything and like seles after her stabbing when she was no longer the protected child prodigy who only had to worry or rather not worry about blasting forehands, federer is no longer one of the greatest players alive; rather, he is possibly THE greatest player alive and it seems now with his every shot, he's aware how much prestige and burden that mantle has placed on him.

for fed to start winning as he once did, he just needs to forget history that's he's been such a student of and did what he once so effortlessly did: play.

Posted by Vie 07/24/2008 at 07:13 PM

Perspective, I noticed too those forehand nets at Rome 06 and somewhere else I think, probably FO. It happened this Wimbledon too. And he was in the middle of the court.

Posted by rick 07/24/2008 at 07:15 PM

"sampras was the best ever, period...his second serve is still better then federers first. his running forehand, overhead, and choice in women, much better!!"

Yes. People forget that Sampras had an enourmous forehand, could scamper around the court (much faster than he's given credit for) and, especially BA (Before Annacone) was the best ALL court player the game has ever seen. Look at his early matches and he could play back and forth and side to side better than anyone.

AC (After Annacone) is when he became known as a serve and volleyer (odd that, no?, since Annacone lived at the net - he would come in on other people's first serves). AC, I think he won one AU (the first year of AC), then all Wimbledon's then a final USO.

And there were a BOATLOAD of high caliber clay court specialists back then.

Well, enough of that! I just get too excited when we forget about how great Pete was.

Posted by Syd 07/24/2008 at 07:44 PM

Steve, thanks for the post.

Denis, love your post too. It's the forehand that's become unreliable. Roger has talked about having nightmares of going to his forehand and "it not being there." And now unfortunately, it seems the dream was prescient. Hopefully, that will turn around this year and next.

* he is possibly THE greatest player alive....*

Amen, to that.


Posted by 07/24/2008 at 08:00 PM

Roger sucks...

I lost over 300 on him. Thanks ROGER!

Posted by ncot 07/24/2008 at 08:25 PM

"Federer is losing to everybody this year and playing horribly.
Nadal is just taking full advantage of him and his losses to overtake him in the rankings soon because of Federer's bad play and serving and losses more so than anything Nadal is doing."

dude, it's just as easy to see this development (decline) in federer as caused by nadal and exploited by the rest of the field. if not for rafael, federer would have had grand slams (take note, at least two)in ALL surfaces already by this year (RG 2007, 2008). wimbledon 2008 was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. there you go. anyway, you see what you wanna see, up to you.

here i am counter-punching comments again...

Posted by ND 07/24/2008 at 08:27 PM

Steve, you the man! Why do you have another job? I cannot believe that no one would make you the most highly paid tennis writer on the planet.

Posted by Federbear nutter 07/24/2008 at 08:30 PM

For some of his losses this year, he was simply outplayed. But some of his losses were just ... blah. No fight. no will to win. Federbear is looking awefully depressed right now.

Posted by EC 07/24/2008 at 09:47 PM

Let's not make a big deal about it. He just barely lost the greatest tennis match of the open era just a few weeks ago. Toronto is nothing compared to what's coming up...something called the Olympics. No doubt he will be ready for that.

Posted by aceman 07/24/2008 at 10:22 PM

I actually think that at a certain age, you lose that razor sharp edge that you need when going for your shots. When you're young, those forehands are so important to you, that your concentration is intense. Against lesser players, Federer seems to get bored in the middle of matches. HOW CAN YOU STAY UP FOR A GILLES SIMON? FIRST ROUND IN CANADA? ONLY GRAND SLAM FINALS WILL GET HIS FULL ATTENTION FROM NOW ON. If anyone saw Federer against Agassi in 2004, when he was making his move to number one, hitting those forehand winners meant the world to him. You can tell by his reactions. Now, after his one millionth forehand winner, who wouldn't be as excited. It's human nature. Artistic players get bored with sameness. Grinders like Connors or Nadal are more into the battle than the art.

Posted by Deuce 07/24/2008 at 10:22 PM

Many thanks Steve. Since you made the comparions to Graf, I wanted to propose a comparison to Agassi. Whenever Agassi's timing went off his misfires could get awfully ugly. Roger's pained look on his face last night and while he plays Rafa reminded a lot of the way Agassi looked whenever he played Sampras.

Posted by Tony 07/24/2008 at 11:05 PM

Excellent, Steve. Again, a highly accurate and classy analysis. The comparison with Graf is very much apropos... Of course, with Graf, a lot of her problems came from injuries, which kept her from practice, and Graf was driven by practice, practice, practice... One wonders whether Federer, after four to five years of perfection or near perfection, has just become bored with practice... Tennis is also a skill, and a skill needs constant and regular practice. So it could be that he was in fact rusty, but rusty for quite sometime...

Posted by Tim 07/24/2008 at 11:09 PM

sandra, disagree with your "age" assumption/ diagnosis - maybe when Federer's 32, he'll start to feel it, but he's not even 27 yet. I played satellites into my early 30s and I felt stronger and was a better player at 27 than 22.

[Moderator edited - insulting other posters - well-known troll excepted - is not permitted here.]

aceman,you're spot on - Slams will be what will motivate him. QUESTION: DO YOU THINK IF THIS WAS THE 1ST ROUND AT THE US OPEN YOU WOULD HAVE HAD FED PRACTICE FOR 4 DAYS AND NOT CLOSE OUT THE LAST SET?

Posted by bb 07/24/2008 at 11:10 PM

http://www.globesports.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080724.wspttebbutt24/GSStory/GlobeSportsOther/home

GREAT, GREAT ARTICLE

Posted by tennis kad 07/24/2008 at 11:33 PM

I'm sorry, I know this is a little bit off topic, but did anybody just see the match point Gasquet played against Ferrer? It was like ten minutes ago and I still can't quite close my jaw.

What's even amazing is that a guy who can hit a shot like that will probably never be number one. That's certainly puts Federer's problems in perspective. There, tied it in. heh.


Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 07/24/2008 at 11:43 PM

CL ... I agree 100% with your statement - "Fed is at his best when he steps into the court.. .. not necessarily when he steps up to the net." Yes, whenever he has stepped inside the baseline and played aggressively, he has played brilliantly. Rushing to the net does him no good, and, his net play has definitely regressed ... it was looking so much better when Roche was with him.

Posted by Dee 07/24/2008 at 11:44 PM

Steve, your last paragraph, was it intended to make us shed some tears? I can relate to what you are saying, having watched some Graf matches during the twilight years of her career and some of Federer's losses this year but I believe Federer this year is not anywhere to approaching the twilight zone of his career.

I was not able to watch the last match of Fed vs Simon. But when I think about Federer and Ramirez-Hidalgo in Monte Carlo where he almost lost (61 36 76) or Federer losing to Mardy Fish in Indian Wells, there is something just not right in Fed's game this year. But I expect him to bounce back as he does time and again and win a couple or more tournaments this year.

Rafael should attain the No. 1 ranking at some time in his life. He deserves it absolutely. The boy works hard, harder than most players in the top 10 and keeps his mind uncluttered from the bright lights that tend to lure other top players away from consistency in play. However I am sure Federer will not give up his ranking that easily. I am hoping to see some more of the elegant game of Federer's for some more years. When he turned 26, he did say he was going to play for 10 more years ... eh?

Roger Federer and his near-perfect game is what urged Rafael Nadal to work at improving his craft. If it were another No. 1 blocking Rafa's path, Rafa could have easily gained the no. 1 spot years ago, but could he have improved any better than the way he is playing today? Perhaps not.

Posted by rg.nadal 07/24/2008 at 11:56 PM

Steve: The last two lines were so true.

Posted by remain anonymous 07/25/2008 at 12:14 AM

So Sampras is.....

"much the same way that Sampras was a server who could volley, rather than a classic serve-and-volleyer."

Hohohohohoh......hihihihihihihi..........hahahahahhahahah!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get it together. Because he had carbonated right arm that serve through brick walls he's not a classic serve and volleyer. His game since the age of what, 12, was just moulded after classic serve and volleyers though.

Posted by dennis 07/25/2008 at 12:42 AM

so the question is: what the heck is federer TECHNICALLY doing wrong with his forehand? is it something we should really be trying to emulate if it can go this haywire? i know his grip is between semi and eastern but it seems to be more such as he's mistiming it. maybe theres a technical genius out there who can explain this.

Posted by K.K. 07/25/2008 at 02:19 AM

Nice post there Steve! One that does not claim it's the "end" of Federer. When I left the house, it was federer winning the first set 6-2. After I finish some errands, went to have dinner, than I saw they are still in the third set. All I can think of is: "uh oh". Then, 4 errors in a row to lose the match. All I can think of is this. I play piano myself almost professionally, but when I see child prodigies, they are basically fearless!! They perform as it is their second nature. They are not afraid of memory slips, sticky fingers, audiences, circumstances. They just play! That's like the Roger when he gets to number one. Now, as one grows older, they start to think about expectations. Doubts set in. When they play in front of people, mistakes start popping out. They panic, they make more mistakes. Until they just collapse. I think it will take a miracle for Roger to break or even reach the 14 GS that Pete has. *sigh*. I know it's crazy, but I think he should take a few months off, and just come back next year with a different mindset. From the match I saw, he was listless, not focused, and basically doesn't care. A long break might do him good.

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 07/25/2008 at 02:25 AM

jonathan stirling @ 5:51 PM

Someone please give this guy a trophy please for the best comment. I mean the "choice of women" prolly gets the cake.

Where do these guys come from...?

Posted by Sher 07/25/2008 at 02:50 AM

I also think that Roger is listening too much to people who talk about how he should play instead of playing his own game. Or it may be that he's experimenting now and it will pay dividents later. But for now, so much agressive net rushing is hurting him.


[But as with Graf, if nothing else I want to see Federer hit his forehands in. Her force of athletic nature, his Platonic ideal: Those shots were put on the earth to work. The sport just wouldn't seem right otherwise.]

nice.

Posted by BackHandLob 07/25/2008 at 04:15 AM

"He couldn't seem to read that he was getting killed trying to come in on Simon's BH side. And he hesitated badly at times. This is no McEnroe/Edberg up there"

This is an interesting post by CL. I thought he hesitated often when playing his approach shots against Nadal in that Wimbledon final and hit the ball too hard. Therefore, he could not get close enough to the net to properly cover Nadal's cross court passes. Mcenroe and Edberg hit their approach shots and moved to the net with one movement. I think Federer should commit himself more to the net if he want's to play that way. Being unsure whether to attack the net or stay back at the last moment is a recipe for disaster.

Posted by 07/25/2008 at 09:16 AM

I find it really funny how dating back to the french open handfuls of people are blind to federers decline.

after that aussie open loss ppl thought he would bounce back and win the french: nada

Posted by 07/25/2008 at 09:17 AM

then after the french that hed win wimbledon : nada then after that hed win the hard court season WELL GUESS WHAT he isnt winning here either and he PROBABLY will LOSE cincinatti

Posted by Andrew Friedman (a.,k.a. Rolo Tomassi) 07/25/2008 at 09:19 AM

Greetings from Newport, Steve.

Great piece. Personally, I think confidence (the lack of which is a by-product of most/all of the potential factors you list in your last graph) is why that forehand is going a little wild. I've often watched him hit it well over the years and marveled at the sheer confidence it must take to have been so successful with it for so long - but even a slight dip in that confidence would be enough to produce disastrous results, no?

Posted by nica 07/25/2008 at 09:34 AM

nice job Steve

Posted by Christopher 07/25/2008 at 09:34 AM

Fine post, Steve, and some good comments as well. I agree that Federer is not as natural a volleyer as McEnroe and Edberg, but then again, who is? He is, however, usually a very effective and efficient volleyer, partly because he chooses his opportunities carefully. Against Simon he seemed to be coming to the net with the hope that he could end the points quickly and get off the court. I agree with some other comments that note he looked confused about his strategy. To me it looked, gasp, like some of Roddick's attempts at coming to net more in the Connor's period. Federer was using insufficiently deep cross-court topspin approaches. That simply will not work in today's game, as he has himself shown in demolishing Roddick when he tries the same.

Personally, I think that Fed is a very instinctive player. Times when he tries to execute a specific strategy don't seem to work well. I could be completely wrong, but I think he's said something vaguely to this effect himself and gave it as a reason that he doesn't find scouting terribly useful. This approach works fine when he's playing at his TMF best, but it may be more, well, hit and miss, when he's not.

I still think the mono is a factor, not because he's suffering its physical after-effects, which have clearly been gone for many months, but because the losses when he was less than 100% hurt his confidence and helped that of other players.

Posted by zolarafa 07/25/2008 at 09:52 AM

Steve,
nice analysis.

what do you think is the role and the responsibility of the media in this crucial point of Fed's career?Push him to the edge with constant reminders of his recent losses or help him by remaining silent? It was just one loss but I even read questions directed to him implying retirement!


btw, this is from RAfa's post-match interview ( July 24)

Q. I know we're asking a lot about the Federer match, but the result had a big impact. Do you see it as significant that he lost so early, or do you think it's something that shouldn't be paid that much attention to?
RAFAEL NADAL: You guys, I think you really don't know how tough is play Miami, Davis Cup, Monte-Carlo, Rome, Barcelona, Hamburg, Roland Garros, Halle or Queen's next week after Wimbledon.
So a lot of the matches and a lot of tournaments, well, without a stop. So after Wimbledon, tough match in the final, the body, after one match like this, after one tournament like this, is going a little bit down. For me, too.
I won and I feel that -- I feel that, no? Well, he lost important match I think for him, and maybe he has to be a little bit worse than me. So you don't know how tough is be another time 100% in one week, one week and a half.
Because you have to be here, and Federer yesterday plays against Simon. Simon came here winning the last tournament the week before. It's a very tough match for be the first match after being long time without playing on hard and with only some days of practice, no?


Posted by Tommy Balls 07/25/2008 at 10:02 AM

Ahh, Nadal with the voice of reason, what a guy, you really do have to like him a lot (and i'm a Fed fan 1st). Here is MY impression of Djoko's response to a similar question.

"he is getting older, there is a new guard coming, one with hungry more talented players, we have closed the gap and its now our time in the spot light. Out with the old in with the new. Perhaps he should retire, since we young guns now dominate. Do you like my hair-helmet as much as i do? Sometimes i bounce the ball 25 times before serving, it makes me feel good".

Posted by Abraham Galadima 07/25/2008 at 10:07 AM

No doubt, at some point someone will assume the #1 position in the world. However, Roger is still the man to beat. If Roger can stop rushing through this matches and slow down as was suggested by Bjorn Borg as to how to play Nadal, he should win some of this games he seemed to be donating to his opponents. Perhaps, with no disrespect to his current coach, Jose H, Roger may need the services of Brad Gilbert at this point in his career. I think he still can top the enviable 14 grandslams.

Posted by SwissMaestro 07/25/2008 at 10:17 AM

I think BG would be good if he did not feel the need to talk as much, it has to be annoying for a guy like Federer (or for anyone else for that matter...)

Posted by embug 07/25/2008 at 10:24 AM

In the past I've watched Federer's forehand go off -- we all have. The conversations I've had with tennis-teaching buddies have a couple ideas why it can go off: 1)the racquet head speed is so fast that even the slightest waver from its most accurate path will produce a mishit; 2)couple that with the 90 square-inch racquet head size and you can begin to see the narrow margin for error he plays through. However, to totally fall apart as much as it did on Tuesday encourages speculation.

Posted by 1fortheroad 07/25/2008 at 10:44 AM

The only thing more difficult than watching Federer's forehand go awry is reading these kinds of post mortums. No wonder Roger is getting a little cranky in interviews with dumb questions.

Roger hasn't worked on his net/attacking game since he split with Roche. It's Roger's lack of net game that cost him Wimbledon. If you don't practice your net game in early rounds, it won't be there for you in the final, ergo Roger's 56% win ratio on net approaches. Since Wimbledon turns into dirtball tennis in week 2, no way Roger was going to take out Nadal from the baseline.

Back to Canada and Simon. Roger shows up with an attacking game. This is great news even if he's not 100% comfortable with it yet. He'll grow more confident and his serve and FH and everything else will click. He knows very well how to play this game, he just needs to do it and much more often. Although he lost, it was obvious he realized his problems at Wimbledon and together with Higueras they'll fix it. This is great news and holds promise for the 2nd half of his career.

Regarding Canada 2008. If you take a walk down memory lane, you'll see that Roger hasn't had an easy wins there in 3 years. In 2006 and 2007 he played out of form Mathieu and Karlovic who were fresh off early round defeats on clay going into the tournament and this provided Federer with the room to adjust to the event and keep going. In 2008, his first round match is an inform Simon, hot off his Indy win.

I'd write off the loss to jet lag and Roger getting used to attacking.

The only comparison between Federer and Graf that makes sense is their movement. Best ever.

Posted by unknown 07/25/2008 at 10:54 AM

"All of these other losses to inferior players PROVE that it's not Nadal's greatness overall and against Federer, but it's Federer's bad play and serving against everyone that is leading to these losses, and next week in Cincinnati, he WILL lose early again to another inferior player that he should and he used to blow off the court regularly in straight sets, not just 1 good set a match, like now."


I'm not even sure what the point of mentioning Nadal was,but Nadal was beating Federer in his best days so.............

Posted by Gregory Phillips 07/25/2008 at 11:15 AM

There's nothing wrong with Roger. He's not too old, not over the hill. He's only 26. Look back at what other great players were still doing at that age. The bottom line is that there are more talented athletes gravitating toward tennis than ever before and the players have caught up to him. Now Roger either has to do some extra work and dig down or accept the fact that it's not a foregone conclusion that he's going to win every time he steps on the court.

Gregory Phillips

Posted by steve 07/25/2008 at 11:35 AM

some truth to what you say, mzk. simon seems tailor-made to trouble federer if he's not at his best.

zola: good answer from nadal. it also can't be forgotten that every tennis match is precarious and can be lost in a matter of minutes.

tursunov-blake yesterday was a real psychodrama, eh? things get tense when federer loses and the finals are suddenly in view for these guys.

as for tonight in the u.s., am i right that nadal-gasquet won't be televised anywhere? espn is on at 7 with murray-djoko, and tennis channel is showing a repeat at 9.

Posted by zolarafa 07/25/2008 at 11:47 AM

Steve

Get the master series TV! I have long given up on ESPN and tennis channel. Besides this "shared" broadcasting of events just makes things worse.

my other point was that the media seems to be over-analyzing Fed's loss and it might have a bigger psychological effect on him than the loss itself.

Posted by PC 07/25/2008 at 12:28 PM

I blame Canada and their horrible national anthem for Rog's loss ;]

I sometimes lose my forehand in the middle of a match too.

Posted by eye on the ball 07/25/2008 at 02:40 PM

Maybe Roger needs to have his eyesight checked. Loss of acuity could explain some of his problems with timing and mishits. Some of the calls he challenges seem to indicate he sees about as well as a senior citizen wearing bifocals.

Posted by Ubie Leavit 07/25/2008 at 04:34 PM

. . anyone can win, unless there's a second entrant of course. .

Posted by James Fawcette 07/25/2008 at 05:01 PM

Good post Steve, but I suggest you may have missed the key point in this match: Federer's extraordinary movement, which is his greatest strength IMHO abandoned him after the first set. Federer was frequently off balance, late, jumping to reach balls.

He won the first set routinely, then self-destructed with 20 forehand errors in the third set alone, several hit not long but into the stands.

As you mentioned, Simon doesn't exactly overwhelm people with power, so that wasn't it. It seemed to me as if Federer wasn't seeing the ball up in time. Since Fed won the first set easily I was wondering as I watched the match progress, if the night lights were bothering him.

But then, the same movement problem is what made Federer lose to Djokovic at the A.O., then to Fish and Roddick when he was till recovering from illness.

Watching Federer this year, I thought that the first time he got back his extraordinary movement was at Wimbledon, so I assumed he had recovered. But watching this, and hearing the announcers say he looked flushed (I couldn't see that myself), I wonder.

Posted by 07/25/2008 at 06:09 PM

- "So many times when he has an opponent pulled very wide and off balance I want to scream "Now you dunderhead," because he has, at that point the perfect opportunity to put away an easy shot."

CL - thanks for a good laugh! I thought I was the only one who ever called Roger a dunderhead when he didn't come into the net. Makes me feel a whole lot better. : )

- "People who want Fed to come to the net more mistake aggression for net play. And have no sense what the changed racket technology gives the passer. Fed is at his best when he steps into the court.. .. not necessarily when he steps up to the net."

Absolutely agree. Roger has a complete game, every shot in the book. However, he tends to come into the net rather randomly sometimes, it seems, as though he suddenly remembered that it's something he can also do. When this happens he is caught off-balance because he did not adequately mentally prepare to volley.


- "I'm concerned, for a moment there last night, when Federer was serving to stay in the match at 4-5 and he made those unforced errors it seemed to me that he didn't care... That is what has stuck with me since last night. I'd much rather to see him trying a being outplayed or rightly beaten than looking careless."

Funnily enough, that sort of thought struck me too. It was completely uncharacteristic of Roger to make 4 unforced errors in a row at such a crucial stage of the match and ON HIS OWN SERVE. I expected him to pull something like that spectacular backhand on match point in the Wimbledon final to keep himself in the match. It almost looked as though he just wanted the match to be over, as though he no longer believed he could win. I shudder just writing that.

- "Back to Canada and Simon. Roger shows up with an attacking game. This is great news even if he's not 100% comfortable with it yet. He'll grow more confident and his serve and FH and everything else will click. He knows very well how to play this game, he just needs to do it and much more often. Although he lost, it was obvious he realized his problems at Wimbledon and together with Higueras they'll fix it. This is great news and holds promise for the 2nd half of his career."

1fortheroad, thank you so much for such a positive outlook on this whole debacle. We badly need some positivity around this, because there's enough doom and gloom to sink the spirits of the entire population of China. It was great that Roger came into the net for the sake of getting there, but it was not so great that he had so little success there. We're looking at the bright side of life here, but I sure hope it gets a lot brighter than this.

PS: Great post, Steve. Certainly seems as though the universe has been turned upside-down this year.

Posted by Mint 07/25/2008 at 06:10 PM

Bother. That was I who posted the above ^^^

Posted by Kenneth 07/25/2008 at 07:01 PM

Steve, great post regarding some points. It's clear that you are a player, and it shows in how you approach writing about the mental aspects.

Federer's forehand is one grooved by timing it correctly, hinged upon his effortless movement. His hand-eye coordination has been the best in the business since he realized his real ability in '03. What I've seen lately is his inability to time the bounce of the ball according to his swing. He's used to taking balls early, but lately, his positioning hasn't allowed him to do this. He's rushed. Getting to balls late. Swinging late. Contact points are late. Everything's just a tad bit late. All that comes from confidence issues. Confidence allows him to go down the line instead of cross court during those important points, and Federer knows this, which accounts for more shanks, which honestly, he's always been prone to making. More down the line shots for Federer is what's missing, and without confidence, the down the line fh or bh won't work.

Steve you're spot damn on when suggesting that age plays a huge factor in this, and vie, what a post, eh? The driving analogy floored me, mainly because I recognize it in my own game.

Posted by ankit 07/26/2008 at 06:26 AM

federer is bonce back

Posted by Dave 07/26/2008 at 09:03 AM

I'm an exercise physiologist. Age doesn't make you miss more. The degradation to your body caused by years of pounding on tour makes you slower and tighter. That makes you miss more. Natural aging does not take so much of a toll by 27. You're really just reaching your peak in some ways. But let's remember, as much as we think of pro athletes as the models of health and fitness, the training and competing regimens of most are unhealthy and punishing for the body. I might believe Federer was losing a step if he hadn't played so perfectly at the Master just last November. But let's remember, he followed that up with three exos against Pete, had only a few weeks off and then the beginning of the season again. I think his exhaustion helped contribute to the mono (weakened immune system), and he came into the season weaker, and has looked slower and less decisive. I think as the season has gone on, and he has lost more, there is also an increasing mental element. He certainly has lost confidence. You can see it in his on and off court demeanor. He used to anticipate the opponents shots and start moving even before the ball crossed the net. Lately he just doesn't move with as much authority, and even as an amateur player I know that that can throw off you shots. It's in the timing, and more than most, Federer relies on perfect timing.

Posted by Joe 07/26/2008 at 09:12 AM

I think Roger is on the way out, Nadal has broken him mentally on and off the court, I would like to see him beat Sampras' Grand Slam record but can't see it happening. He's not the greatest player to ever play the game neither, anyone who plays 3 consecutive finals against the same player and doesn't change his tactics is not worthy of the title.

Posted by Steph 07/26/2008 at 04:20 PM

well said..i'm really worried about roger, he needs a break but he can't afford one.

Posted by Wayne Hawkins 07/27/2008 at 03:48 PM

Nice post Steve. I keep waiting for Roger to bounce back but it isn't happening. I am worried. I just hope this isn't the end for the man with such a beautiful game.

Posted by RAHUL 07/27/2008 at 04:52 PM

Great article and I agree watching Federer miss a forehand was like watching Edberg miss a routine backhand volley. Unfortunately at Wimbledon and in Toronto he missed too many and it cost him. Of course at Wimbledon he lost because Nadal is just as good and played a better match in the end. He will regroup if not by the Open by next year. He's got a few more grandslams in him.

Posted by MeBeHere 07/27/2008 at 09:04 PM

Catch Mono, then write an article about how it affects you. Most players are off 6 to 8 mos. (Ancic, Henin, Stouser, etc). Not Roger. He still went on to win 2 finals. You people are ignorant.

Posted by brandon 07/28/2008 at 02:53 AM

i have to agree with MeBeHere on the duration in which players or anybody is suffering from mono.it isn't something that just goes away after a few good days of rest.it stays with you for a while.i personally believe that mono is still is valid reason or excuse to why Roger has done the way he has so far this season.his fitness and physical condition would have taken a huge downfall when he first caught mono.and when you're at the level of fitness you should be at,competing at the level those guys do becomes very tough.and sure Roger may say he's feeling fine,and very fit again.but as a fan of Roger,i've been watching him play the past few years.and honestly,i think that he doesn't look quite as fit as he was as let's say back in 2005 or 2006.those were the two years in which i think he played his best tennis.and as for his forehand,i think it isn't as fluid as it was before.safe to say that we'll never really know the real reason for it.with that said,i think that the tennis has been unfair to Roger in the sense that everyone has been so quick to judge and criticise his season.he is human after all,just like the rest of us.only difference is that his talent for the sport is far greater than any of us.Roger's slump this year,if anything in my opinion,is quite similar to what Sampras went through himself,before coming back to silence everyone by winning his 14th slam at flushing meadows.and if Sampras is able to pull off something like that,who's to say Roger can't do it.his comeback in the wimbledon final to level the match 2 sets all,to me,shows that the fire in him is still burning.so i think everyone should stop being so judgemental,and let whatever is to happen, unfold in the months or years to come.

Posted by baychev 07/28/2008 at 03:23 PM

great article!

my view on his mishits: just his timing is off which is more of an important factor when you take the ball on the rise. and if you misjudge just by a few inches the ball bounce you can send the ball over the fence. having said that, there is no one on the tour except gasquet who can challenge the purity and beauty of his strokes. for all his success so far and for beautiful game he displays he deserves to be called the greatest of all time.

he certainly has mental issues with his game: just like in his AO'08 loss he's arguing with the umpire and is mentally unsettled. his mind in not entirely on tennis.

and mono does not have anything to do with his fitness by this time of the year. it had definitely influenced his game in the first couple of months of the year but if he can't regain fitness after early losses, he would not be on tour at all. not sure about fed, but i've seen davydenko practice for 4 hours in the morning before afternoon match. if you can't go on for 6 hours of tennis a day, you are simply not for the tour.


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