Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Ice Breaker
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Ice Breaker 03/31/2010 - 3:02 PM

Tb Is it all about execution? Does shot selection mean anything? Down match point in a third-set tiebreaker to Roger Federer Tuesday night, having squandered numerous opportunities to pull off a potentially career-changing upset, Tomas Berdych let two forehands fly. One went inside out, landed a foot or two inside the baseline, and elicited a middling mid-court reply from Federer. On the next forehand, Berdych leaned in and belted it crosscourt. This ball also landed just inside the baseline, for a winner. A few minutes later, against all odds and historical precedents, Berdych won the match.

Because of the result, we can say that the big Czech's caution to the wind approach was the right way to go, the smart, proactive play. After all, “be aggressive” is the default strategic position recommended to all professional tennis players, no matter what the circumstances. But if Berdych had missed one of those two forehands, thereby losing the match and reinforcing his reputation as one of the game’s foremost head cases and wastes of talent, we would have said that his tactic was reckless, that it was inevitable that he would choke, and that the great Roger Federer would prevail in this pressure moment.

Obviously, both of these assessments can't be correct. Was it just dumb luck that Berdych made those forehands and Federer subsequently committed a routine error to end the match? No, that’s not true either—execution is a function of correctly gauging what you can do at any given moment. And this was a special moment for Berdych. On the previous point, he had nervously guided a forehand up the line that the side linesman, after initially signaling that the ball was good, called wide. Berdych challenged and walked to the net. He appeared sure that his shot had landed in. Hawk-Eye indicated that it had been wide by the narrowest sliver possible. Berdych stared at the court for a long time before walking back to the baseline. Along the way, he caught his coach’s eye and the two of them shared a wide smile that began ruefully but ended up seeming almost giddy. Berdych got down in his return stance with a look of happiness on his face, all tension gone from his body.

The moment reminded me of the last holes of a Masters golf tournament a few years ago, when Phil Mickelson, after being wound tight for four days, suddenly began to smile with relief, right at the moment when he knew he couldn’t win the tournament. A natural reaction, in some ways, but it also seemed to me to be the definition of an athlete who's unable to enjoy competition—it didn’t matter whether he’d won or lost, Mickelson was just happy that it was over. The same was true for Berdych once Federer reached match point. The Czech, who had been up 4-2 in the third and who by all rights deserved the victory, could finally relax. By guiding that forehand wide, he’d already choked. The worst was over.

But in this case Berdych, also a guy who doesn't thrive competitively, had one more chance. What he did right, and intelligently, was to gauge his frame of mind and choose his shot from there. The ice had broken inside this normally chilly player, and aggression really was the smart way to go. He was much more likely to execute a risky forehand at that moment than he was when he was ahead. 

Berdych's attitude and shot selection at this moment compared favorably with his opponent in two ways. Federer later said that his timing had been off, but he never made any concessions to that fact during the match. He continued to hit for the lines, even as he piled up 61 unforced errors—to be fair, you can’t play all that conservatively against Berdych, who is absolutely lethal when he has time to set up. From an emotional standpoint, where Berdych enjoyed the moment in the end, Federer looked, as he had looked earlier against Florent Serra, like he would rather have been pretty much anywhere else. I’m sure he cared and wanted to win, but his aura in general was one of irritation, even disdain, at not being able to do everything he wanted, rather than one of determination to win anyway. This isn't a new look for Federer, but for me last night, it made watching him a chore—he was the one who couldn't enjoy the competition. It’s also not a new or alarming result for Federer. Hard as it to believe, he hasn’t reached the final of either Indian Wells or Key Biscayne since 2006. But he’s come back to win plenty of Slams over those years. At the majors, Federer has more time to find his game, and more motivation to do what it takes to survive even when he can’t.

Normally it’s Berdych, not Federer, who is a chore to watch. A few years ago, he was yet another guy who I saw on a deep side court and believed was the real thing, a future Slam contender. He had the height, he had the timing, he had the smoothest power for a big guy since Marat Safin, he even seemed to have an even-keel demeanor. Like dozens of other sure shots, Berdych turned out to be a disappointment. His face a stony mask, he played a soulless brand of tennis; I got the feeling he couldn't put himself on the line emotionally. Either he had it on a certain day, or he didn’t. “Finding a way to win” was not a phrase that cropped up alongside Tomas Berdych’s name very often, if ever. On Tuesday night, at least, he found a way to win. He did it by breaking the ice. He did it with a smile.


Posted by TennisFan2 (unabashed fan of Rafa and Serena) 03/31/2010 at 03:43 PM

Is Fed saving himself for the majors?

Posted by imjimmy 03/31/2010 at 03:47 PM

Beautiful piece as always Steve. I like the ending too.

However I don't agree with the fact that Federer didn't care or would rather be somewhere else. After the train wreck of a first set, Federer fought hard to get back into the match especially in the 2nd set when both guys played great tennis. In the 3rd set it was simple. Federer got TIGHT in the TB. It's like he was thinking back to the Bagdhatis loss and wondering not again. He elbowed about 4 UE'S in first 6 pts (haven't seen that in a long while). He also had a mini-choke at 5-4 up serving and failed to get a 1st serve in (and even if it had gone it his first serve lacking penetration last night).

Why did he get tight? it tells me - He DOES still care about these events - he fought really hard to get into that match. You only get tight because you care, you are nervous. So I wouldn't really worry about Federer's motivation as yet..

Posted by Steve 03/31/2010 at 03:59 PM

imjimmy, i do think he cares (i did say that in there somewhere). he just didn't appear to be happy to be out there in this match or the previous one. a result of his form, i'm sure.

and no, TF2, i don't think he's saving himself for the majors

Posted by imjimmy 03/31/2010 at 04:08 PM

Gotcha Steve. Although it's hard to blame him what with 16 majors and counting.
Thanks again for the blog entry! Look forward to reading more stuff from you in this tournament and the clay season.

Posted by gamegrrle 03/31/2010 at 04:21 PM

Hi Steve!
Let me start by saying that as a long-time lurker here at the site, I have always immensely enjoyed your articles. Although I may not always agree with your assessment or observations (but isn't that the cornerstone of great discourse?), because you have shown that you have a legitimate, deep understanding and love of tennis, coupled with an inarguable talent as a writer, I am a devoted reader of your work. Were you to be judged solely on your merits as a writer, you would be deserving of the praise I have just given you (as well as that which you seem to engender from the other regular readers of this post! :-D

I apologize for waiting so long to compliment you, as well as for writing so much, but I hope that I am given some latitude for the verbosity of my posting because I have been reading for almost a year now and have been truly wanting to compliment you on your blog for a very longtime. I would have posted something earlier in praise of your writing, but I do find it a bit intimidating as there seems to be quite a cliquey attitude on this blog and the readers don't seem to be particularly open to newcomers. The one time I did post many months ago, I was met with some surprising vitriol and dismissive personal attacks for what I thought was a genuinely earnest and heartfelt posting. Curiously enough, it was neither particularly antagonistic or controversial in it's content...go figure...

Anyway, I was particularly gutted by this last Federer loss and I thought that I might find some solace in the community and commiseration that this blog might afford. My non-tennis obsessed friends think I'm completely nuts for being this devoted to the sport and really don't provide the comfort I need during these kinds of losses...although they do get props for listening to me droning on about wayward forehands, 1st serve percentages and break point conversions...which brings me exactly to my point ... FINALLY... :-)

Posted by gamegrrle 03/31/2010 at 04:25 PM

Yikes! Here I am blathering on (well the Steve praise was worthy of a detour!) on everything but Federer and I've just been called away to I guess I'll just have to come back and try again. Maybe I can try a little harder to find that edit button...

Posted by TennisFan 03/31/2010 at 04:34 PM

""At the majors, Federer has more time to find his game, and more motivation to do what it takes to survive even when he can’t. ""

That is true. The losses in smaller events (Canas twice..Volandri. Then in 2008, Mardy Fish, Stepanek, Karlovic, Simon) are not unusual for Federer even in his peak.

However I think Federer gets shaky in the majors too. He's always prone to upsets early these days, even in slams. While his performances against Tsonga and Murray at the AO 2010 this year were breath taking, consider his first round match against Andreev, where he almost fell two sets to one down, or his quarter final with Davydenko where he needed a 13 game choke from the Russian to win. Again at the French Open 2009 Fed was one millimeter away from crashing out, when he hit that famous inside out forehand against Haas that barely caught the line. Had it been out, Haas would have been up two sets to love and 5-4 with the chance to serve for the match. Similarly he almost crashed out against Berdych in AO 2009 and in 2008 Andreev at the US Open and Tipsarevic in Australia.

The common thing in all those matches is that Federer won the matches by his mental toughness and his ability to play himself into form. Fed plays himself into tournaments these days, and sometimes he loses before he ever gets the chance to do so. When he pulls through however, and makes the latter rounds (QF and SF), he's tougher to beat than anyone on tour.

While Federer won the channel slam last year, he looked far from unbeatable. Same is true this year. Even more so. I think as each year goes by, Federer grows older (it's the natural order of life) these early round close matches will turn into defeats. It's only inevitable. And his fans should be prepared for it..

Posted by Steve 03/31/2010 at 04:50 PM

thanks, gamegrrie, and stick around this time.

TF, i think the moment when federer loses early at a major will be the moment to start to wonder about his (inevitable) decline. he spent years showing how smoothly superior he was as a a player, and now he's spent a year or so showing that he can compete in slams and find ways to win when he's not so obviously superior. that hasn't changed yet. when the slam semi streak is broken, which it will be someday, then we can talk

Posted by Sam 03/31/2010 at 05:14 PM

Steve - Agreed. The reason Fed is a champion is because he finds ways to win even on days when things aren't exactly working out (for whatever reason). However, he does lose those battles too. It is easier to do that in majors purely because he has more time to get back.

While yesterdays match was driven by unforced errors, I think he played a good game against Baghdatis at IW. His shots weren't off that much. He was just not in "match" mode. Its one thing to know how to play a shot and entirely another to strategize "game time" and pul out the shot at the right time. I was left almost unimpressed with Baghdatis' game. It was good...not spectacular as you would have beaten Fed. Berdych was more impressive. He had his own set of troubles but managed to hang in there and pulled out some winners to which is away from Fed.

By the way, I have started taking this morbid pleasure in seeing Fed struggle. I find it more more amazing how he works out of his comfort zone to find a way to compete and win (best recent example was against Andreev in AO)

Posted by Ivo 03/31/2010 at 05:23 PM

There's obviously something very different about the way we perceive Federer's slumps this year than last year. Remember, last year he lost in the semis in both these tournaments (after he lost to Rafa in a tight five sitter at AO, which in my opinion was a final in which Federer choke) and everybody was writing him off- or was at least very alarmed. This year he doesn't even make it to one semifinal and no one seems to be so concerned (other than Federer himself!!!). Last year we thought that he was done and accounted for at this time of the year (i.e. after the hard-core US season) this year there's still no panic: Federer might go for all four slams. Nothing succeeds like success:) and nothing echoes better between slams then a victory from the last one. Federer seems now immortal because of AO. I am not sure what will happen in the clay court season and after that but Federer might surprise us once again: he definitely stunned many of tennis experts (including myself, an amateurish expert:)) last year with the way he came back. And he might stun us this year with the way the other slams will slip away from him - though I hope not.
Don't get me wrong: I am a huge supporter of his: I love beautiful tennis and he is the epitome of beauty on the court. Whether I like his personality or not, I always love the smoothness of his strokes and even better the smoothness of his movement.
I think that we are in for another big swing in tennis in later season - and of course the main swinger will be no one else but Nadal. My sense is that Federer will be worried by the time RG is around about his no. 1 position and the fact whether he'll be able to overtake the total of Samprases's 286 weeks. As of now it seems he should have not a problem - but don't forget that these two tournaments were for Federer to collect points. The season ahead of us is only about defense..and defending he'll be a lot: 2 Master shileds, 2 grand slams.

On another note: Congrats to Berdych. I enjoy his game when he's on mentally. i wish that this could be a breakthrough for him but my sense is it won't. He's already had a few in the last few years - won a master shield in Paris, won a few mid-important tournaments, did quite well in Grand Slams. Was no. 10. Beat Federer in 2004:). I think he's greatly talented but will probably need to mature...a lot of Czech players (with the exception of Lendl and Navratilova) played their best tennis in later years of their careers...i.e. late 20s (Novacek, Novak, Korda, name a few). And even Stepanek really started hitting well in his late 20s. I think that Berdych might be another of these players..he might come out big again in late 20s...maybe make even a semifinal or final in a grand slam. But a grand slam contender? That will probably never happen - he's head is just not a head of someone who knows how to find ways to win.

Lastly, and sorry for all this ranting, STEVE your articles are great (though you never answered my email asking you: how does one actually become a editor for

gamegrrle..welcome to the forum. I've been here for 2-3 years and have never made it into the inner-circle:) though I am not sure I'd like to be part of any inner-circle in the first place.

Posted by linex 03/31/2010 at 06:15 PM

Congrats Steve on an excellent post. Like you I was surprised by Berdych smile and by the fact that his coach smiled too. Sometimes coaches tend to cover their face with their hands in such situation as blaming the player for the silly error or have a very serious face (SAfina's coach anyone). It seems that with that smile he gave Berdych reassurance in that the tactics was ok and that he was playing the match he had to play going for his shots. Of course, that I never imagined that he was going to revert the result for the tiebreak after losing that makable forehand. I was sure that roger was going to hit an ace or a service winner on match point ...

Posted by Corrie 03/31/2010 at 06:20 PM

I'm glad you put the focus on Berdy even if the discussion always seems to veer back to Fed. That smile of Berdy was very significant, it helped him relax, be fatalistic, and get the win. It helped that it was best of three. I kept thinking of how Fed came back against him to win in five at the AO. I think the same thing would have happened again in best of five.

I don't agreee that Fed wasn't good to watch - he hit enough dazzling shots to almost make up for his woeful errors and he's always the tops in watchability. Berdy always hits very cleanly and is very watchable too - I hope he can sustain it in the next match - unlike Bagdhatis in IW.

I'm expecting double fatherhood and age to take its toll on Fed but I'll reserve judgement until we see how he goes in the two tournaments that mean the most to him - the French and Wimbledon. After that I just can't see how he can stay interested in the non Slams, especially with his interest off court in his Foundation.

Posted by TennisFan2 (unabashed fan of Rafa and Serena) 03/31/2010 at 06:38 PM


Steve's blog is my fave on the site: fantastic writing & little vitriol.

Think of it as's Switzerland - you know you will get a great bite of chocolate in Steve's posts and you can write what's on your mind without a bullet proof vest. :-)


Posted by Steve 03/31/2010 at 06:59 PM

Ivo, it's true, the attitude toward federer's losses last year at this time seemed apocalyptic compared to this time around. i wrote after the aussie open this year that one problem with his situation now is that anything that happens to him outside of a slam can be shrugged off as if it doesn't really count. sampras got to that point as well. it's not a good place for the other tournaments to be, when the No. 1 player's results in them don't seem all that crucial. still, if you were in his presser after the baghdatis loss in IW, you know federer wants to win these matches, especially when he comes so close.

and i'm not sure i've found an inner circle here. which may just mean i'm not part of it either.

Posted by Marshall1 03/31/2010 at 07:30 PM

I don't know, I felt that Berdy won the match a la Del Potro (remember him?) by unleashing all those monster forehands/backhands and making Federer scampering without success (because some of them are unreachable). Personally, I am disappointed but I think I should get used to these losses, and the most shocking ones will probably come when his semi-final streak ends in GrandSlam. In a way, Federer's game is very similar to Henin and Serena Williams. To beat them, you have to beat them early, otherwise, they become almost impossible to beat.

Posted by CWATC 03/31/2010 at 07:36 PM

OK Steve, fess up, were you inspired by my post over at Pete's blog about TB and the smile? Just kidding, I guess great minds think alike . . . :)

Agree 100% w/ your analysis of the mental state of both players. I love Fed and his shots, when he wasn't missing, were often beautiful last night, but overall I too found him hard to watch. Like you said, he appeared perpetually irritated / nervous / tightly wound. And that may have cost him the match.

Posted by CWATC 03/31/2010 at 07:45 PM

Seeing Fed last night made me nostalgic for this classic moment from back in Fed's golden years:

He's in an early round scrap, just lost the 2nd set, broke early in the third but made a terrible UFE to go 15-30 on serve. Curses, and then giggles, apologizing to the crowd. Looking at how relaxed his demeanor was then versus now, it's night and day.

Posted by Andrew 03/31/2010 at 08:16 PM

Steve, you write: "Berdych's attitude and shot selection at this moment compared favorably with his opponent in two ways. Federer later said that his timing had been off, but he never made any concessions to that fact during the match. He continued to hit for the lines, even as he piled up 61 unforced errors—to be fair, you can’t play all that conservatively against Berdych, who is absolutely lethal when he has time to set up. From an emotional standpoint, where Berdych enjoyed the moment in the end, Federer looked, as he had looked earlier against Florent Serra, like he would rather have been pretty much anywhere else. I’m sure he cared and wanted to win, but his aura in general was one of irritation, even disdain, at not being able to do everything he wanted, rather than one of determination to win anyway."

I thought I saw the match go through multiple phases - after a solid early start, Federer completely lost the plot after biffing an easy FH at BP, 3-2 in set 1. For the next eight games his play was almost insanely bad - there was the game that Berdych saved 5 BPs, including the easy BH pass that clipped the net and went long. At this stage, Federer was hitting for the lines, and missing comprehensively. The majority of the 61 UFEs were incurred during this phase of the match.

Then at 3-2 in set 2, he made a nice play wrong footing Berdych with an I-I FH, and it seemed to relax him. He began hitting both FHs and BHs with more net clearance, and moved Berdych around rather than tried to end points quickly.

What was odd was that by 5-4 in set 3 the old pattern reasserted itself. Federer seemed to fall back into the old mode when he had advantages on Berdych's serve, and he gave away points rather than allowed Berdych to take control. My read on his demeanor was more confusion (initially) then junkyard dog fight rather than disdain - I've seen that look before, in Hamburg 2007 (for example, vs Juan Monaco where he'd just fired Roche and was taken to the limit). There's a subtle difference in Federer's mien when he's playing well against an opponent also playing well, and when he knows he's playing poorly (by his standards).

Posted by Reem 03/31/2010 at 08:35 PM

Love this post!
One word I like to describe Berdych with is simply RANDOM.
He is a player you could never bet on. Because you never know how he is feeling on any given day, whether he will be brutal or stoic. Like everyone knows. He has great talent. But he chooses to make use of it in a random manner.

Posted by Corrie 03/31/2010 at 09:47 PM

"The common thing in all those matches is that Federer won the matches by his mental toughness and his ability to play himself into form. Fed plays himself into tournaments these days, and sometimes he loses before he ever gets the chance to do so. When he pulls through however, and makes the latter rounds (QF and SF), he's tougher to beat than anyone on tour."

I think this hits the nail on the head. So many times have we seen Fed look shaky in the earlier rounds and unbeatable at the semis and finals, especially when it's a Slam, where he has longer to find his form. Clearly he ran out of time to find his form at these tournaments. When he gets to quarters and semis at the Slams and starts losing them, that's when we'll know the decline has set in.

Berdych does seem to have got his head into better order and his results are improving. He's typical of this sort of late developer, talented, nervy sort of player. He may not win a Slam but I'm sure he'll get some good results in the future.

Posted by FoT 03/31/2010 at 10:51 PM

What does it say about Roger when a guy still has to have Roger make 60+ errors, be completely off on his game with his forehand, didn't serve great and STILL it took him 3 sets and 2 tie-breaks to win!? I don't think we have to worry about Roger just yet. It's Berdych now we have to worry about. Wonder if he's going to have that desease called "Federitius?" - you know that "Baghdatis hangover" the "Julian" hangover? Or will this vault him on to the title this week?

I will say this - Roger makes the guys that beat him work for their victory. lol!

Posted by Steve 03/31/2010 at 11:43 PM

CWATC (dude, you need a new handle), i saw your comment after i wrote this. but i liked it.

andrew, the majority of the time i saw federer as being unhappy out there, and hard to watch because of it. which is what is ultimately significant to me

Posted by vv_varaiya 04/01/2010 at 12:48 AM

Steve, your posts are well crafted with keen observations. I keep thinking you will run out of material, but fortunately you prove me wrong.

-Roger Federer has the greatest slice in the history of tennis.

-It would be interesting to chart/classify RF's errors. They are shanks due to mis-timing. His feet are rarely out of position.

-Comparing Berdych to Safin is intriguing, except he doesn't have the Safin joi-de-vivre.

-RF in the zone used to steam roll people 0,1,2. Doesn't happen anymore.

-RF doesn't do the silly bouncing/jumping around every spare moment like most players. He suavely steps, gets ready and takes a whack.

Posted by Scott 04/01/2010 at 01:08 AM

Steve what do you mean when you say Berdych "broke the ice"? Berdych seems very streaky to me, he only barely beat Serra early at IW in three sets. His game looked amazing, but inconsistent. It seems Fed produces more consistent results, probably because of his competitive prowess. Not everyone can handle the pressure and truly believe they can be great.

Posted by gamegrrle 04/01/2010 at 03:55 AM

Whew! What a work day...first chance I've had to jump back on and I've no energy left to submit either pithy post or pathetic I'll just respond to the lovely note directed to me from TennisFan 2. I think your comments are spot on and maybe subconsciously that's why I finally delurked on this blog as opposed to over there on "the Middle East" of's blogs... What with all the Fedal Wars going on over there, you have to arrive in riot gear just to survive.

I love the depth of the analyses that takes place over here, even by the posters. Shame I've gotten too busy to contribute much right now...but hey at least I dipped my toe in the water...Next time, I'll try wading in the shallow end.

Til then, I'll just enjoy my sojourn in Switzerland and nibble on my chocolate in silence...

Thanks for the welcome and keep up the good writing Steve!

Posted by fedal 04/01/2010 at 06:14 AM

i have to agree with FOT what does it say about federer when he makes 61 unforced errors and yet it takes the other guy two tie breaks and a set to beat him and the guy has to play his brains out. And this is not the only time this happened to beat fed u realy have to work hard and only when he is having an offday and that is if the opponent gets to do it because even on offdays federer manages to win but he only loses in maximum sets tiebreaks etc he is so tough to beat so what does it say about him. imagine if he did not commit those ufe or commited only a quarter or even half of the of the 61 you think he would have still went out a loser
agree with fot

Posted by Happy 04/01/2010 at 07:20 AM

gamegrrle, concur with your comments. I recently stumbled on an article by Steve and became and immediate fan. What a great writer! Excellent insight and knowledge of tennis as well.

Posted by Ryan 04/01/2010 at 09:50 AM

Steve- good article. You phrased it well, that match was definetly a chore to watch. I got the feeling (especially in the first set) that Fed could care less about the match. I wonder is some of these losses are deliberate as he does not want to face top 10 opponents until the slams. I don't know, but that was a poor match from what I saw. Berd's level dropped drastically because of Fed's poor play.

Posted by Steve 04/01/2010 at 10:00 AM

scott, i meant he relaxed on match point, all tension out of his body, and drilled two perfect forehands.

berdych has always had an icy quality to me, in his face and in his game. when he played nadal in indian wells, i almost felt like he didn't want to get too close to winning, so he wouldn't have to deal with the thought of choking. that could be wrong, of course, but it wouldn't be unheard of.

Posted by susan 04/01/2010 at 10:04 AM

"i’m sure he cared and wanted to win, but his aura in general was one of irritation, even disdain, at not being able to do everything he wanted, rather than one of determination to win anyway."

YES!! Thanks for expressing what I felt.

My overall impression was: impatience.

Several times when he thought he had won the point, then realised he hadn't, he was, yes, irritated. Threw his head back once (looked like his junior days), walked back to the fence with his head down, frowned deeply after one botched point, etc.

to the poster gamegrrie: who cares about being in the 'inner circle'? unfortunately, it seems that quite a few of them do...sometimes it's feels like a sorority/fraternity mindset. (or is it country club?) But post anyway.

Posted by Tennis Nutter 04/01/2010 at 10:05 AM

Great entry as always.

Really enjoyed the match. Believe that the smooth suave exterior masks an ultra competitive and trifle arrogant interior. Timing didn't appear off to me, but then again I'm not a tennis player.

A previous comment broke down the match in 3 phases where Fed gifted the first set, stepped up in the second, and stepped back down in the 3rd. However there was much to admire in Berdych's game, and I believe Nadal has commented that he believes Berdych should be Top 10, but Berdych himself probably knows the mental aspect is not there.

With Fed it seems that he needs the pressure in order to step up, at least in the Masters tournaments. Fed would probably play lights out at his local tournament, but I don't think he's too motivated about anything else other than Slams.

Why does Rafa's game win consistently against Roger's? It seems to me that Fed does not have a weakness with any of his shots. I have heard comments about Fed's backhand but to me it seems all of his shots are aimed with the precision of a rifle. Maybe you could answer this one Steve, whilst not offending any die hard Rafa n Roger fans?

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 04/01/2010 at 11:11 AM

I didn't see the match, and I'm probably late to this party anyway - always is the way! - but I did like the piece very much indeed. I haven't ever warmed to Berdych much, just because I feel like life is too short to root for him properly - although he does have nice eyes, and an awesome game when it's working.

I can't imagine Federer losing deliberately so he didn't have to face a top 10 player. He doesn't sound happy with the losses in the press conferences and I can't see that he would be so, well, disrespectful, I guess - and it seems like a very elaborate way to lose, to fight your way back and then mess up, LOL. That said I could see motivation issues creeping in, even ones he's not fully conscious of maybe.

I'm sorry people feel there's some kind of an inner circle either here or at TW (and the two places are different, no?) - I don't think anyone intends that there should be although I see it can look that way. :( So to gamegrrle & everyone - welcome, & please stick around and keep posting. :)

Posted by Neveah 04/01/2010 at 11:34 AM

Excellent read Steve,keep up the fantastic work!;-) Hi Jewell!I have to say you are one of the nicer people here,always so welcoming to everyone.I can't say that about all of TW unfortunately,maybe you can teach them some manners!:-P I doubt it though,lol.

Posted by Michele 04/01/2010 at 12:01 PM

This really was a chore to watch. It was so unsettling I kept getting up and cleaning while the match progressed as my restlessness increased with each unforced error! Federer looked like he couldn't wait to get out of there and, indeed, his FB status was updated yesterday to say he's happy to be back on the clay.

Posted by helen 04/01/2010 at 02:00 PM

Fed only cares about the French Open since he won the AO

Posted by Ramana 04/01/2010 at 07:08 PM

Have you ever watched Berdych in a tournament? This guy should be banned for human rights violation. His behaviour with the ball kids is despicable to say the least. I was sitting right behind him at Indian Wells last year. He yelled at the kids for water, scowled at them for not getting his towel from the baseline, never ever said thanks to them. It is high time these pros are taught how to respect children

Posted by rooruffneck 04/01/2010 at 07:32 PM

Ramana, agreed; those kids need to be shown respect for their hard work. Indian Wells is known to have the worst trained ball kids in the universe. That has nothing to do with your observations, I only bring it up per association. In the last two years I think they've improved quite a bit.

It's becoming common to read tennis journalist interpret Federer's frustrated face as indicating "he'd rather be anywhere else"...Now, I'm not saying there aren't times that he has a fairly awful mental game (not in general, of course), but these are the kind of interpretations that really only gain their value in retrospect. That doesn't invalidate them, but it underlines what's weak about them. He wins matches all the time when he's showing those faces and we then see how he has such an ability to stay in there even when he can't really find his game.

I agree with everybody here who has said Steve is a great writer.

Posted by susan 04/01/2010 at 09:52 PM

jewell, nice thoughts. I think that there are at least, let's just say, some people who do like being or thinking they are in the so-called inner circle, for lack of a better phrase, on the other blog, and sometimes take advantage of that by behaving as de facto moral arbiters with an exclusionary bent, although it may not be stated overtly. this doesn't seem to exist here.
And, yes, steve is a great writer.

Posted by susan 04/01/2010 at 11:42 PM

jewell, think super-nannies.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 04/02/2010 at 07:33 AM

In terms of human rights I think I will spend my energy on more important issues than tennis players shouting at ball kids, LOL. (although I do prefer it when they behave properly.)

*waves to Neveah* Nice win for Venus yesterday, even if she wasn't playing her best.

susan - I don't know if this is really the right place to continue discussing that, but I'll happily do so by email or elsewhere. Typepad doesn't seem to show email addresses any more, but my address is, so, feel free. :)

Posted by Steve 04/02/2010 at 10:25 AM

i admit that it pains me to see the players treat the ball kids rudely, or with an air of entitlement. a lot of them do it, though, and i always feel like it makes tennis players look bad/diva-ish to the casual fan. it's one thing federer never does, and one of my favorite things about him. though he does have a funny, no-nonsense way of chucking a water bottle away when he's done with it—"get this thing away from me."

justine/kim post today.

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