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Bloody Chiclets 01/25/2008 - 3:37 PM

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So the other day in Vegas, Andre got on a roll about Roger Federer and the quality of the competition today. He felt that the Top Three today (The Mighty Fed, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic) represent as strong and balanced a top 3 as the game had at any period in his own career. Interestingly, though, Djokovic is the one who inspired Andre to go on a little riff (he had dispensed accolades to TMF earlier). He said:

Take Djokovic. You’re looking at a guy who serves pretty big, who moves outstanding, who plays ridiculous defense but can transition to offense if you give him one look. Plus, he can hit up the line with complete authority. And that’s arguably the third-best player we’re talking about. . .

Yesterday in Melbourne, Djokovic fully lived up to those enconiums in bouncing TMF out of the Australian Open. I'm keeping my powder dry on Nole until Monday, so let's talk about Federer today. His loss Down Under exposed some truths and created some consequences that will be major themes in the weeks and months to come. So let's take a look at a few of them:

Nole has slipped into the vacuum left by Rafael Nadal's ongoing struggle to master the challenges of hard court tennis. He has become, in effect, the third force that bears on the struggle for ascendancy in the game, which is certain to pose more problems for Federer than does a simple rivalry with Nadal. Until now, Federer has had every right to feel in command during every portion of the tennis year other than the clay-court segment. That's no longer true, and it will simultaneously give TMF more to ponder, while also taking pressure off Nadal. As I wrote (or implied)  yesterday, the chance that Djokovic and Nadal will lay claim to the first half of the year will make Wimbledon that much more crucial for TMF.

Federer has reached an intriguing stage in his career. He's within two Grand Slam titles of Pete Sampras's record of 14, at age  26. Sampras was 28 when he bagged major number 12, which is a noteworthy because it suggests that the chronological cushion TMF enjoys may be smaller than it appears to someone looking simply at the age at which Sampras won his last Slam (31) and project comparable longevity for TMF.

The most significant aspect of those numbers is that the last two or three Slams were the ones for which Sampras had to work hardest, and this will undoubtedly be true for TMF. The emerging or newly matured talents that Sampras had to deal with in his final years were Hewitt, Safin, and Rafter. I think Djokovic and Nadal may provide more formidable obstacles for TMF , although  the lack of an obvious grass-court challenger a la Rafter will certainly help Federer's cause at Wimbledon.

The career timing of TMF was as sublime as his timing on the court. His main rival, Nadal, was not ready to challenge him consistently on any surface but clay until the 2007 Wimbledon (where Federer was already working on major No. 10), and his newest rival, Djokovic, needed two years of ripening to become the legitimate contender he is today. Federer took advantage of the chronological seam as effectively as Jim Courier did, back when Agassi and Sampras were still searching for the championship groove. This doesn't diminish TMF's accomplishments in the interim one bit, but it suggests that the seam is closed and the landscape is changing.

Sampras began to notice, right around 1999, that the game was changing, with a handful of new rivals moving in to replace the Couriers and Changs (if not Agassi). This is precisely where TMF stands today, with Djokovic and David Nalbandian playing the roles once filled for Sampras by Hewitt and Safin, while Nadal stands as Federer's personal Andre. The key question is, How will Federer react to a degree of adversity that he hasn't faced since he became the dominant player?

You don't have to embrace the "weak competition" theme (I certainly don't) to acknowledge that Federer has yet to do the heavy lifting of his career. Nobody on earth thought or expected that combative Hewitt could be made to look as harmless as TMF eventually made him appear. The fact is, Federer imposed his will and his game on his peers for an extraordinary. mesmerizing, four-year spell (remember John McEnroe, and Hewitt himself?), and it don't make no never mind how he did it. It's a matter of fact.

TMF might just skate to 15 or 18 or 22 Grand Slam titles after experiencing this Australian Open hiccup, but I doubt that he will. He left blood in the water yesterday, and by now every shark in the ATP sea has turned to investigate. So what, if anything, should Federer do?

First, he needs to activate his media jammer. The Is Federer Finished at the Top theme is going to be an endless tape loop until TMF wins his next major, which is not an "if" question but a "when" question.

Second, he needs to avoid the temptations of the Woe is Me construct, which will pull mightily to convince him that he has set his own bar impossibly high. He was dead-on when he observed, in a reference to his amazing record, that he has created a "monster." Every morning, someone needs to ask him, Have you hugged your monster today?

Third, he needs to take stock of the way he has been winning, and what adjustments must be made in order to keep him winning. Some of the more interesting comments in the post-match presser yesterday revolved around his relatively poor serving.

Federer said, "There's no doubt I've played better in my life. That's for sure, you know. I've not been really serving like the way I wanted to, you know, maybe the last few matches. But maybe served too many aces against Tipsarevic, so I didn't have any more left."

Djokovic countered: "You know, if he wasn't serving, of course he had problems, he was struggling with the serve. Why? Because I made a lot of pressure. It's not because he was struggling."

Now in all fairness, I think Djokovic's reply was less defensive than the way it reads in this context. But his point is worth noting. Serving competence is not an isolated function, despite the fact that it is the only stroke in the game which is entirely in the hands of the player hitting it. The biggest influence on serving efficiency, if you discount mechanics, is how easily an opponent is holding. When your rival is holding easily and quickly, the pressure on your own serve mounts. A big first serve is spectacular, but a great second serve is foundational.

Fourth, we saw in last year's Wimbledon final (among other matches) the degree to which Federer has become a reactive player, habitually winning by responding to his opponents'  attempts to pierce his armor. Who can blame him? TMF can sit back like a pasha, dismissing all challenges to his ascendancy with a flick of the wrist here, an impatient gesture there. This mindset was manifest in one of Federer's most celebrated wins - his demolition of Andy Roddick in last year's Australian Open. But a form of it has always seemed to me the source of his weakness in his battles on clay with Nadal.

There are some guys, in some situations, who must be disarmed quickly and aggressively. Invite them to take their best shot and you're going to come to lying on your back, staring at the ceiling, with a mouthful of bloody chiclets.

Just like Nadal at Roland Garros, Djokovic on hard courts  may be a player who can't be beaten with counterpunches (no matter how dazzling or spectacular they are). In Federer's defense, it's also true that for most of this tournament, Federer took his game to his various opponents with noticeable gusto, imposing his pace and tone on the proceedings.

In a valuable over-simplification, Djokovic said: "I was more patient and I didn't allow him to be aggressive and to play his style. So I was the one who was in the control of the match, so I think I deserved to win."

Fifth, it's time to re-invent the coaching issue. I think TMF should hire a coach, not because he needs to go out and do cross-court-and-down-the-line drills, or have someone wave a match-chart before his face after every win. Federer may come to need someone to tell him, Look, when  you go out there, remember that you are Roger Federer and your opponent is not. . .and in a way that resonates with Federer. You know what they say about men and islands, and for all that Mirka brings to TMF's life, I find it hard to imagine that she can sit with him in the foxhole the way a coach might.

This is easier said than done, because it's going to take any coach some time to develop the kind of relationship that would give him the requisite credibility in TMF's eyes. Fixing a forehand or improving a passing shot is a role for the technician; it can be done quickly and with relative ease. But helping Federer develop the sharpest response to his biggest challenges is the job of a psychologist, although the road to credibility in that department leads through the forests of technique, strategy and scouting. Earning credibility takes some time - six months at the very least. But if Federer has a luxury, it's that he is still in that portion of his career  when six months is a safe and easy investment.

The real issue on this front is that the pool of coaches who might accomplish this task is extremely small, and endowing one with sufficient authority and access might constitute a disruption to the way Roger and Mirka have set up house and shop.

It's just as easy to dismiss the significance of the Djokovic match as it is to overstate it. But one thing we know for certain is that most great players have had to suffer and bounce back from adversity (is there a better example than Agassi?), and those who have been unable to do so have faded prematurely (Is there a better example than Hewitt?).

Somehow, I don't see TMF as a fader, but I also think he needs to be pro-active, and come to grips with the reality that things from now on will be different than they were as few as six months ago and, most of all, that this is how it's always been, and how it should be in this game.


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Posted by Ray Stonada 01/25/2008 at 03:43 PM

Andre is a genius and nobody can ever take that away from him. Thanks much, Petrus Bodus, for giving us access.

Posted by Bismarck 01/25/2008 at 03:43 PM

what happened to "blood in the water"?

Posted by Ray Stonada 01/25/2008 at 03:48 PM

And next, let me say, it's still and always a pleasure to learn from your breakdowns of these macro-level landscapes of the game. You have a special knack for making metaphors to get across what you mean to say so clearly (seams, shark, media jammer)/. Glad to get to read it.

Posted by Sher 01/25/2008 at 03:50 PM

"at the age at which Sampras won his last Slam (31) "

Really? 31? :)

Posted by Pete 01/25/2008 at 03:55 PM

uh-oh, I'd better triple-check my math - it always scares me when Sher drops in!

Ray!!! TW party before/after the Fed/Pete exo, hoss!

Posted by Ray Stonada 01/25/2008 at 03:57 PM

Sweet! I'll be there! Let's rope D-Wiz into this one...

Dude, I've been around, don't be surprised. Lurking some. Though I did a 2000 word match call last night!

Posted by Lisa 01/25/2008 at 03:57 PM

I took the aces comment about the Tipsarvic match to be an off the cuff wry comment. Yes, his serve appeared to be under pressure but aces weren't the problem.

So, who would be the elite group of coaches available for Roger. Cahill is certainly high or tops on the list...

Posted by AmyLu 01/25/2008 at 03:59 PM

Pete, beautifully written, and very insightful.

Posted by Sher 01/25/2008 at 03:59 PM

Interesting post.

I think that for all that's been discussed about Roger only needing to win Slams from now on he really does need to go out and play his best in TMS events at least too. I have felt over the last half a year that he wasn't hungry for the TMS wins the way he is for slams, and he needs the confidence that beating up on the opponents brings you which he can get there. Hopefully the recent events will make him want to win more than the four slams.

Posted by Sher 01/25/2008 at 04:03 PM

LOL Pete, no it was just that I never thought of that before in context of how big of a window Roger has. But it's nice to see that I strike some fear into your heart ;-)

Posted by Jon Reiss 01/25/2008 at 04:05 PM

Great post Pete. I couldn't have said it better myself. I think Federer's finally reached the stage in his career, where he's no longer going to be able to play sublime tennis in a semi or a final against a Nadal or Djokovic or whoever, and just blow them off the court (i.e. Hewitt 2004 US Open, Roddick at Wimbledon etc). We've seen the progression over the last few years, where he played great in those matches, to where he squeaked by because simply he was Roger Federer (think Djokovic 2007 US Open finals), and now to where he's gonna have some Warrior Moments. At Wimbledon he's still the clear favorite but everywhere else, its more wide open (for Nadal and Djokovic) than ever before. No matter what happens Federer is gonna go down as a legend, but what happens between now and the end of his career might come to signify just how much 'cajones' he really has.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 01/25/2008 at 04:06 PM

Unfortunately, I only saw the highlights so I'm keeping my powder dry on how to evaluate this one, though Pete is eloquent and thoughtful as always.

Shouldn't we wait to see how Djoker does on Sunday before taking a measure of what this all means?

Posted by D-Wiz 01/25/2008 at 04:07 PM

Stonada: No roping required. Already have my tix for the exo. ;)

Posted by Pete 01/25/2008 at 04:08 PM

Thanks, AmyLu, has the big guy stopped hyperventilating yet?

Posted by Cheshire Cat 01/25/2008 at 04:08 PM

If nothing else, this defeat will remind Federer how victory is sweet.

Posted by SwissMaestro 01/25/2008 at 04:11 PM

I'd like to see Gilbert work with Roger, that would a great partnership, I know Bodo has said he thinks Annacone would be good for Federer but who else and why? To me this season will be kind of a ressemblence of the 2005 season (he won Wimbledon and US Open "only"), except Federer will win the YEC this time around...

Posted by Kenneth 01/25/2008 at 04:11 PM

Great post, Pete, this is why I started coming here to begin with.

I don't think this win is as inconsequential as some would have us believe. Not since Safin has someone so routinely dismissed the world #1 in a slam outside of RG, and remember, Djokovic has never been unduly intimidated by Federer's greatness. This is the culmination of past predictions, much like Richard Williams knew the potency of the champions he'd raised. Federer's best bet is to nab a coach and settle in for the long haul, because it's not only Djokovic and Nadal who consider themselves on equal footing with the world's best, and compared to his third rounder with Tipsy, Federer didn't take away much from that match, or at least not enough to prevent Djokovic from winning. The water's growing ever more choppy and dangerous...

Posted by South_Paw 01/25/2008 at 04:15 PM

It's inevitable that Roger - as with any great athlete will decline. And surprisingly to some, sometimes the brighter one shines the quicker the drop (look at Mac). Some of those brightest need that cutting edge timing/confidence to make it all the way.

And sometimes when the get shaken, they drop. I also believe that Federer will secure his post 14th-record title before retiring - but I am sure thankful that the new crop of match-ready upcomers will make him earn every one. Only regret- nobody was really there to test him (except Nadal at RG) - but for the rest it was a pretty smooth ride to the double-digits.

He's already a legend, but now, let's make it even more memorable so that in 30 years from now we can tell a youngster who idolizes the current #1 : hey kid, you know X is pretty good, but I lived in the era of Achilles & Hector (replace by Sampras & Federer) - and they were (actually still) something.

Toodles !

SP.

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed Rules 01/25/2008 at 04:15 PM

My goodness, one match and we start over-analysing poor Fed. As a Fed fan I am going to say, that yes he needs a coach but not because the Joker out played but because he was ill. The Joker's comments are just one more reason why I hope he loses on Sunday and loses really badly

Posted by Lisa 01/25/2008 at 04:17 PM

Hey Pete: give me the names of the possible coaches. Is Roger even actively searching for a coach these days?

Posted by Jonny U 01/25/2008 at 04:17 PM

How about Pistol Pete as coach/guru? Or Andre? Think they'd fit the bill?

Posted by Underspin 01/25/2008 at 04:19 PM

interesting when you listen to the commentators throughout the match (after already hearing the news that djoke took the match)...they kept marveling at Federer's shots and kept commenting that Djokovic was panicking with the breathing and stretching. Like everyone, they kept waiting for Federer to step it up and for the opponent to cave under the pressure of a chance of beating Federer. What I find amusing is how scornful Fed is of the challenge, maybe because Hawkeye shows how he is not perfect. Let's just hope the final is entertaining and goes more than 3 sets.

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 01/25/2008 at 04:20 PM

Well, this is sure to reignite the "Wilanders" and "weak era" debates. (What, no GOAT debate?) LOL It is nice that Agassi threw a bit of water on the "Fed has had no competition" drumbeat.

I think Fed got the message loud and clear from the Djoko match. He knows full well that the biggest challenges lay ahead. I certainly don't dismiss the result of today's match, but I also don't believe that Djoker has Fed's number. He presented something new to Fed, and Roger will work on solving the puzzle as he always does when he struggles against someone. It will be very interesting when they meet again, and I wouldn't be surprised if Roger turns the tables on Nole. I'm more disturbed by Roger's inability to serve out that first set than the fact that he lost. It's more the manner in which he lost that's troubling.

I caught a little bit of Martina's commentary today on TC. She said is was more a matter of Roger losing the first set than Nole winning it. Roger got tight trying to serve it out. She also said that most players are either quick or fast, and Nole is both. She was blown away by that, and said it was his feet that won the match for him.

Roger said in his presser that losing the first set allowed Nole to swing freely in the second. Had Roger won the first set, what a different match it would have been. But he didn't. Hope Roger uses this as motivation. Should be a very interesting '08 season.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 01/25/2008 at 04:21 PM

"A big first serve is spectacular, but a great second serve is foundational."

No 13 words have held more truth. I have made it my personal goal to ensure that the juniors under my charge are equipped with rock-solid second serves. One of the ways to achieve this is to make them play points, and even matches--particularly doubles matches--armed with only one serve.

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 04:26 PM

I've been saying for months now that the Fed needs a coach...his "I know my game and I can do it all on my own," I found ludicrous the very first time I got wind of it...Yes he has created a "monster" and has a phenomenal record but the idea that he doesn't need to game plan and can just wing it on court I always thought was fallacy...

I don't think the Fed is far from dead..I know he's still a great champion...and I ferverently believe he will win a GS this year...but the sharks are in the water, as they should be...

This loss can't be understated or overstated but the loss COUNTS...what was most shocking to me is not that he lost (I expected him to) but HOW he lost...in straight sets no less...when was the last time that happened???

I am very optimistic that this loss would do him good, and not shake his confidence...hey, the Pats didn't get Brady his receivers till they lost the AFC championship...this Fed Fan hopes he turns it around in Dubai...the fact that he has a month to stew about it should help...and the Fed is ultra competitive...

What is most worrisome to me though, is his coming out flat in matches...save for Shanghai when was the last time Fed came out on fire in a match???? And is it me or has the Fed been blinking first against tough opponents???

Posted by AmyLu 01/25/2008 at 04:26 PM

Pete, no. Joyful would be a good word for him...there was LOTS of yelling Vamos this morning...we "watched" the match together, over Skype, so we talked throughout the whole thing.

If you get a chance (I know you've been busy), can you read the e-mail I sent you earlier this week? I have a small request for you. :-)

Posted by SwissMaestro 01/25/2008 at 04:27 PM

If Roger would have won that first set he would have relaxed and we all know what happens when he gets ahead and relaxes right? Djokovic just made sure he didn't relax, that was his best bet and went with it...

GO Tsonga!

Posted by antihype 01/25/2008 at 04:28 PM

I am totally opposed to the direction in which this blog is directed. It seems to me that one loss in a slam after 11 finals is normal. It doesn't mean anything for the future. Your central argument is reducing Federer's achievements while claiming not to do so. 11 slam finals don't come because of timing. While Fed may decline after this , I think you have used this loss to point out what you have been thinking all along. And I am not even a Federer fan but your blog just upsets me

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 04:29 PM

ummm...I obviously meant to say "I think the Fed is far from dead"

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 01/25/2008 at 04:31 PM

Pete,

Did you discuss with Pete how it felt to experience the "decline?" It must be so difficult to be on top, to know that the slide is inevitable, to wonder when it's going to begin. And then on the way down, to know that many people greet it with glee. That journey must be very painful and such a contrast to the joy of the climb up the rankings.

Or at some point does every athlete just get so tired, physcially and mentally after years of doing battle, that maybe they're ready for it to end?

Posted by Samantha Elin 01/25/2008 at 04:31 PM

Great article Pete, I think poor preparation due to his illness was part of the problem. But the major factor was that he was facing an opponent who was playing unbelievable tennis. Not much you can say. I have a lot to say on the Sharapova/Ana match, I hope Ana blows her off the court in straight sets, a double bagel would be great. She beat the queen, simple as that. Go Justine, world's #1!

Posted by SwissMaestro 01/25/2008 at 04:32 PM

Posted by antihype 01/25/2008 @ 4:28 PM

I am totally opposed to the direction in which this blog is directed. It seems to me that one loss in a slam after 11 finals is normal. It doesn't mean anything for the future. Your central argument is reducing Federer's achievements while claiming not to do so. 11 slam finals don't come because of timing. While Fed may decline after this , I think you have used this loss to point out what you have been thinking all along. And I am not even a Federer fan but your blog just upsets me

---------------------------------

WOW!!

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 04:32 PM

And one more thing...10 straight GS F and 15 straight GS SF is a hail of a record...no one else is even close...

Yes it will be tougher, I even hope it will be tougher...I've had enough of the weak era arguments...so the next GS he wins...no one in good conscience will say players are afraid to play him...

Posted by Robin Pratt 01/25/2008 at 04:33 PM

Great post, once again, Pete. You put things into perspective better than anyone.

I doubt many would have analyzed how Federer relies too much on rope-a-dope. I was thinking this when watching Tsonga dismantle Nadal. He took it to him in a way few people have ever done. I remember thinking that Federer in full flight (perhaps in his breakthrough year of 2004) would have done that and wondered what it would take to get him in that devil-may-care, swashbuckling mode. Few of us will even have a hint about what kind of pressure Federer has put himself under. And we have seen it burden him at Roland Garros where he has played timidly after getting early leads the last two years, at Wimbledon last year, and in USOpen final where he was lucky that Djokovic let him off the hook.

As a sports psychologist, I admire how mentally tough he has been (especially serving in 5th set at Wimbledon and against Tipsarevic where he had a lot to lose), but for him to get a true A on mental toughness, he has to be able to lose a first set like he just did and then come back smoking, making that fragile loss a distant memory. Of course, Djokovic's stellar, in-your-face play made it harder and harder to do, but Federer's best still overwhelms anyone. Except for a few fleeting moments against Blake in the tiebreaker, we rarely see him take the spectacular shot and take away the initiative. You could see it in James' face (what can I do?), but Nadal and now Djokovic get under his skin (like Nalbandian has at times). It is really hard to beat someone really good you either don't like or don't think deserves to be where you are. This is understandable that these thoughts would go through Roger's mind, but they are doing him no good.

I am sure that if he played at the same local club with Nadal and Djokovic two times a week, he would win 80% of the matches (50-60 on clay against Nadal) because he would get over it (the secret or not so secret loathing). But he does not play them that often and when he does it will always be in the finals or semis of some tournament that matters to all of them.

There is no reason for his demise physically. Yes, there is a window but it is not at 26 or 28.

By the way, I think that Blake's play in the quarters would have given anyone problems--anyone. Too bad for his sake he hits Roger when he is at his best. Not his best of all time, but by far his best of this tournament.

It can go either way for Roger. I can see him winning the French and the rest of the majors this year or not winning any. And regardless of what happens this year, I can see the same possibilities in 2009, barring injuries.

Thanks for making me not regret my time on this website when I have so much work looming.

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 01/25/2008 at 04:33 PM

Hey Becks,

Gosh, I hope that wasn't a Freudian slip. :)

Posted by Pete 01/25/2008 at 04:35 PM

Robin - many thinks, compadre!

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 04:36 PM

Tangi: I was mortified when I saw I wrote that the Fed is dead...LOL...infact I'm thinking he'd beatdown everybody in Dubai...LOL

Posted by Christopher 01/25/2008 at 04:38 PM

Great post, Pete. This is exactly they kind of analysis that I was hoping to read after this match: something that deals intelligently to what is obviously a real challenge to Federer's dominance without hyperbole about what this one match means. And Kudos for that prescient post about Djoko and his near-perfect form last year. Really nailed it.

I think this will really be a test of Federer's mental game and we could see an even more interesting player emerge.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 01/25/2008 at 04:39 PM

Also, I gotta add....

It wasn't even a year ago that people on this blog began speculating about how many Grand Slam singles titles Roger Federer would amass before finally calling it quits, on his own terms, of course. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras weighed in in a separate forum, at one point giving estimates of 17 and 18, respectively. Not to toot my horn (oh hail, why not?), I recall writing in a comment that we should not be so quick to assume he'll simply walk away with as many titles as he wishes. Anything might happen--injury (always a possibility), a loss of desire (not likely), or the rise of new competition that will stretch him (the most likely scenario). Well, it's happening.

It would be the ultimate irony (or perhaps tragedy would befit the situation better) were Federer to continue toiling away, only to take a couple of more Wimbledons to qual Sampras' record, and nothing more.

I, for one, refuse to write him off so quickly or completely. I think he has a few more hard court Slams in him, and maybe even one Roland Garros title (although I believe it will need to come this year or never). And he'll certainly be a contender at Wimbledon for as long as he weilds a racquet on the ATP tour. So I would give him a decent shot at holding three or four more Slam trophies aloft before he says good-night.

For thoise of us who got up in the wee hours to watch the Federer-Djokovic match live, I cannot imagine anyone coming away from it without the strange feeling that Federer did not play his best tennis. In fact, at one point it occurred to me that he actually looked weak or sickly out there. Perhaps it was the merely huge lump forming in his throat. At any rate, his first serve percentage was terrible, and his forehand and backhand left him at various times, and often at the same time. I don't think he even defended that well, to be honest.

Of course, all this is a bit like watching through a narrow lens a mouse whose movements are frenetic, almost spasmodic, and postulating that something has made the mouse ill, only to discover upon pulling away from the lense that the mouse is cornered by a cat. That is to say, as Djokovic intimated and Pete spelled out, in tennis every action of Player A is as much a product of the efficacy of Player B's applied pressure as it is a function of things within Player A's control.

Nevertheless, it was not, in my humble opinion, one of Federer's better efforts. He often looked and played as though he were racing on two flat tires and a thrown piston rod.

Posted by Syd 01/25/2008 at 04:42 PM

Wonderful column Pete and very astute. Of course, what else would be expect! "Federer has become a reactive player, habitually winning by responding to his opponents' attempts to pierce his armor." I think Federer recognized. and said last year that he had been playing "passive tennis", at least in Paris and Monte Carlo when he lost to Nalbandian. But also coming into play is his lack of match play. He was hardly peaking in this tournament. So in that sense, his week's illness and weight drop have played a part here. He was netting a lot of easy backhands and sending his forehand long on what would have been winners. Plus having the first set on his racket. The failure there was heart breaking. And it had nothing to do with Djokovic, it had to do with himself and that's very disturbing indeed. Time to bring in the head shrinkers!

Posted by SwissMaestro 01/25/2008 at 04:42 PM

antihype was the one that impressed me...

"We are making a storm in a glass of water" my grandma would say, Federer has so much winnig left to do that it is seriously hard to think someone being better than him in the next 2 or 3 years or not to sse him breaking Sampras' record... If anything, this defeat did him a lot of good, it gave Roger back his trueself, he'll get back that competitive ferocity and his ability to avoid choking under pressure (which was never the issue in the semis by the way), he just wasn't there...

Remember how everyone used to say in this very blog that for Federer to be defeated his opponent would have to have a great day and Federer take an off-day?? Well anti-Federers, you can enjoy it while it last, it won't be long before you are regreting your favorite player got in the way of the almighty!

Posted by Pete 01/25/2008 at 04:43 PM

antihype: no loss means anything - until it does. Ask Agassi what losing the 95 US Open meant to him, long-term.

AmyLu - sorry, I need to go back through my emails but I have a feeling I never got it. . .

Sorry I can't respond to all the questions above, but I need to run soon - CC post coming later.

Posted by Semaj 01/25/2008 at 04:43 PM

Great post, Pete. I agree that Djokovic is firmly entrenched now at number 3, but I also think he'll be the next number one, if not before Nadal chronologically, then much longer (like if Nadal sits on top for a few months during clay season). I'm still sorry to see the hatred that's built up against Djokovic since last year's USO. I remember people being amused and impressed with his antics and his game. But now we see him as a challenge to the status quo, and apparently we want to have the same two guys duking it out for another three or four years. I say bring on the contenders and another great time for tennis.

Posted by GVGirl (Allez Jo!) 01/25/2008 at 04:43 PM

Maybe TMF can have Guga coach him during the clay season and Sampras during the rest of the year. ;)

Posted by izidane 01/25/2008 at 04:45 PM

Great article!
The man lost 1 match at AO and all hell broke loose. Roger will hug his monster and be right back winning slams this year.

Posted by Semaj 01/25/2008 at 04:46 PM

That's not to say I think Federer's done, either (quickly trying to cover backside) but that Novak's likely to take over number two at some point and be the next in line when Federer comes down a bit (probably still in a year or two)....

Posted by CL 01/25/2008 at 05:00 PM

Hey Slice-n- Dice. perfect. :-) I think Fed may have caught a case of the gasbubbles from Pete Sampras.;-) I also noticed a slightly ill look..no dead horses mind you...and it indeed might have been just a great big GULP forming - but I agree it was not a best effort... at best effort and still getting beat is the Safin match... this was a less than best effort and getting REALLY beat by someone giving close to their best effort.

Posted by Andy 01/25/2008 at 05:00 PM

Djokovic's Comments feel like that of a child. What happend to his bid in US Open final? He doesn't take TMF's comment sportively. TMF is not going to make him bigger than himself with just two wins. TMF is the best sportsman on this planet to appreciate the efforts of others. Djoker is going to be one slam Wonder.

You punidts, may say lot of things about Djoker. The way he reacts - He doesn't respect TMF. Hope he learns things now than in a hard way.

Posted by Sam 01/25/2008 at 05:00 PM

" I think TMF should hire a coach"

Thanks Pete, now I'll never hear the end of it from Beckham. :-)
Great post, and I love the closing paragraph.

Robin: Excellent take on Fed's mindset. While it is not possible to play at TMF levels all the time (especially against elite opponents), I've had the sense that sometimes he does only as much as he needs to win, rather than try to max out his game. We saw late in the Wimbledon final last year that he teed off on some forehand returns from the ad court, after returning passively with his backhand for much of the match when Nadal served out wide. In Shanghai, I saw more of the full-throttle approach after his early loss, and was hoping to see more of that this year.

Posted by Andy 01/25/2008 at 05:01 PM

Djokovic's Comments feel like that of a child. What happend to his bid in US Open final? He doesn't take TMF's comment sportively. TMF is not going to make him bigger than himself with just two wins. TMF is the best sportsman on this planet to appreciate the efforts of others. Djoker is going to be one slam Wonder.

You punidts, may say lot of things about Djoker. The way he reacts - He doesn't respect TMF. Hope he learns things now than in a hard way.

Posted by nora 01/25/2008 at 05:01 PM

I think Robin Pratt's comments about the window, and Roger's mental game, are correct, and in a way I do agree with antihype also.

I think the mistake in Pete's analysis is to compare Fed directly to Pete, on the basis of the # of slams. Fed has already showed a huge difference to Pete, first of all in in his attitude to the game -- it has taken him this long to even hint at complaining about pressure, where Sampras did it after his first win -- and this has been borne out by his unprecedented dominance. I don't think this can be taken as an accident: as many people, including Blake, Nadal, and Andrew and others have pointed out, he just doesn't choke. Even when not playing his best, even when flat, etc, he has been grinding out wins consistently by fighting for every point, every tournament. Pete just didn't do this. As of now, absolutely no way is it going to take him five years to win 3 slams. Just to put it that way shows how unlikely it is.


Last night, I thought Fed wasn't moving very well, and I think that gave Djokovic the opening he needed. Even if that's not the case, and Djokovic's best beat Federer's best, Fed has lots of reasons to believe that it was a singularity, and Djoko has a long way to go to show it wasn't. Still, you win, you get bragging rights, and he won.

Posted by CL 01/25/2008 at 05:02 PM

Great idea GVgirl...hey where were the Wonder Pets?!? lol

Posted by jimmymulligan 01/25/2008 at 05:02 PM

"there must be some guys, in some situations, who must be disarmed quickley ans aggresively. Invite them to take their best shot and your going to come out lying on your back, staring at the ceiling, with a mouthful of bloody chiclets."
sorry ... I had to write that again for myself it's the best thing I've read this 2008 AO! Love it!
I don't think it represents what happened during this semifinal because Federer came out of the gates giving lessons to the young Nole and then ran out of gas. It should be a great final.

Posted by Semaj 01/25/2008 at 05:04 PM

Thanks, Andy. Have you not watched any tennis the last two years? You can hate him for being immature, but he's got serious game.

Posted by ixvnyc 01/25/2008 at 05:04 PM

tsonga takes wimbledon.
you heared it here first.

just kidding.. i am no expert :)

Posted by antihype 01/25/2008 at 05:06 PM

Pete,

Thanks for addressing my comment. This loss "in retrospect" may look like the turning point in Fed's career but that's only in retrospect. What I take more exception to is that you blog seems to imply, Nadal was vulnerable on hard courts, Djokovic took time to come about and in between Federer had perfect timing to get as many slams. And then you add the cautionary bit about it not diminishing Federer's accomplishments.
But that statement sort of makes Fed a passive winner of slams, not an active one and I think that's not true at all. To me its a round-about way of saying that Fed had weak competition.

Posted by Mlelly 01/25/2008 at 05:07 PM

I truly expected this to be the beginning of the changing of the guard in women's tennis but was not looking for the wholesale emergence of so many young ATP players on such a big stage. However, this tournament and to a lesser extent the French, seem to be the field where players get on fire and do serious damage, then fall back to earth. Obviously NDjoko isn't a big surprise as the number three seed, but think Tsonga, Tpisi, Niemenen and Kohlschriber. We have the examples of players like Gonzales and Baghdatis to remind us that as quickly as they ascend they can quickly resume a more earthbound state when the plane leave the Melbourne airport. The Fed will be working harder and smarter to win in this last stage of his career, but he's truly and champion and he's shown the grit necessary many times before. It will make this last stage all the sweeter that he will be scrambling to that finish line like never before.

Posted by la boheme 01/25/2008 at 05:07 PM

I agree that Roger needs to awaken his predatory id and be more aggressive - I'm not sure that a coach is the only way to do it. I also agree that Novak has real talent; but I think he deserves to keep the number 3 spot. Rafa has three slams at number 2; let's wait until Novak achieves a bit more before handing him number 1.

Roger will have to adjust to the increasing competition - and he'll have to decide how much he wants to win. Roger's desire is the only factor that matters - he still has more talent that anyone else.

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 05:10 PM

Sam: darn right...slowly but surely everyone is beginning to crossover to my side of the debate...and I am not ashamed of saying I told you so...;)

Posted by nora 01/25/2008 at 05:10 PM

La Boheme --

I agree absolutely with your comments.


Posted by HK 01/25/2008 at 05:10 PM

Great post Pete! You touched on a whole bunch of things that are very pertinent. Especially, the part about Fed becoming a reactive player. He definitely hasn't been playing like he used to play in '04 and even '05 in the last two years. I remember when he used to hit shots inches from the lines with regularity. Nowadays he hits mostly a couple of feet away from the lines unless he is pushed and has his back to the wall. This was the case in the Wimbledon final in the final set. He even started to do it today in the third set, but Novak served brilliantly to hang on and win.

However, I disagree with your point about career timing. All champions slow down that little bit as they age and/or the next generation hits the ball harder and pushes the envelope even more. To compare Federer to Courier is not right at all. With Courier you could say that he might have timed it well, since he won mostly when Becker/Edberg were aging and Sampras hadn't yet arrived fully. And all of them, both before and after, won more slams than he did. But, it seems strange to say that Roger timed his career sweetly in this manner for two reasons. He has won more slams than anyone other than Sampras who came before him and even there almost as much as Sampras. Regarding the folks who are coming to the scene after we shall see. For the timing argument to work in my mind, Novak or Rafa need to win 18 slams before we can say Federer timed it sweetly. For example, would you say that Sampras conveniently timed his best years between Courier and Rafter/Hewitt/Safin, when he has more slams than all of them put together?

Basically, the facts you put out are fine and I think I follow the point you are trying to make. However, your characterization is a little hard to swallow especially, when you compare Federer to Courier. It seems more reasonable to argue that Federer was a player ahead of his time when he arrived on the scene. He moved like no one else and was more complete than anyone. It has taken some time but now there is a new generation of young guns who are able to play the game like he does. He is one of those players who changed how the game is played. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that all the top three have great flexibility in addition to being fast. One thing that makes Federer so sublime is his flexibility. Both Rafa and Nole seem to have a similarly flexible body to be able to get down low and to counter punch with power from stretched positions.

Posted by ptenisnet 01/25/2008 at 05:11 PM

How about Tim Henman as a coach?

Posted by Syd 01/25/2008 at 05:12 PM

Actually Federer says it all himself, below. Apparently he knows what's wrong while everyone else is postulating.

"No, I don't, I didn't think I was moving that great," he said. "I think I played really well the first two matches,[in the tournament] in terms of movement also. I don't know if the surface got a bit quicker."

"I definitely wasn't as good on the defensive like I usually am. I couldn't come up with the passing shot when I needed to. Yeah, that definitely hurt me, especially today."

"We all know if I would have served it out the match would have been a bit different," Federer said. "Sure, he could have come back and still beaten me, but circumstances of would have been different. He wouldn't have played that freely in the second set."

"He usually doesn't play that well. That was unfortunate for me. You know, I paid the price twice, not only losing the set, but also the second set. You know, I missed many opportunities the third set."

"But, like I said, he came up with some great shots, some great serves, and, you know, saved himself that way."


Posted by codepoke 01/25/2008 at 05:14 PM

Yesterday was great for tennis. Maybe I'm a not-so-rabid Federer fan, I guess, but I love this defeat. I think he asked for it, deserved it, and will respond to it - one way or the other.

Federer has switched from relying on fire in the belly to relying on reputation and anger. How those inferior tools worked so well for him last year continues to amaze me. When I watched him squander opportunities and still pull out matches, I got nervous. When he lost to Nadal at RG, he was displaying the same things that cost him against Djoko yesterday. Obviously, Pete has layed those things out for all to see, but I'd put it differently.

I don't think Federer is naturally mentally strong. I think he has to work at it. He puts in the weeks of labor building his skills and endurance, but those few hours at peak of a slam can be much harder. There's a price to pay in taking the risks necessary to beat Nadal in Paris or Djoko in NY. I think every time he faces a Nalby on the big stage, it extracts a cost from him that Djoko will never pay - Federer's sensitive. For the last 2 years, his reputation has allowed him to indulge that sensitivity just a shade while his opponents defeated themselves. That's over.

So, we come to a crossroad.

Federer's incredible talent and awesome work ethic will carry him to the quarterfinals for years to come. But now there are 3 men out there who can ratchet up and take him down at any moment. Nadal on clay or Nalby and Djoko on hard can overpower his A- game, and that's causing him to bring his B stuff. (Tsonga on grass? I don't know. Australia seems to have a knack for one-slam wonders. I don't put much stock in Tsonga yet. He has a hot hand, but that fades fast and never comes back.)

In the first 2 years of the Pax Federer, Fed imposed himself on everyone. He paid that price. If we see another couple years of the peace, it will be because a strong man embraced the mental agony of those deadly few hours, 4 fortnights a year. If not, we'll watch him destroy the little fish and fade in the finals slam after slam.

You cannot imagine how excited I am to see Fed face adversity again. Tennis is sooooo ready for this. This is going to be one great year.

Go Federer!

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 05:19 PM

The more I digest this post...and the more I don't like the direction it's going...

Anyhoo, let the post-mortem begin...

Posted by Semaj 01/25/2008 at 05:22 PM

Good posts, all....off to play tennis in forty degrees and sunny. Downright balmy these days.:)

Posted by Rosangel 01/25/2008 at 05:28 PM

ptenisnet: I think Tim Henman is still deciding what he wants to do next - but from the way he was talking during the press conference at the BlackRock Masters last month, going on the road as someone's coach is nowhere on his list. He's staying home, playing golf a lot, has three young children and probably many options open to him that don't involve travelling. When asked about helping out Andy Murray, he said: "Not really, no. If you're going to do something like that then there's a lot of travel involved, and it's something I'm enjoying not doing any more."

By the way, there are many useful ideas to ponder in Pete's post, and also some excellent comments here.

Posted by Schwab 01/25/2008 at 05:29 PM

Beckham,
Sam is actually on your side on the coah issue when he said "consultant" on an earlier thread today.

Posted by 01/25/2008 at 05:30 PM

I think Fed's loss tells us more about Djokovic than Federer. We are formally introduced to a serious threat to the top two. He is a young great player who doesn't seem to feel any pressure...just yet. His playing ability cannot be denied but it does not mean the Fed's and Nadal's is diminished.
And this from someone who finds Djokovic annoying as hail!

Posted by CM 01/25/2008 at 05:36 PM

Roger lost a damn GS semi-final. THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING!! LIFE AS WE KNOW IT HAS COME TO AN END.

Uh...Rafa also lost in his GS semi too - by an uglier score and not to the #3 player in the world. Justine Henin lost earlier than that and one of her lost sets was a bagel! The Bryan Brothers also lost here. I guess they are all over-the-hill now too. I guess they all need to rethink their lives and try to somehow come back and be important again.

Maybe now Roger can lose a match and be treated like everyone else. Maybe the 'monster' will go away and Roger can be like say....Pete Sampras who never won more than 2 GS in a year and whose best match-lost record was 15. Egads! Roger lost 9 last year!!!

Roger may never dominate again like he did...I hope he doesn't because it wasn't real and it is what created this stupid monster in the first place. Roger is human and he lost a GS semi. Big deal, next match...

Posted by izidane 01/25/2008 at 05:39 PM

now that my 'pretend to work' session is over, I bid everyone g'night. I'll pass on the ladies match, watch it later.

Go Ana.

Can't wait for Djoko v Tsonga

Posted by Rakesh 01/25/2008 at 05:42 PM

Pete,

Thanks for addressing my comment. This loss "in retrospect" may look like the turning point in Fed's career but that's only in retrospect. What I take more exception to is that you blog seems to imply, Nadal was vulnerable on hard courts, Djokovic took time to come about and in between Federer had perfect timing to get as many slams. And then you add the cautionary bit about it not diminishing Federer's accomplishments.
But that statement sort of makes Fed a passive winner of slams, not an active one and I think that's not true at all. To me its a round-about way of saying that Fed had weak competition.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

I completely agree.

Posted by Schwab 01/25/2008 at 05:47 PM

PTI guys on ESPN said that if Roger wins only Wimby or USO, they said that today's match is the beginning of the end for Roger. If he does not win them, Wilbon said that this match was the end for Roger. Will look at PTI again at 6:30 on ESPNews just to make sure I've heard that right

Posted by long_time_lurker 01/25/2008 at 05:47 PM

"The career timing of TMF was as sublime as his timing on the court. Federer took advantage of the chronological seam as effectively as Jim Courier did, back when Agassi and Sampras were still searching for the championship groove."

"The fact is, Federer imposed his will and his game on his peers for an extraordinary. mesmerizing, four-year spell (remember John McEnroe, and Hewitt himself?), and it don't make no never mind how he did it. It's a matter of fact."

Federer is as good Courier! McEnroe had sublime career timing vis a vis no competition!

No wait....McEnroe and Hewitt imposed their will, like,um Federer?

Give me a minute. After 8 years of No Child Left Behind and Protect our Forests drilling acts this should be easy.

Federer imposed his will (unnecessarily?) on a lucky chronological seam where he didn't have to worry about will imposers like McEnroe and Hew......... dang! I'm close. I know I'm close!


Posted by highpockets aka Madame 'Pockets 01/25/2008 at 05:48 PM

Pete, I loved this article ... especially the part about Roger embracing his monster. After reading his presser, I had a similar reaction to Federer's candid comment about the burden of his own expectations. You came up with the perfect remedy for that.
----------
The chum is in the water and the sharks are getting close;
Time for Roger to get edgy and not just grandiose.

Posted by rogi 01/25/2008 at 05:49 PM

Wonderful stuff Pete - unlike some of your colleagues (not trying to start anything here :-)) - this is what I expect from the site - thoughtful analysis without getting emotional (especially letting a personal dislike for a player influence thinking/writing).
Also - great comments codepoke! (Something that has escaped most of the Fed KADs who seem very defensive and/or dismissive of Djoker.)

Posted by Andrew 01/25/2008 at 05:52 PM

I honestly don't know, Pete. The writing is sharp and provocative, as always, but it's a bit of a jump to say that this skirmish represents a turning point in the war.

I don't want to behave like a six year old - shut my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and sing "nah, nah, nah, I'm not listening!"

All careers have an arc. Partly that's due to physical decline, partly an inability to adapt to the way the game changes over time, and partly because the next generation is strong, quick and hungry.

The difficulty I have is putting a single loss up as a signpost in any direction. This match ended a streak of 34 straight SF victories - that's an insane number, and it had to end sometime. Last night was the night.

We could have said the same after the loss to Safin in 2005, or to Nadal (4 times! in the first half of 2006). The monster Federer has created is the expectation that he's a prohibitive favorite every time he steps on the court. I guess he's earned the right to lose to a strong rival without us all marching behind a drummer playing "The World Turned Upside Down."

Posted by Sam 01/25/2008 at 05:53 PM

" But helping Federer develop the sharpest response to his biggest challenges is the job of a psychologist"

Paging Robin Pratt ... ;-)

Posted by svelterogue 01/25/2008 at 06:02 PM

very thoughtful and provocative post, mr bodo! :)

this is precisely the kind of commentary i have missed from you, and which drew me to TW, and look at the comments/discussion you have engendered! marvelous piece, pete. :)

roger, do get a coach.

i could say the same for rafalito, he could have another one, i hope.

Posted by omar 01/25/2008 at 06:07 PM

What about the idea that Fed just had an off day and the Joker played top tennis?

Thad does happen sometimes. Often, the simplest explanation is also the most accurate.

I watched the match and felt that Fed was just a step off his game the whole way thru. Some would argue it was the play of his opponent that was responsible for that. But I think Fed deserves the benefit of the doubt here for the time being.

Posted by nikkiB 01/25/2008 at 06:18 PM

Great article and writing Pete.

Posted by Tim ($3.03 spent on Starbucks) 01/25/2008 at 06:19 PM

funny how when Roddick for example loses a big Slam match, the talk is always veering back to the positive, how he's still learning has a great attitude, etc., or when Rafa loses a Slam, he's learning, hot on the trail etc.,

but when Fed loses ONE m atch, suddenly its a career halting disaster that has the winer of 8 of the last 10 Slams in crisis ...

this is why Fed fans get irritated and defensive and nervous despite all the labels of 'boring' and inevitable' that come with every win... because ONE bad day or flat day or very hot opponent leads the media and fans to send him down the river to loserville without a paddle ...

its been this way for y ears..the guy simply cannot win unless he NEVER loses ...

we can pull out stats and compare his record to Sampras and Agassi and these players held in awe, who NEVER had even close to the Slam record roger currently can boast ...

why not see this as an exciting emergence of another rival or two and not as the end of Roger Federer?

Posted by Manolo 01/25/2008 at 06:21 PM

Andrew: Yeah I agree. It is too early to take this match as a turning point. Maybe Fed will win the rest of the matches he plays this year and becomes the GOAT of GOATs. Maybe he has a confidence decline and looses all the matches he plays this year and falls into oblivion. But that has not happened yet, so we must wait and see. When Wimbledon begins we will know if it was indeed a turning point: for better or for worst. (Or maybe not).

Posted by Tim ($3.03 spent on Starbucks) 01/25/2008 at 06:22 PM

when TIger lost 3 of the 4 Slams last year, did anyone write such a piece about him? he's still untouchable, regardless, but Fed has to go unbeaten to get the same respect...

phooey I say!

ok that is all... venting over its a waste of energy anyway...

Posted by Allcourt 01/25/2008 at 06:22 PM

Ok, Pete. You're hired! Report to Dubai immediately to coach Fed past these whippersnappers.

Andy

Posted by jbradhunter 01/25/2008 at 06:25 PM

Pete- great post!
Any chance you could lead a media celebration into discussing doubles more and also the wheelchair athletes as well? Journalism is so often focused on the singles players- and I'm not criticizing this by any means- but I do think these other players-- particularly the wheelchair athletes-- could benefit from some publicity from you. I looked and noticed that Esther Vergeer and also Shingo Kunieda will both be competing for the Aussie Titles- both players just took the USO singles titles last fall as well. The only player I've seen much on is Esther- who seems lovely as well as a fierce competitor. They don't even have pictures posted on the Grand Slam websites-- these are world class athletes and also amazing stories.

Thanks for all you do here.


Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 06:30 PM

Apparently the best tennis player in the world for 4 years and counting can NOT lose a match...I can't believe PTI said he's over because he lost a GS SF to the #3 player in the world...goodness gracious, do they even watch tennis????

Posted by Manolo 01/25/2008 at 06:32 PM

Tim: Fans this days (in all sports) have gotten crazier and crazier. In all tennis history, when has a player entered any tournament and be considered the absolute favorite to win, or by default, the close second favorite, as it has happened with Federer? But still fans (I dont blame the media, its their MO) are so quick to push him off a cliff for not winning each and every game he plays.

It really bothers me, because Fed does not deserve this kind of treatment. Hope he just destroys his next opponents, so we can all go back to GOAT discussions :)

Posted by Heidi 01/25/2008 at 06:38 PM

Pete, this is the most disgusting post title I've ever seen! Nobody offer me any chewing gum anytime soon, please! LOL.

A strong analysis. Is it right? Well, it certainly could be. But even if the answer is "just" that Federer had an off day, it is fair to say that he himself will know and want to fix himself so he has less off days. (You've noticed how he sometimes does refer to these things as a matter of training and thinking?)

I also think that many people seem to think Fed must have an "I don't need no stinkin' coach" mentality. Actually, I think his attitude is more "no coach except the right coach." (And I still think it's worth pointing out that this is the first time he's brought an advisor or partner of any kind (Luthi) to a Slam since a year ago, and... ahem.) If he could find the right coach, I think he would willingly start a relationship. However...

Pete, you posted about coaching relationships when Murray and Gilbert broke up. You seem to think that Fed needs not part I, the Download, so much as he needs part II, the on-the-road partner to look him in the eye every morning. This is interesting to me because Federer seems to talk about improving himself more in terms of the Download issue, which is improving serve, volleys, etc. You seem to be saying he needs to recognize that he needs Part II. Perhaps it's hard for him to envision having a coach who is with him so constantly and change his on-the-road lifestyle so much, as you point out. He also just hasn't had one in a very long time now.

Imagine if Nadal had been in a position to offer Federer a ride on his flight this time. Can you imagine the two of them sitting and silently condoling?

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 06:39 PM

Tim & CM: I still believe this is very good for the Fed...he's been written off...he'll no longer be the absolute favorite to win everything and anything...finally he can go into a slam & a tourney without any pressure till maybe grass season...and for the 1st time in 4 years dude does not have a billion titles to defend...

Frankly, I'm excited...and I can't wait...this is when great champions show what they are made of...

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 01/25/2008 at 06:43 PM

Oh, Pete, I really dug this story, and the fact that we might have a TW par-tay on the night of the exo!

Two thoughts:

1. Does anybody else wonder if Federer is inclined to suffer a number of Slam losses beyond a certain point. If he does indeed break Sampras' record, would he be content to scoop up another Slam title a year while losing, even in the later stages, of other events? I just wonder if he's been so dominant, for so long, that he might find it almost distasteful, or unpalatable, to endure that.

2. For the reasons you name, and others, I firmly believe that Gilbert would be the perfect coach for Fed except for the obvious personality issues that make it a total fantasy. I was discussing Gilbert with a friend the other day and we decided that he's the first official "headcase" coach - somebody with clear talent and value that keeps sabotaging his coaching relationships though the inability to keep certain traits in check. You'd think such a smart tactitian would recognize and adjust this, and I say this as somebody with a great deal of respect for the guy.

Btw, I keep picturing Tsonga hoisting the trophy on Sunday...

Posted by achilles190 01/25/2008 at 06:45 PM

Pete hate to sound monotonous.....but you are dead on the money.........in all that you said in this post........

I also sensed true fear...in Federer a fear that did not need to be there despite how well Djoko was playing

Posted by achilles190 01/25/2008 at 06:45 PM

Pete hate to sound monotonous.....but you are dead on the money.........in all that you said in this post........

I also sensed true fear...in Federer a fear that did not need to be there despite how well Djoko was playing

Posted by 01/25/2008 at 06:48 PM

Rolo Tomassino:
Federer has mentioned on a few occassions that he would like to stay on the tour into his 30's. I would think he'd be very well aware of the fact that he couldn't compete with the elite of the game consistently at that age.

Posted by 01/25/2008 at 06:48 PM

Tomassi not Tomassino. I beg your pardon that was quite familiar of me.

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 01/25/2008 at 06:51 PM

To Whoever posted at 6:48 - I know he's said that, but it's something else to live it. Sampras was gonna play another year after winning his last US Open, then he withdrew from a bunch of tournaments, then he retired. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by 01/25/2008 at 06:52 PM

I would prefer Federer to leave the game on a high note as well. It would hurt to watch him lose in early rounds.

Posted by Beckham (TMF still rocks!!!) 01/25/2008 at 06:53 PM

Rolo: true but I believe he said he'd hopefully retire in the top 10 or 20 as everyone likes to go out on top...which follows that he must know that when he's top 10 or 20 he won't be winning titles up and down the wazoo, not to mention GS titles...

Posted by Heidi 01/25/2008 at 06:57 PM

Obvious personality issues indeed. Was it Pete or someone else on tennis.com, maybe on the Ticker, who was writing about a practice incident in which Murray was seen to turn his back on Gilbert while G. was still talking? The line went something like, "Trouble in paradise or is it just that if you always looked at Brad Gilbert while he was talking, you would never see another human being's face again?"

Posted by Heidi 01/25/2008 at 06:59 PM

Oh, and Rolo, my dad, the infamous "casual fan," claims Tsonga will have no trouble beating Djokovic. Now, he's been wrong before, but usually not dead wrong. He's out on a limb this time though -- if he gets it totally wrong, I will throw it in his face every time he makes a tennis prediction.

He was right about Djokovic and Federer, though.

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