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The Reluctances 04/16/2008 - 1:35 PM


Mornin', everyone. I've been locked down for the past few days with some editing work for Tennis (the mothership), so I haven't had much chance to comment on Roger Federer's decision to work with semi-retired coach Jose Higueras on a trial basis this week in Estoril.

Before we look at that, let's give Miguel "Mikey" Seabra, a great friend of TennisWorld and one of Europe's finest tennis commentators, a hat tip for breaking the news of this relationship here at TennisWorld a few days ago. Miguel is always looking out for us, and I'm hoping that despite his busy schedule he'll send us a post from Estoril.

Miguel posted the news of the Federer-Higueras hook-up in the comments section at 11:49 AM on April 12th - more than four days ago. Since then, pundits from all over have been weighing in on Federer's choice, so let's take a closer look at it.

Down on Key Biscayne, Tomahawk Perrotta and I had a chance to shoot the breeze with Federer's agent, Tony Godsick (IMG), who reiterated that Roger was definitely looking only for a part-time coach. He also told us that Roger's actual training (as opposed to game-tuning and fitness maintenance) consumes about 10 weeks, mostly at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. So right off the bat, it seems that the only real role Higueras can play in 2008 is that of an adviser on the X's and O's, a scout and analyst of The Mighty Fed's rivals (great and small), and an emotional/psychological ally and confidant.

So here's what we know about TMF's coaching needs: He does almost all of his serious (off the tournament grid) training in Dubai, during the winter. He wants a drop-in coach, rather than a week-to-week companion. He's never been conspicuously reliant on a coach in the way Andy Roddick has relied on Brad Gilbert, then Jimmy Connors. He seems to have no great need for the emotional bond that exists in close player-coach relationships. He seems very comfortable - and he's been wildly successful at - figuring out how to beat his challengers. Only Rafael Nadal, on clay, has posed more questions than Federer has been able to answer.

Now here's what we know about Higueras: As a player, he was the ultimate baseline grinder. He was, in some ways, the anti-Federer, hitting big, loopy, topspin groundstrokes from the baseline all day. Higuera was an indefatigable worker, in practice as well as on court, but he didn't have enough game (stroke, strategy or athleticism-wise) to punch through at majors, a la Carlos Moya or even Gaston Gaudio.

After Higueras, having married an American girl, retired to Palm Springs, he worked mostly as a coach employed by the USTA. He worked with a host of American players including Michael Chang, often on a part-time basis. But he had an intense, fully dedicated compact with the player who would be his most successful and high-profile coaching project, Jim Courier.

Although Courier was pretty much a finished product (thanks to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and Jim's former coach, Sergio Cruz) when he struck up a partnership with Higueras in 1990, the Spanish expat helped him enormously in areas as different as self control and shot selection. You may also remember the famous incident that occurred during the 1991 Roland Garros final between Courier and Andre Agassi. Agassi won the first set, looking unstoppable, but soon there was a rain delay. During the break, Higueras advised Courier to back off a little when returning, instead of trying to attack Agassi's serve. Courier followed suit, and went on to win the match.

Ultimately, though, Higueras grew sick of traveling and uninterested in having an intense coach-protege relationship. After he parted ways with Courier, he coached on his own terms, working with players for short stints at his own home base, not theirs. When Pete Sampras decided to make a coaching change at a stage late in his own career, Higueras hired on - but again on his own terms. Although he whipped Sampras into great physical shape, his unwillingness to travel and his emotional disinterest (about which Higueras was always honest) proved to be deal breakers. Sampras ultimately re-hired his former coach (Paul Annacone), who provided him with the inspirational fuel to make his career-ending run.

So what of this new pairing, TMF and Higueras? 

The most striking thing to me is that it's based to some degree on reluctances: Federer's antipathy toward having a coach sitting across the table from him every morning at breakfast, drawing diagrams on napkins, and Higueras's well-documented aversion to making the emotional investment, and all that entails, in a protege. It's also hard to imagine him spending weeks in Dubai. In some ways, the reluctances dovetail, and they may allow either man to function in his comfort zone. That, at any rate, has to be the hope of Federer fans.Tmf

On the other hand, the reluctances can just as easily turn this experiment into an inadequate response to a problem that may - or may not - exist: Federer's need of a coach at this stage in his already storied career. Just how anyone feels about this move is probably determined by the degree to which he or she thinks that Federer needs a coach, and the extent to which this current "slump" is an authentic crisis.

To that end, I put no stock whatsoever in the theory that Higueras is auditioning because of his towering reputation as a worker and taskmaster. Hail, Federer isn't going to be doing any kind of serious training for some time. I suspect that Federer is looking for answers in the way of X's an O's, not jumping jacks or cross-court-and-down-the-line drills. Federer needs the latter like he needs a hole in the head.

Once again, I find myself thinking of the growing friendship between Sampras and TMF. When they worked together, Higueras finally told Sampras something that his loyalty to Courier had prevented him from revealing before. Higueras knew exactly what Sampras did, strategically, that allowed him to own Courier (the H2H is 16-4). Perhaps that planted a seed in TMF's mind.

I'm guessing that Higueras is on-board for two reasons, Nadal and Djokovic. With all due respect to Tony Roche, I can't imagine how that grizzled Aussie serve-and-volley specialist from a bygone era could have had great insight into how to move Nadal out of his comfort zone on clay, even if he knew how to keep TMF in his own. Higueras, as a clay-court expert, has a much deeper bag of tricks in that regard. Djokovic may pose even be an even greater long-term concern for Federer, because his hard court game is so fully realized. And as a former coach of Chang, Courier and Sampras, Higueras has plenty of experience fine-tuning a hard court game.

Let's look at Federer's prospects in the upcoming majors. At Roland Garros, he's likely to be an underdog to Nadal. At Wimbledon, he'll be the favorite, but Wimbledon is an odd combination of crap-shoot and slam-dunk for TMF. While he has - hands down - the best game for grass, turf also is the most dangerous surface, for anyone. Even in this era of slower grass, the slick surface levels the playing field in the early rounds. At the U.S. Open, Djokovic will have enhanced credibility - and greater confidence.

So my feeling is that TMF may be far more concerned with solving the games of his rivals than ever before, and I wouldn't blame him one bit for doing everything to underplay that element in his search for a coach. A year ago, I thought he could really benefit from having a full-time coach - quite simply, there  was no down side. Now, in this key, final stage of his assault on the Grand Slam singles title record, and with Novak Djokovic opening a new front in the counter-offensive, I believe he needs one.

At some point, every great player has been besieged and forced to circle the wagons, load the guns, and make a stand. It's a whole lot easier to win that battle when you have someone inside the circle with you. Why be a lonely hero, or delay the inevitable?

Right now, Federer could really use someone whom he respects and trusts (and I don't mean Mirka, the keeper at his gate) to tell him: Just go out and show that other guy that you're Roger Federer and he's not. One thing I took from his recent losses is a renewed impression that TMF is perhaps a bit too accustomed to smooth sailing; I don't think he reacts well to being confronted, bullied, or smothered. When a match is a demonstration of skill and derring-do, he's fine; when it's a street-fight against a guy who comes at him with chest flung out and enough power to hurt him, he seems tempted to shut down.

If there's a shortcoming in Federer's career game plan. it seems to be his blithe indifference to the emotional/psychological value and functions of a coach. In that sense,  auditioning a coach who has expressed a disinterest in that aspect of the job is, well, in character, but also questionable. TMF seems to operate on the premise that he can either work things our, or figure them out, on his own. He's been good at it so far, that's for sure. But things can change very quickly in tennis, and it's good to have someone by your side when it's time to circle the wagons.

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Posted by Pcorad 04/16/2008 at 01:54 PM

Check out this ESPN article on John Isner's serve.

Posted by Beckham 04/16/2008 at 01:57 PM

Hmmm trez interesting...

Still trying to digest it after which I'll have something to say...

Posted by Syd 04/16/2008 at 02:00 PM

Great post and analysis Pete, thanks.

Particularly "is perhaps a bit too accustomed to smooth sailing; I don't think he reacts well to being confronted, bullied, or smothered. When a match is a demonstration of skill and derring-do, he's fine; when it's a street-fight against a guy who comes at him with chest flung out and enough power to hurt him, he seems tempted to shut down."

I think you hit the nail on the head.

Posted by Christopher 04/16/2008 at 02:05 PM

Very interesting and even-handed piece, Pete. I'm not sure if it's good or bad for Federer to be as focused on these two particular players as you believe him to be (and I think you're probably right). Djokovic HAS been a problem lately and Nadal always has been on clay, but I almost worry more about Fed having off days and actually losing to lesser players when in the past an off day simply meant he won with less-than-stellar tennis. Is Djoko really the riddle that Nadal on clay is? I'm not sure. I think Fed at his best beats Djoko at his best on any surface. I'd have to give Nadal at his best the edge over Fed at his best on clay. That is a riddle worth solving, so long as Fed doesn't lose sight of the fact that he has to get to finals before he has to solve it.

I still wonder if the biggest issue for Fed this whole season is simply that he missed out on his intense Dubai training because of the illness. He needs that extra step, especially for the clay season.

Posted by Tari 04/16/2008 at 02:14 PM

Hmm...interesting, Pete. :)

Posted by Master Ace 04/16/2008 at 02:14 PM

Very interesting take on why Federer decided to get Jose. This year has been a riddle for Roger so far and he has to start putting the clues together beginning with Estoril this week.

Posted by vetmama 04/16/2008 at 02:15 PM

So they made their agreement at Indian Wells (at the same time I played with Jose)... so Higueras really did dump me for Federer! ;)

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 02:18 PM

Lol vetmama - sacrificing yourself for Fed means that his trophies are partly yours. ;)

Nice article Pete. So many interesting developments in the Fed camp this year. Maybe he needs an outside voice to talk things over with, someone not inside his inner circle.

Posted by CM 04/16/2008 at 02:22 PM

Interesting analysis, Pete. I've always believed that Roger doesn't need a full-time coach. He certainly doesn't need someone to teach him anything technical. But if Jose can give him that extra input to help with strategy and confidence...well, I'm all for that. I just think sometimes everyone needs to be reminded of what they already know and do best. And it never hurts to hear a different perspective on approaches and strategies.

As for Nadal and Djokovic... Well, I truly believe that Roger at his best will beat Novak. And Roger at his best can go toe-to-toe with Nadal on clay. He just needs to believe it. I think he will once he feels he is back completely fit with no lingering effects from the illness. That just takes time and matches. Eventually his mind and body will be in sync again.

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 04/16/2008 at 02:24 PM

i agree with syd, every time fed is pushed against the wall, it's tough times for him... i remember him cruising to RG semi's in 2006... he won too easily to be really tested specially the last rounds, then he ran in hott nalby who trashed him 6-3 in the first set before losing the second and retiring with injury...

fed is so used to win those little points here and there that make the difference in the end, that when someone pushes him to win every single point in a tough battle like nadal does, or djoko, he simply can't keep it up on the clay... else where rafa's spin doesn't hurt him so badly so he can have a more agressive attitude. for djoko, it's too early to make any assumption as for the clay season... on hard no doubt he will contest much more fed's supremacy than rafa can do.

Posted by Tari 04/16/2008 at 02:26 PM

I read somewhere that Higueras said recently that he believe that he can help Roger beat Rafa on clay. I loved that he came right out and said that. (I can't remember - was this comment posted here?) Good enough for me, anyway! :)

Posted by Orpheo 04/16/2008 at 02:28 PM


We have an appoinment you and I. When certain catalan crowd extinguishes the reds from certain european championship. It will be at the same time when certain spanish player makes some holes ona gruyere type cheese.....Power up, it is frazzle time...

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 04/16/2008 at 02:32 PM

Great post, Pete.

Syd - I was struck by the same line as you, especially the "chest flung out" part. Fed has a real reverence for certain decorous aspects of the game and many have observed that he doesn't much seem to care for Djokovic and his... what's the right word?...arrogance, I guess. Where some guys might enjoy smacking down people they don't approve of, I think this dynamic influences Fed in a negative way - he's not at his best against Djokovic and I felt the same way when he lost twice to Canas in 2007 - Fed had been very outspoken of his disdain for dopers ... did that play a role in those loses?

Kind of makes you wonder if this is where his good upbringing/manners work against him. He seems almost repressed when he faces these guys, like he's keeping a lid on feelings he would never let out in public, and it throws him off. On the flip side, he doesn't have such problems with Rafa, whom he seems to like and respect.

Posted by Tari 04/16/2008 at 02:34 PM

I'm shaking my head at the assessment that Roger retreats or folds when pushed. Honestly, you don't get the kind of match records he's had over the years with this kind of idea being true. He has had one nemesis on clay, and lately, a new rival on hard courts. But it is early in that "rivalry"! Sometimes a loss is just a loss, I think.

And besides, I would point to the Tipsy match at the AO, or Wimby 2007 to refute this claim. :)

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 02:39 PM

Rolo Tomassi,
I'm not quite sure of my feelings on your post yet.. but it certainly is a very interesting take. I've never thought of it that way.. hmmm.. still thinking about it. :)

Posted by 1963USCtennis 04/16/2008 at 02:40 PM

"I read somewhere that Higueras said recently that he believe that he can help Roger beat Rafa on clay. I loved that he came right out and said that. (I can't remember - was this comment posted here?) Good enough for me, anyway! :)"

Roger's peak may very well be behind him on clay. He will go into RG as the #1 seed but will he make the final?

"nalby who trashed him 6-3 in the first set before losing the second and retiring with injury... "

Will Federer be able to overcome obstacles like Davydenko, Nalbandian or Djokovic at RG this year?

Despite the fact that TMF was playing at an incredible level, the past few years I have seen many players go out there with the "visible" attitude that they would not win the match.
The only player 2005-2007 to not have that attitude was RN (and Nole after beating Nadal and Fed in Cinci or Montreal).
However this year that is no longer the case; tennis players are like sharks... when they smell blood they circle around.

Maybe TMF should have hired Higueras several years back, but maybe TMF did not calculate well how big a threat RN would become.

Posted by Maplesugar 04/16/2008 at 02:40 PM

Tari, I totally agree--and what about the way he turned around the match with Rafa when he was down TWO sets?! That was a street brawl of the highest degree.

Posted by Maplesugar 04/16/2008 at 02:41 PM

P.S. in Miami a couple years ago.

Posted by Beckham 04/16/2008 at 02:41 PM

I'm with Tari, I don't buy the whole he retreats thing when he's getting pushed...he's been pushed plenty a time on Grass and HC and hasn't retreated...he's lost all but 1 of the battles on clay but I thought that was because Rafa was the better clay court player, I guess I was wrong...

Tari, I also floved that Higueras quote, I like the confidence and I'm hoping he'll turn Fed back into snarky Fed i.e. how dare you beat me, I'm so much better than you, his belief in himself was sooooo unshakeable even when he lost...I miss that...

Orpheo: like I said, them are fighting words and you and your Catalan crowd are going to get killed period...

Posted by VJ 04/16/2008 at 02:41 PM


How about the fact that Fed goes to Higueras soon after his friendship with Sampras is more established. Did Sampras put a word in his ear?

Also, in spite of all his artistry in his game, Federer comes across more as a calculating and organized genius and is hardly an emotional player (although he lets it out in the end). He has taken care of his career and training schedule pretty much by himself. He actually has all the makings of a LEGENDARY COACH himself. So I'm not surprised if he selects someone like Higueras who is emotionally unattached. That might be the more comfortable thing for Fed, who may only want an intellectual conversation. The way he described his parting with Roche indicates that he's uncomfortable with emotional scenes.

I'm actually thinking he's not really worried about Djoko and Nadal on Hard courts. He's beaten them when it mattered (let's give him the benifit of doubt for his MONO in AO against Djoko).

He needs the French Open NOW. One thing that's been missing for him in his FO finals against Nadal is Intensity. So if he doesn't work want to work his intensity up and wants to stick to the more delibrate and calculating approach that he's used before, someone like Higueras might help.

Posted by federerfan 04/16/2008 at 02:49 PM

in my view...federer did not need a coach until this year...bcos the risk that a coach will take away from fed's success was higher than benefit any coach could bring to fed...(why fix something thats not broken?)
But now, since the results are..well..not there...this year...for various makes sense to fix something that does appear to be broken...including S&V and a coach.

I would have agreed with the assessment that fed shuts down in the face of nadal type counter attack...infact I did so on one of these threads last year and felt fed had no chance unless he readapted his game to nadal style on clay....but more and more I am beginning to agree with fed....i.e. the fed that shows up after a defeat at the press conf. not the one on court while losing, who looks totally out-of-sorts. I think, contrary to what we usually think, that fed does NOT switch gameplans instinctively in the course of a match...definitely NOT against Nadal on clay...he goes in with a fixed strategy and wil not change it even when things go from bad to worse...I view it not as a shortcoming but as having a long term view...fed knows solving Nadal on clay is not a challenge that can be started and thought through and solved in the course of one match...he needs several matches...and patience...when asked why he did not switch to S&V in RG 06 when it worked so well in Rome 06..he said...he did not bcos RG was much slower than Rome....otherwise he would have. That tells me, it wasnt some mental block that kept him from trying something new...but it was thought out previously.

All this helps me to have continued faith in Roger...he may never beat Nadal on clay..esply at RG...but that does not mean...he isn't motivated or is caving in or that he doesnt try everything possible from his side...including S&V and a clay court specialist coach.

Posted by Pete 04/16/2008 at 02:50 PM

Tari, Mapes et al. . . I never suggested that Roger folds when pushed. I'm talking about how he reacts to different climates on the court. Remember, Rafa is very respectful toward TMF and I think Roger does best guys whom he feels really respect him. Blake may be his ideal opponent.

Posted by 04/16/2008 at 02:50 PM

Tari wrote: "I'm shaking my head at the assessment that Roger retreats or folds when pushed. Honestly, you don't get the kind of match records he's had over the years with this kind of idea being true. He has had one nemesis on clay, and lately, a new rival on hard courts. But it is early in that "rivalry"! Sometimes a loss is just a loss, I think.

And besides, I would point to the Tipsy match at the AO, or Wimby 2007 to refute this claim. :)"

Exactly Tari. There is no doubt that when Roger does lose, it is nearly always a dog-fight. It is a rare thing for Roger to go down meekly. But there have been many times when Roger has been in a tough battle and come through. Like you said, the Tipsy match at the AO and certainly the Wimbledon 2007 final. Nothing proved Roger's mettle more than that match.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 04/16/2008 at 02:50 PM

Thanks for the read on this Pete. I still think this is a great potential partnership. Jose sounds like a perfect guy to "gather information" with Fed and has the ability to communicate the important bits in a clear manner. Martin and Courier both speak highly of him.

I think the ability to make the adjustments in terms of passive responses is something Jose can point out. Also I agree Fed has come to expect he can play his way out of matches, but with every player and coach trying to devise a way to beat Fed, he needs to become more focused in developing a response to those players who have made in roads.

While Courier praised the partnership, he also noted chemistry is difficult to predict and despite this not being the sort of close, full time arrangement, I suspect if there is chemistry and success, it will be a close relationship even if not in full time physical presence.

There is also the fact Fed has a full time room mate and perhaps this arrangement is a better fit between the personal and professional "quality" time each commitment requires.

The only question about the training I would ask is, given the illness and lack of off season training or loss of fitness during normal down time, perhaps Fed will feel the need to alter his approach during the season. I suspect he will train a bit harder this spring than in a normal season - just speculation but I think it would make sense.

thanks again for the insight.

Posted by CM 04/16/2008 at 02:51 PM

Oh damn...that was me at 2:50pm.

Posted by Sam 04/16/2008 at 02:52 PM

"I've always believed that Roger doesn't need a full-time coach. "

He has been very successful both with and without a coach (7 Slams with, 5 without, IIRC), and I think he's a very self-sufficient player. That is why I was never in a rush for him to hire a coach after the split with Roche. Over the past year or so, I've been more of the mindset that a consultant type coach would suffice, and definitely a low-key coach as opposed to one that seeks the limelight. From what I'd read about Higueras, I like Fed hiring him as a coach. I am curious to see how this change affects Fed's game in the upcoming months.

Posted by Andrew 04/16/2008 at 02:56 PM


It's an interesting hypothesis, and reading through your argument, I sorta-almost agree with you, but not quite.

I think Federer is very interesting from a psycholgical point of view: he went through a longer apprenticeship than many, having to (ultimately) learn the mental discipline, and the foundations of his approach to the game that ultimately brought him success that he still, I think, is surprised by.

I honestly believe very few adults change their foundational beliefs, and I don't think Federer will.

Among these foundational beliefs are: hard work pays off, I try to improve as a player, I concentrate on my game rather than an opponent's, don't let the loss of a set or break get you down, have a game plan.

Higueras is all over hard work and conditioning, but Federer already has a pretty good team who can help him with that. So while Higueras may add one or two wrinkles, Federer hasn't brought him on for conditioning.

I also can't see him in the role of scout - "when Djokovic does this, you do that." Federer speaks of his preparation at the FO for Kuerten's serve, and Kuerten ended up doing the opposite. Federer believes he can do better by (a) remembering an opponent's tendencies and adapting in the moment.

But Federer still has holes in his game. For me, the biggest hole, exploited by a lot of players, is when he gets pulled wide on a FH. He also (in my opinion) attempts to control a point using depth as a major weapon on his groundstrokes. A Federer net attack often comes off a heavy topspin ball which is, still, relatively straight up and down. He has the ability to use width as a weapon, but doesn't often do so in a match.

So where Higueras may be able to help is opening the book of tactical patterns Federer has at his disposal a bit wider. I think that would dovetail with the foundational beliefs above - give the man a more potent arsenal that he can use against any player, plus good discipline on how to select the right set of weapons, and we're off to the races.

Federer will be receptive to the argument "this pattern of shots leaves you vulnerable against anyone" rather than "to beat Djokovic, here's what you have to do."

Federer spoke in late 2006 about how he'd worked on the BH drive return against Nadal's slice serve. He also picked up better volley technique from his time with Tony Roche. If the "demo coach" experiment works with Higueras, expect to see new patterns in Federer's game.

You also write "[Godsick] also told us that Roger's actual training (as opposed to game-tuning and fitness maintenance) consumes about 10 weeks, mostly at the end of one year and the beginning of the next." Note that the physical effects of this training were wiped out by the mono infection. That's why Federer has been a half/quarter/eighth of a step slow in the first part of this year. Any talk of his results in 2008 has to include that recognition, IMO.

Posted by federerfan 04/16/2008 at 02:58 PM

as to the fed retreating in the face of a street-fight play....I'd like to submit that every player does that including...yes...nadal. I cannot define what button it is, for it is different for each player, but there is a button which when pushed the player retreats...I believe the same happened to Nadal this year at AO and at IW and Miami...all one lop-sided matches. Please dont try to convince me that Nadal fought for every point in those matches till the end.

Posted by Tari 04/16/2008 at 03:00 PM

Ok, Pete! :) My misunderstanding, but I was mostly responding to the posters here who seemed to take it the same way.

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 04/16/2008 at 03:01 PM

1663USCtennis, are you saying : if only fed knew... rafa would come and prevail for 3 years at RG ?
that's the beauty of the sport, you never know ;)
tomorrow, some young guy can come out of nowhere like guga did in his days and win the big thing too... i'm pretty sure no one saw him coming either ;)
you have to value everything you can achieve and be happy with it, i hope both rafa and roger do.

that's why i was so sad about nadal loss at wimby, to many top guys playing good on grass can have their day against him... can he have another run ? sure but the most oportunities you miss the less you can get.

roddick had 2 shots against federer and had to pass on the next 2...
roger met 3 times rafa at 3 one, semi, 2 finals and could not find the way...

in the end, someone allways finds a way but it's not everytime the usual suspect... fed or safin beating sampras, guga beating muster and bruguera...

Posted by andrea 04/16/2008 at 03:04 PM

roger and nadal come from the same sort of background - a cultured, comfortable european background where you are polite and humble in your winnings and losings. novak is a serbian upstart that both personally and culturally is much more in your face, and abrasive. i'm not a fan of novak and i can imagine that his behaviors do bother roger (no one has really asked nadal about novak doing his nadal impersonations at last year's US Open but soderling was mocking nadal a bit in wimby '07 and that didn't go down too well).

i read somewhere that during the MSG press conference (before the fed/sampras match) that pete made a comment about novak and his 'personality': (not verbatim) "he does his impersonations....if you can call that personality". apparently roger smiled at this, which doesn't surprise me given that he and pete are very similar in that they are low key and respectful of other players. (although roger is a far better tennis icon off court in terms of handling press etc with some flair.)

bottom line: roger knows novak is nipping at his heels and while he can respect him as a player, i always think he'll look down at him just a little for his clownery and such. whether this impacts his game against novak, i don't know. maybe so.

Posted by JimF 04/16/2008 at 03:04 PM

I wish more people had seen Federer beat Nadal in Hamburg on clay, so I could hear their analysis of that (I watched on the Internet since there was no TV here). Match started out like their usual clay-court battle with Nadal up a set and Federer serving at 15-40. Then Federer just turned it on and totally dominated, winning was it ten straight games, including a love set? IMHO Federer stopped playing clay court tennis and attacked off both wings. He was running around Nadal's forehands, as if he was attacking second serves in the ad court, hitting extremely wide, inside=out forehands. Nadal was driven off the court and Federer calmly put the ball away down the line to an often vacant court. Why Federer hasn't played that style against Nadal in Paris, I don't understand (although I keep hearing Paris is faster and bouncier than Hamburg).

Posted by Sam 04/16/2008 at 03:08 PM

"He has the ability to use width as a weapon, but doesn't often do so in a match."

Andrew: Good point. That is one facet of his game that I would like to see utilize more. I think that it would make him more effective when attacking.

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 03:10 PM

I've said this before but one of the reasons I love tennis is the psychological aspect, which I believe is more pronounced in tennis than in other sports (or at least in the ones I watch). In other team sports you have your team backing you up. In tennis, it's usually who's in your box but they are not out on the court with you. With the comments about how Federer thinks on the court and how he responds to people he may or may not respect (not saying he disrespects anyone, but you know what I mean) is very interesting and something I want to continue to watch for. IMO you can tell a difference in the generations, between the guys Roger "grew up" with like Roddick, Blake, who are the same age and the new young guns like Nadal, Djoker, ect. who seem more intent to overtake Fed.

Posted by SwissMaestro 04/16/2008 at 03:11 PM

Actually if we take a second a think about it, Higueras can bring a new ingredient to Federer's table he did not have before. He can put that idea of "Don't think you can beat Nadal on clay" but "Know you can beat Nadal on clay". Federer for sure has Roland Garros set in his sight as one of the top prorities for the rest of his career. He has to acknowledge the fact that in order to suceed at RG he has to do whatever it takes to win and not only whatever he would allow himself to do to win.

Posted by federerfan 04/16/2008 at 03:15 PM

by the way did people notice the comment from fed this week "I feel I am close to playing great again"...over time...I have learnt to accept what fed says about his game as an honest assessment.
When he said "Nowadays I dont panic, just bcos I lost a set or am a break down" he meant it and I could see it in his matches, similarly when said "I'd rather lose to the same player 5 times than lose to 5 different players once, as it gives me a chance to understand that player's game each time"...he meant that as well and his record against Rafa is that much better now...
I take his above comment in the same vein..."I am close to playing great again"...he wont say it unless he is convinced and I am happy if he is convinced he is close to playing great tennis again.

Posted by 1963USCtennis 04/16/2008 at 03:16 PM


" if only fed knew... rafa would come and prevail for 3 years at RG ?
that's the beauty of the sport, you never know ;)
tomorrow, some young guy can come out of nowhere like guga did in his days and win the big thing too... i'm pretty sure no one saw him coming either ;)"

No, no... no one can see the future. :)

I'm there with you. Federer "knew" of Nadal probably somewhere in 2003-2004 . He lost their first meeting (2004?)

My point is more that maybe Federer saw his own progression (exceptional by anyone standards) in 2004-05 and thought...
"none of these guys can beat me... EVEN ON CLAY" and might have seen himself winning RG.
Close, but not quite.

Posted by Sam 04/16/2008 at 03:17 PM

JimF: I loved the way Federer played during those last two sets in Hamburg. Yes Nadal was tired, but allowing the preeminent claycourt player of this generation only 2 games in a span of 2 sets on clay is still very impressive to me.

Posted by Pete 04/16/2008 at 03:18 PM

Federerfan, your 2:08 is right on the money; wish I'd thought to put it that way myself (button pushing etc.)

JimF - Point taken, but it's awfully hard to read a lot into one match. Crazy things happen - to everyone - in specific matches. You could pick a FO match with Nadal to argue the opposite point just as easily, and I don't think either example would be definitive of anything. It's all about the long-term trends, patterns and results.

Posted by P. 04/16/2008 at 03:20 PM

Thanks for that Federer photograph, it's a much better view of the T-shirt. Still wondering if it's a Threadless job, or another hip T-shirt company; either way it's nice to see Roger wearing something not unlike the stuff I, and many of my friends, like to wear.

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 03:22 PM

P. It's a Nike shirt that was designed by a guest designer for Nike. If you go to Tennis served Fresh they have a list of who designed them and where you can buy them.

Posted by Tim (2008 the year of Red Rogie!) 04/16/2008 at 03:27 PM

JimF, Roger only won that Hamburg match because Rafa got tired and lost enthusiasm for the fight...isnt that common knowledge by now?

we also all know that because of Fed's vastly superior racquet work, his Slams have mostly come sans the street fight route, because he's been too good to need to claw and fight for titles ... if the time comes when the street fight is required to keep his no. 1 or Slams or get over the GOAT finish line, I have a feeling Fed can street fight with the best of em, it would be a shock for anyone to adjust to, and Fed will do it this year, or next or whatever... his last 4 years are unheard of in the history of tennis, so he is charting new territory here, and learning... im very happy to see Fed and Djoker on serve in a fifth set, to see who blinks first...

Posted by SwissMaestro 04/16/2008 at 03:28 PM

I think that the fact that Federer beat Nadal on Hamburg last year has to do with several things.

1. The surface in Hamburg is slower than it is at RG but also the ball does not bounce as high. Roger took some benefit out of it as it takes away less power off his backhand swing.
2. I have to admit Nadal was not the same Nadal that sacked Rome the week before Hamburg.
3. Federer definitely capitalized the important chances Nadal gave him (unlike at RG converting only 1 of 17 break points)
4. Roger made good use of that flat and deep inside-out forehand to Nadal's backhand in order to get the short ball back for an easier putaway.

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 04/16/2008 at 03:29 PM

swiss maestro do you really think tony roche did not tell fed he could beat nadal on clay ?
specially after their epic in rome ?
fed has learn everything he needs to know about rafa and his game on clay... the only thing fed could not control is that rafa got better after 2005... and one thing is that rafa allways brought his A game the day of the final, fed ? fed did his best but was never at his best, which is the strangest thing about his quest of RG... like if the task was too big for him in some way, playing for history iso yourself hurts.
because in the end, why fed does want the french ?? he never dreamed about it in the first place like other guys might have, because his dream was in wimby, not RG.

maybe i'm wrong, but you allways have more chances to win what you allways dreamed of than your least favorite one.

Posted by Sam 04/16/2008 at 03:33 PM

Pete: Well, if we're talking trends, I like the trend of Federer winning 5 of the last 7 matches against Nadal, after only winning 1 of the first 7.

Posted by federerfan 04/16/2008 at 03:34 PM

To continue on my prev post re: fed feeling he is close to playing great tennis again...I remember the year when Tiger woods was retooling his swing and was suffering a bunch of losses and lost his #1 status before storming back again to #1 and winning a bunch of majors...there was a big hue and cry over it and all the while Tiger kept insisting he felt he was getting better all the time...I have a sense the same is happening with the fed...I definitely wish so...
Having said that...Tiger said recently he has learnt his lesson not to say things like "[winning the grand slam in a year for tiger] is easily within reason" and then go out and not win the very first major of the year and never threatened to win it either. I hope Fed doesn't end up eating his words like "I am aiming for history" or "No 2, No 3 doesnt matter, its no 1 that matters"...those are 2 comments I wish fed did not make but again I didnt see his body language when he made those...was he just being objective or losing his head a bit?....phew...this guy is going to kill me before he retires.

Posted by Master Ace 04/16/2008 at 03:48 PM

Another trend on clay is Nadal 6 Federer 1. Could this be the reason why Federer hired Higueras? But the most important question to me and the answer is unpredictable and it is what will the weather be like if Federer has to play Nadal again in the finals of Monte Carlo, Rome, and Roland Garros.

Posted by Maplesugar 04/16/2008 at 03:57 PM

Oh, I see my mistake, Pete. Sorry. You know, we fed KADS are often wrong but never in doubt! Actually, that is the Maplesugar Creed.

Sam...You are sooooooo right about those last two sets in Hamburg. It was like somebody flipped a switch, and Fed just came alive. That is right up there as one of my most favorite matches in my Fed library.

Posted by Russ 04/16/2008 at 03:57 PM

Jim F: I agree with you. 2007 French was the most painful sporting event I have ever seen. I was expecting a more confident Roger because he had imposed his game on Nadal at Hamburg. And he was doing it in the 2nd set, and I thought he was going to get in the groove. But once he was broken early in the 3rd, he seemed resigned to lose. Painful. Marginally more painful that my forever losing Leafs succumbing to LA in 1993. But I digress.

Posted by Andrew Miller 04/16/2008 at 03:58 PM

Master Bodo's analysis is so complete and so thorough that it's impossible to counter! I submit.

In terms of training: I must say that I disagree with Godsick, whose loyalty is clearly to Federer and not to the truths of, and the stories behind, Federer's current "major hiccups on tour", when compared of course to the Federer of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 (and no one else). Godsick's not paid to analyze tennis, he's paid to look out for his main man Roger.

Federer has, unquestionably, FLOPPED this year.

His year, when compared with Federer's other years from January to April, are summed up with two words that ryhme with "MISS" and "MORE", but both those words must begin with a "P".

The hiring of Higueras, in whatever role of X/O man, scout, water boy, is, unquestionably, RADICAL. Sure, we can rationalize, in my opinion, the many ways that this arrangement "fits" Federer's publicly stated preferences: something like this fictional statement - "I need a part time advisor who can help me and my team prepare for the tournaments, we'll see how it goes."

Come on. This is Machiaveli's world we're talking about - the gladiator sport known as tennis on the ATP tour and the history books that only annoint one player as "best ever". Federer's not happy unless he is slaying dragons out there on the tour, and Federer as of late has been the dragon being slayed, whether by sickness, lack of usual preparation, or lack of a voice that will knock some sense into him.

His year is already in chaos. Higueras is here to right the ship. Federer needs a maintenance man, and Higueras is a toned down version of Gilbert, minus the public ego, the recent professional failures, and the oversized tv personality. Dont get me wrong: Gilbert is one of the fine cherrypickers who can make a great player greater, and I think when dedicated to his craft there are few better at doing what he does, but Gilbert hasnt learned much it seems from his failures with the Andys mountains. (Roddick and Murray). Higueras is more like Annacone - consummate professional and silent assasin. They are the intelligence pros, spies who get information that Federer now needs, which he did not need before.

This is a radical change. Federer's schedule is already altered - that speaks volumes. He is essentially using the clay court season as a "FRESH START" to his year, knowing the first months happenned but saying today is day one for 2008. This is totally radical.

"Down on Key Biscayne, Tomahawk Perrotta and I had a chance to shoot the breeze with Federer's agent, Tony Godsick (IMG), who reiterated that Roger was definitely looking only for a part-time coach. He also told us that Roger's actual training (as opposed to game-tuning and fitness maintenance) consumes about 10 weeks, mostly at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. So right off the bat, it seems that the only real role Higueras can play in 2008 is that of an adviser on the X's and O's, a scout and analyst of The Mighty Fed's rivals (great and small), and an emotional/psychological ally and confidant."

Posted by Sam 04/16/2008 at 04:02 PM

Master Ace: Well, that's the trend he needs to change ... Agree about the weather. Federer prefers the damp, heavy clay (like Hamburg). So let's hope for a soggy clay season. ;-)

"we fed KADS are often wrong but never in doubt! Actually, that is the Maplesugar Creed."

Mapes: Hee!

Posted by tennut 04/16/2008 at 04:33 PM

Hey Pete,

You never explained what it was in Courier's game that Higueras knew Sampras could take full advantage of?

Thanks for any insight.

Posted by kwillefo 04/16/2008 at 04:35 PM

Nice analysis Pete. I think Higueras will try and help Roger figure out how to just win points against Nadal on clay. With most guys he can just be Roger and win easily, but against Nadal, his options are limited. His serve isn't big enough to just blow him off the court; he can't out-consistent Nadal from the baseline; he knows that any approach to the net better be near-perfect or he'll get Higueras may have some ideas on how to craft a point to get Nadal uncomfortable somehow. Evidence the Monte Carlo final from last year. Roger never looked like he could figure out a way to win points and Rafa just hammered away until Roger missed. Maybe Estoril will be his "lightbulb" moment.

Posted by Amit 04/16/2008 at 04:46 PM


You're quite right about Fed's dislike of chest-beating rivals. It is clear that he considers that sort of behaviour rude and beneath him (and the sport of tennis), and it seems to actually affect his game. Rafa's decorum in court is never in question. His vamos and fist pumps are not meant to show his opponent up.

Tennis can be a dogfight; Roger probably doesn't believe that one has to behave like a dog in the process.


Really liked your analysis of what sort of coaching/mentoring would work with Fed - it's probably more about firming up his own game than focussing on a particular rival's weak spots. The primary concern with his game right now is whether his body is where his mind wants it to be. The whole philosophy of "if I can visualize it, I can execute it" is terribly difficult with slow feet.

Posted by Pete 04/16/2008 at 04:47 PM

Aw, tennut, you'll have to buy the book. . . ;-)

Seriously, I feel obliged not to give TOO much away that is in the Sampras autobiography, for a number of vaguely ethical reasons (first serial rights issues among them). So I've dropped morsels (and more) here and there at TW, but I owe it to Pete S. not to give away all his secrets here at my site.

Posted by federerfan 04/16/2008 at 04:52 PM

I have a weird feeling that this year, the peripheral factors are ganging up against Rafa on clay (if not for RG), the tight schedule and less pressure on Roger (no talk of slam etc, people just want him to start winning against fish/rochus etc at this point) means all pressure is on Rafa to win, further pressure from Novak on the #2...kamakshi wrote if Novak manages 20 pts more than rafa during clay season he becomes #2!...
It will just be crazy ridiculous if he manages to defend ALL his clay points...that would put unbelievable pressure on an already reeling Roger at week will give a peek into many of these questions...atleast for me.

Posted by ptenisnet 04/16/2008 at 04:56 PM

I find something worrisome about the revelation that Federer walks away from a fight that he doesn't think his fought according to his rules. Not saying I dont buy it, but it's like bringing up Marquis of Queensberry rules in a bar fight.

Also, on the topic of buttons, I wonder if Canas has any? I've always got the impression that he is too busy running to waste any energy on reactions.

What are JH's well documented aversions to emotional investment?

Posted by Tim 04/16/2008 at 04:58 PM

I dont think Fed is at the point anymore where he needs to pad his resume with weeks at No. 1 or career/Masters one cares about that, with 12 Slams and counting he's past all that day to day stuff ...

all that counts are the French, and then the other Slams, no one will remember a thing about Estoril, Hamburg or whatever else...does anyone remember what Masters events Sampras won, and when? very few remember anything but WImbledon and maybe the Open as the years go by ... we forget that Fed is already locked as the No. 2 player of all time, if he quit tomorrow ... pretty astonishing considering he's only about half way through his playing career, if he keeps going til 32 or more...

Posted by Tim 04/16/2008 at 05:02 PM

wait, is there a more chest beating rival than Nadal? Fed seems to have come to terms with him pretty good, even though its NOT directed at Fed, its still about as in your face as it gets... Fed just turns and ignores it, he says, but must be hard to see even out of the corner of your eye... Djoker is in your face more directly, and it sh ould be VERY interesting to see their next contest, im sure it will come pre-Paris, too...

Posted by Sher 04/16/2008 at 05:13 PM

>wait, is there a more chest beating rival than Nadal?

You've watched Djokovic/Wawrinka recently, have you? :) I've never seen so much chest beating in my life. On the other hand it did turn out to be the point of the championship for him, in a way.

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 04/16/2008 at 05:13 PM

it's hard to know what a coach can bring to fed's game since he has the best one in town... maybe not lately, ok ;)
but i think it's very hard to go against a shot selection patern a player feels confident in playing even if he doesn't win the match...
clay game is like chess, you need to master all the options and play 3 shots ahead of the other guy when you make a move.
fed most of the times don't need to figure out 3 shots ahead since his first or second shot is a killer...
do you remember all the talking back in 2006 of fed needing to figure out nadal ???
obviously he has learn, because he beat him more easily on hc as time goes on, but not on clay.

he barely faces that kind of challenge with the rest of the guys he figured out more or less easily a long time ago...
i think despite fed's variety he feels he runs out of options on clay when he faces nadal... that's where a coach can be helpfull to him, bring up more tools he has in store, but in order to do that he needs to build up his game at his best... since it's more than crancky these days it's going to be a tough job for higueras.
i hope davy and fed meet in the final because davy will expose fed's weakness if he has some to work on... nothing better than finding the perfect opponent to make yourserlf work better, no ?

Posted by Amit 04/16/2008 at 05:17 PM


I think it is the content of the gesture that is bothersome, if this is indeed a real issue at all. Rafa's fistpumps or Marat's rants/tantrums qualitatively belong to a different class than Djokovic's glare+chest-beating combo. The former is about pumping yourself up or a precursor to imploding; the latter could be
considered uncivil.

Again, conjecture, all of this...

Posted by Sam 04/16/2008 at 05:18 PM

"all that counts are the French, and then the other Slams, no one will remember a thing about Estoril, Hamburg or whatever else..."

Preach it, brother Tim! ;-)

"You never explained what it was in Courier's game that Higueras knew Sampras could take full advantage of?"

Probably Courier's forehand not being as effective when he wasn't camped out in his backhand corner hit it inside-out. Courier mentioned this in an interview a few years ago.

Posted by SwissMaestro 04/16/2008 at 05:18 PM


I think that if Federer and Davydenko meet in the Estoril final Federer takes it. Not because Kolya does not have the game to match him as well all know he has it (SF's of '07 FO) but because of the monumental Herculean mental effort it would take to beat Federer for the first time. On the other hand, he actually might want to face him as he's seen Federer is not back at his best quite yet.

Posted by Tim 04/16/2008 at 05:21 PM

yes DJoker is fast catching up to Rafa, but for sure his chest beats are personal, half directed at his opponents, and Rafa's are self specific, to pump himself up and certainly never intended to disturb his opponents (though the slow stuff is debatable on that point IMO)...

thats why Djoker is pure evil and must be destroyed the next time by TMF in full flow mode ... :)

Posted by nikdom 04/16/2008 at 05:21 PM

Pete, sometimes you make so much sense that I feel like calling you names just for the heck of it.

Kidding of course :)

You managed to capture all the facets of this story and addressed them as well as can be done by a rational observer. I'm so used to seeing opinion molded and sold as reason, that it boggles my mind when I actually see something written that expresses clear thought.

You stated the facts, presented information that sheds light on the mindset of the participants in this story and finally provided insightful opinion. You were not afraid to challenge the reasoning involved having first explored and given the official line its fair shake.

Kudos! Although I'm a subscriber of the Tennis magazine (by default because of a USTA membership), I still appreciate the effort you put into providing this to us readers for free!

Posted by yello fuzzy 04/16/2008 at 05:32 PM

Djoker is young, maybe brash, exciting not as 'provincial ' as Rafa ( not my way to describe Nadal), Roddick is the 'typical' obnoxious american athlete and yada yada yada...
and of course Roger is the consummate gentleman. The different personalities enhance the game , dividing players into different 'castes' seems a bit unnecessary. If 'chest beating' is what it takes to bring it, then bring it. It's great there is a Djoker to counter the staid nature of Federer, the game would be boring without the clash of style as well as personality

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 04/16/2008 at 05:35 PM

swissmaestro, possible that davy has a major choke and forgets how to take his chances playing the fed... who knows ? fed can go down to hanescu because he's bore of his own maistakes, but i doubt it, honestly ;)
beating rafa recently will give davy confidence for fed... he beat 2 of his nemesis roddick and rafa, so why not fed ?
that's the way most guys are thinking now ?

Posted by SwissMaestro 04/16/2008 at 05:37 PM


You might be right but a 0-2 against Nadal and a 0-5 against Roddick is not as bad as a 0-11 against Federer...

Posted by Sherlock 04/16/2008 at 05:42 PM

The Year of Kolya knows no obstacles, 0-11 or otherwise.

Posted by Voks 04/16/2008 at 05:42 PM

great peace Pete, enjoyed it very much.

Never came to my mind that the reason for hiring Jose is that particular reason. I mean it did cross my mind, considering the history between the three, but for that purpose only, or at least in very large part... nope.

But, now after you clearing my mind with this article and after watching Fed's big interview at Estoril that someone was kind enough to link today, it is all coming together to me. Answering a question from the press - is hiring a coach something for the purpose of winning FO - Fed said: "no, I've been looking for some time bla bla bla", so that does spark the idea that he has a "problem" of figuring them out, or at least Rafa on clay, in terms of longer time span. In that sense, all this talk of "we'll see how it goes for a week or two" is a disguise. This move by Rog only emboldens the idea that Fed himself thinks that he is in a slump, at least regarding no 2 (and I'd say no 3).

As for chest-pumpin and similar stuff from Djokovic, I think Federer doesn't give a penny on it. Maybe he doesn't like it ("whats this clown doing here?!" and "WE don't do things that way here") but it doesn't and wont effect his performance when he meets him. This based on the fact that he is a professional who wouldn't allow himself to be hampered by some opponents "antics". Thats my opinion anyway.

Posted by federerfan 04/16/2008 at 05:48 PM

I think fed hated nadal's displays in the past and over time has developed an understanding that those are integral to nadal's game and come to respect nadal while discounting the displays.
I remember one RG final when nadal was jumping up and down right beside roger, while the two were waiting to get on court and the contrast was well, very contrasting! and I am no expert on body language but I got the distinct feeling, whether intentional or not, Nadal was getting into feds head even before they stepped onto court, not because of any past record or the spinny forehand or whatever, just by the mannerisms exhibited.
At another final (think it was wimby) fed waited and waited and then decided to walk ahead without Nadal, with a similar expression that I read as "come on! what other petty trick you gonna come up with now?"
But thats all behind him now and he is much better at playing the match objectively without "bringing up the Marquis of Queensberry rules in a bar fight" as ptenisnet wrote eloquently. It also helps him not get distracted against the djoker as reflected in his responses when queried about djokers impersonations/claims to being confident of beating fed etc.
But all this, is only to say, he is now good at avoiding the unnecessary interferences when facing Nadal, he is still figuring out the fundamental problem about the matchup on clay, and still doesn't seem to be convinced that, a dogfight is THE way to beat nadal on clay. He must believe there is another way.
In 2006, at rome he came very very close to a bonafide win over rafa. In 2007, he did beat rafa but questions remained. Those tell me that although he can never consistently beat rafa on clay or ever be the favorite on clay when rafa is playing, on a given day, he could still beat rafa on clay, if some micro-level factors work in his favor (weather, form, pressure etc).
In 2008, will he actually get that win (even if its not RG) without any remaining questions? Cant wait for MC to start.

Posted by Jenn 04/16/2008 at 05:55 PM

Hi everyone... interesting as usual, Pete.
The Higueras "audition" / hire is very intruiguing. My reaction to it was, how could it be anything BUT an assault on Roland Garros. But if neither of them really want to make an emotional investment, its hard to see

Since many above brought up the Hamburg final last year, my take has always been that Rafa looked physically and mentally spent and Fed seized the moment, to his credit. BUT, the interesting thing about that match to me is not why Fed won that day, but whether the loss by Nadal actually freed him from the huge pressure of that win streak and allowed him to be more relaxed and play his best tennis at RG. That's my belief .

Given the compressed clay schedule this year, is there any further word or hint as to whether the top guys will pull out of Hamburg?

Posted by SwissMaestro 04/16/2008 at 05:56 PM

* Nadal knows his mental games, of course he does but the challenge for the rest of the players is to find a way to remain inmune to them. Easier said than done, no?

* That match in Rome in 2006 was for Federer to win but the real reason (though I don't like to admit it) is that Federer choked the match away when he saw it so close. For the rest he was the better player that day, he put in one virtuoso performance. He volleyed brilliantly.

*Nadal will remain the favorite every time they play on clay (as Federer will everytime they play on anything else). To me, the Spaniard is the best ever on the surface and not even Borg at his best (again, to me) could have beaten him.

Posted by GVGirl (I'm going to Spain in September) 04/16/2008 at 06:00 PM

I'm happy that Fed has a "clay" coach for now. It will be interesting to see what develops. I do see Rafa taking a fourth RG, who is to stop him? As for Djokester, I always have questions about his stamina on clay.

People forget that as a junior and early pro days, Fed had a little temper and "brattiness" (sp?) in him, but he grew out of it.

Posted by XXX 04/16/2008 at 06:08 PM

1963USCtennis: Djokovic at RG could have exactly the same obstacles called "davydenko, nalbandian, nadal, murray, federer, etc, etc, etc". Fed is still an obstacle for him.... I know, it's sure that the arrogant serb thinks: "I have you number Fed". Ok, he's just a poor guy, his arrogance surpass him.
Nadal, nalbandian are the main obstacles on clay. So is not only "a matter of belief".

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 04/16/2008 at 06:11 PM

Pete - you articulated my thoughts exactly ! When I first heard the news, I was elated, thinking that Higueras would be with Fed throughout the clay court season. Then I found out that he would only be there at Estoril, Rome and Roland Garros, but skip Monte Carlo and Hamburg, and my elation turned to trepidation. I think Fed is making a grave mistake in thinking that he does not need somebody by his side who is fully emotionally invested in him.

I believe his slump is authentic. If his game and confidence were where they were back in '06, then it would have been fine. But right now, his groundstrokes are erratic, he is shanking forehands and backhands, his mental strength in the crunch is looking fragile, he is clearly lacking confidence. As you pointed out - he seems tempted to shutdown when it turns into a street fight, and more and more often now, he is giving in to the temptation to do just that.

How can a part-time coach who just pops in and out from time to time, fix the confidence issue? How can he get into Roger's mind and help him make the psychological adjustment? Only a coach who is with him day in and day out, and who establishes a close emotional bond with him, will be privy to Fed's fears and insecurities. This is why Roche was unable to help him with his "mental block" against Nadal on clay at Roland Garros. Remember how Fed just "shut down" mentally in the '06 final, even with Roche by his side?

A full-time coach will also be able to iron out all the habits that have crept into his game. His return of serve needs to improve - he needs to get more aggressive on the second serve return. We've all commented on that. His groundstrokes need work. His first serve is great, but he loses far too many points off of his second serve. He doesn't need to be taught how to hit a particular stroke, but he needs to work the errors out of his game. So he needs somebody who will drag him out on the practice court and make do the drills instead of the casual practice sessions he often indulges in.

Fed is at a critical cross-road. A wrong decision now could make all the difference between becoming the greatest player ever, or an almost greatest player. He thinks he can sort out most of his problems on his own. For his sake, I hope he is right.

Posted by Heidi 04/16/2008 at 06:25 PM

Thanks, Pete. Very interesting. I knew almost nothing about Higueras, but I can see this pairing perhaps working well -- still, not enough for some onlookers given both sides' disinterest in an extensive relationship.

It's all very well and quite possibly right to say that Federer needs a full-time coach -- no real way to prove that, of course -- but finding the right one is another matter. It's hard to throw a full-time relationship into a finely tuned machine, even if the machine's been a little sluggish lately, and not wreck it. He may just be unwilling to take the risk. Or he may not have found the right person yet who is also willing to endure the travel, spotlight, stress, etc.

I am interested in the mixed responses, given that Roche seemed to be hailed as a great choice when that first started.

Posted by Syd 04/16/2008 at 06:30 PM

SwissMaestro: I have to agree with you about Rome 06. I've been reading the posts on this thread and find them fascinating and instructive.

Rafa either in Rome or RO, I can't quite remember continuously ended and won rallies with FH droppers. Didn't see Fed do that once, I think. And in FO it seemed almost as if he was feeding Rafa the balls. In the 5th set of Wimbledon, despite being down 15-40 twice, Fed just cranked up to an astonishing level.And I can't agree with those who say he squeaked through that one. But I think it's all mental with him. He has the weapons and talent to beat anyone on the tour. I don't think anyone disagrees with that, but sometimes in the face of extreme adversity, he goes away and shuts down. And it may be because there is such enormous pressure on him to win, and win easily, each time out of the gate. Maybe a sports psychologist might be able to help him, as one did in his early career.

Of course all of this is in light of the past months ofMono, so we're going to have to wait until Wimby to see if there's something seriously wrong here.

Posted by Tari 04/16/2008 at 06:32 PM

Definition of slump: Losing matches due, in part, to lack of 100% fitness after (and during!) sapping illness.

Yeah, that sounds about right. :)

Posted by 04/16/2008 at 06:39 PM

"And it may be because there is such enormous pressure on him to win, and win easily, each time out of the gate." I agree with you Syd. IMO you can't overlook (and I don't think anyone is) the amount of pressure Fed is under. There's only one way to go from the top, and he probably knows that one day he will start to slip down the rankings and is fighting to stay at the top for as long as possible. Just imagine the day that someone overtakes the number 1 spot - and it will happen one day - Fed won't be able to turn on the tv or read a newspaper for months. I mean what does that do to your psyche? I need a psychologist just thinking about it? :)

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 06:40 PM

That was me at 6:39. Bored at work. lol

Posted by Sherlock 04/16/2008 at 06:47 PM

LOL, Tari. Yep, Roger sucks. It's obvious. :)

Sheesh. If Roger wins the French, I don't think we'll know what to do around here if we can't wax poetic on the end of Roger's career. :)

Posted by ptenisnet 04/16/2008 at 06:50 PM

Sheesh. If Roger wins the French, I don't think we'll know what to do around here if we can't wax poetic on the end of Roger's career. :)

We might be forced to find another player to talk about after we upgrade Federer to Godhood.

Posted by Syd 04/16/2008 at 06:52 PM

Sherlock: If Federer wins the French, heck! if he wins Rome! I for one am going to drink a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. And I'm not gonna share with anyone.

Posted by Syd 04/16/2008 at 06:54 PM

ptennisnet: Federer already has Godhood.

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 06:57 PM

If Federer wins the French - well then it's the end of Rafa's career that is going to get disscussed. Done at age 22. lol

Posted by ptenisnet 04/16/2008 at 06:59 PM

ok, what's bigger than god? i know! chuck norris!

Posted by Sherlock 04/16/2008 at 07:01 PM

"I for one am going to drink a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. And I'm not gonna share with anyone."

LOL, Syd. More power to you, brother. :)

Great point, Whitney! :) I can hear it now. Rafa will be done!

Ptenisnet, when I first read that, I saw "Goathood" instead of "Godhood". Synonyms perhaps? :)

Posted by Syd 04/16/2008 at 07:03 PM

ptennisnet: Dick Cheney. maybe we don't go there.

Posted by ptenisnet 04/16/2008 at 07:05 PM

Naturally sherlock.
Greatest Of All Times means, not even in the future. Not Ever.
Even the time before there was time.
Only trumped by above mentioned Chuck Norris.

Posted by Papo 04/16/2008 at 07:11 PM

"If Federer wins the French - well then it's the end of Rafa's career that is going to get disscussed. Done at age 22. lol"

"Great point, Whitney! :) I can hear it now. Rafa will be done!"

Wow. And here I thought Nole can be obnoxioux when talking about overtaking the number 1 and 2 rankings.
Some of TWs Fed KADs can really get on a Rafa fans last nerve when they get going. LOL

Posted by Papo 04/16/2008 at 07:13 PM

Ooops, that's OBNOXIOUS ; P

Posted by Papo 04/16/2008 at 07:16 PM

Gee Papo: No need to get in a huff. What about everyone talking about Rafa winning Wimby over Roger. Which they do, including Borg. We take it like the big kids that we are, and we don't believe them.

Posted by Whitney 04/16/2008 at 07:17 PM

Papo - I was completely kidding! LOL I am not a Roger KAD that wishes any harm on other players. I happen to like Rafa and usually cheer for him when he's not up against Roger/Andy/James.

Wait does that get me kicked out of the Roger fan club?

Posted by Beckham 04/16/2008 at 07:17 PM

And more inhabitants of lala land...

Posted by Sherlock 04/16/2008 at 07:20 PM

Ptenis, you crack me up. Go Chuck Norris. Though Syd's Dick Cheney was a viable option as well. LOL.

Papo, I was kidding too, sorry. I'm a Rafa fan. :)

Posted by Papo 04/16/2008 at 07:21 PM

Papo : P

It's only natural for Roger's fans to want him to win RG, and for Rafa's fans to want him to win Wimby. It's the part about Rafa's early demise I don't care for.

Posted by Bismarck 04/16/2008 at 07:23 PM

*Done at age 22. lol*

you used a "lol", Whitney, but actually 22 is quite a critical age.
players even more accomplished than nadal were indeed done at that age.
and it was terrible to watch.

Posted by ptenisnet 04/16/2008 at 07:24 PM

Is someone else posting as papo or is papo just having a rich inner dialog?

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