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« Toronto: Doubles the Fun Toronto: Waiting in the Wings Now »
Toronto: Roger and the Monster
Posted 07/24/2008 @ 6 :36 AM

2008_07_24_federer_blog Were those tears again?

One of the most poignant moments following the Wimbledon final was watching Roger Federer being interviewed by John McEnroe and having to turn hurriedly away as his disappointment liquefied.

Now his return to the court had just ended in a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 defeat to Gilles Simon in Toronto, and again his face betrayed the tell-tale signs of eyes welling up.

Poor Roger. Who could have imagined thinking those words a year ago?

The result itself is minor compared to the context. First the "hardest loss" of a career, then an opening-round exit in the following tournament -- two events that reverberate against each other and create an exponentially bigger ripple about Federer's game and state of mind. Is his confidence shattered?

More immediately, is this a Wimbledon hangover?

Federer shrugged. "You wouldn't have asked me that if I would have won, right?"

True enough, but that only highlights what's changed for Federer this season. For so much of the past four years, he's pre-empted probing questions by somehow always managing to slip through the dangerous contests that crop up week in and week out. On his way to the Toronto title two years ago, Federer dropped the second set 7-5 twice -- to heavy hitters Dmitry Tursunov in the third round and Fernando Gonzalez in the semis -- but lifted his game and hit some spectacular winners to soar through in the third. This time, he slumped instead, losing his grip on his forehand and serve in what's becoming an increasingly common theme to his defeats this year.

The shift is small, but the difference is enormous. Federer used to win the matches he could have lost. Now, he's losing matches he could have won.

"I guess, first match on hardcourt, I couldnt' sneak through maybe the way I usually can," he said. "I think I get through the match and I get into the tournament and I start playing better. But I got caught cold, so it's kind of hard."

Defeat never actually seemed imminent until it actually arrived. Federer had cruised through the first set, looking like his usual free-flowing self while Simon blinked in the glare of the stadium lights and the glitter of Federer's game.

But Federer's forehand, which had been working so well in the early going, increasingly began to go astray during the late stages of the second set. The two exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games, but Federer played a loose game to drop his serve to love at 5-6  and suddenly found himself in a deciding third set.

The ship looked like it had been righted once again when Federer took a 3-1 lead in the third, but by now, an emboldened Simon was putting increasing pressure on Federer during rallies and taking advantage of the top seed's erratic serving. Despite the cool evening, Federer was pink and glowing with sweat, having testy conversations with umpire Norm Chryst. Another exchange of breaks followed, and then, serving in the dangerous territory of 4-5, Federer produced four straight unforced errors to hand victory to a stunned Simon.

"Missed opportunities," was how Federer summed up the match afterwards. "I think I had everything to put him away... having an easy volley at 3-1, game point -- that cost me dearly in the end.

"One of those matches maybe I think I should never have lost."

It will probably cost him the No. 1 ranking over the next few weeks.

He couldn't hide the hurt afterwards, clutching his face with his hands when an oblique question about Justine Henin's retirement was lobbed out during the post-match press conference. "Not today. Ask me another day. Please don't kill me with questions like this."

But why the inability to find an extra gear these days? The setback at the beginning of the year, combined with the tantalizing closeness of the Grand Slam record, may have created a little extra pressure and concern that destabilized the near-perfect calibration he had managed to achieve. Recently, the trigger has been squeezed too hard -- or sometimes, not enough. And as the losses pile up, the situation only feels more urgent. Roddick echoed this sentiment when talking about himself earlier in the week: "I felt like I was trying to play catch-up the whole time. I think that slowly kept at me and kind of culminated in what you saw in that match."

It's hard not to think back to Federer's classic comment at the Australian Open. "I've created a monster," he had said. "I always need to win every tournament."

The monster has not been fed often this year, and its roars are growing increasingly loud. If Federer has a task now, it's to stop this match he should have won from causing him to lose others down the road. He said he was rusty, having practiced for only three or four days after Wimbledon -- something he plans to rectify over the next few days. But a few more exits like this, and the season wil soon be unsalvagable.

And he's already got a plan for the rest of the week: "Try to win the doubles here. That's what I'm looking at."

A small victory to aim for, but the monster might settle for it at this point.

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Comments

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my god... speechless.. i dont even know what to say anymore...
Hang in there roger...

Kamakshi, love your writing and this article especially. Insightful, thoughtful treatment of this mind-boggling event, and gentle on Roger who seems so fragile rightnow.

Hang in there Roge

Please don't follow Justine, tennis can't loose you!!!

stand up... and all the way for US open!!!!

you haven't created a monster, but the best player history ever seen!!!

we love you Roge


Unfortunately, in all your explanations of Roger's difficult year, you did not mention the good play of those who have beaten him. It's as though he defeated himself, with no outside help. You fail to mention the loss at Roland Garros that set him up for Wimbledon.

Simon has been playing well, having beat Tursunov in the finals of Indy before coming here. This isn't the start of the hard court season, simply the second half. He's lost to Djokovic, Gasguet, Roddick, and Fish on the hardcourts earlier this year.

We love you kamakshi for treating the subject with so much grace. We love you Rog - you will always be Roger Federer no one can take that away from you. And read tennis.com you have a lot of fans here. Go get them in the doubles. How amazing is it that he did not drop out of doubles after this devastating loss. What a sportsman.

robnehemeth, he lost to those guys at the beginning of the year after a well publicised illness that meant he hadn't trained.
he looked sluggish then and his fans said its illness related and he'll be back.

the fans were right. federer found his fitness through the clay court season and reached the roland garros final then played very very well through wimbledon losing the finest match in years.
so this defeat to simon is a lot more shocking and less explicable.
simon's good play should not stop the world no.1 and 2 time champion beating him.

He couldn't hide the hurt afterwards, clutching his face with his hands when an oblique question about Justine Henin's retirement was lobbed out during the post-match press conference. "Not today. Ask me another day. Please don't kill me with questions like this."

***

OUCH..... *dies a little inside*

to anonynous at 7 30
wow best player of history !!!!
its an insult to tennis that a player who cant play on one of tennis's major surface i.e. CLAY is called as best ever wow!
a player who cant defeat his major opponent i.e. nadal is called the best ever. wow again

For some reason this year, Roger has had problems in closing out sets after having at least a break lead. Could it be mental? Or, could it be a good return game by his opponent or both? Roger led 4-1 in set 2 at Wimby but lost the last 5 games. Roger held at love in set 2 for 5-all but lost the last 8 points of the set. Also, he mistimed an OH in one of Simon's service games after dictating the points.

Early prediction - Roger Federer wins Cincinnati.

Roger has to learn to lose. I know that is a strange land for him but lets face it Nadal kicked his ass. If Roger is the greatest player of all times this is the right time to prove it.

Cometh the hour

Cometh the man

There are worse things in life that can happen , far worse

I honestly think Roger should talk to someone like Agassi who went though the whole crisis of unfulled potential ..

Roger can turn it around but I think he could really use some motivaton from some of his peers - no that prick Sampras who I believe played devils adovcate in raising the odds i.e. 16 slams so on .

Pete was well aware of the pressure of others expectations , he even told Roger this when he was in his slump .

I hope Roger comeback and cruches Petes record ..

"Not today. Ask me another day. Please don't kill me with questions like this."

Geez, Roger actually said that? I don't think I've ever heard him sound like a vulnerable schoolkid.

At the professional level, sports are mostly mental. Roger had better collect himself if he has any serious plans to keep his No. 1 ranking. I wonder how Mirka is "managing" Roger these days?

Hang in there Rog! tennis needs you.

Don't worry about the loss this time Roger. In a game there should always be a winner and Simon is the lucky one.

I still believe you are the number one so look positively for the upcoming tours. US open maybe the tour for you this year. You sitll have a long long way to go. I know you can make it.

Just take it easy. Wish all the best.

Kamakshi, loved your article unlike other writers continue with Fed-bashing since they already forsee his demise. It's really sad to see him lose when he should have won. Again not everyday come with nice sun.

This year is showing that guys are actually starting to step it up and take down Roger. Granted Roger played well the last 3-4 years but there was nobody out there that had any game. Besides Nadal...there was Davaydenko, Hewitt, Nalbandian. Come one, weak field of players who we're able to step it up and throw in some competitive matches. This year is showing us what it looks like when tennis has some decent depth. I'm impressed by how much depth tennis has gained in the last 10-12 months. Only time will tell how this hard court season shapes up. Maybe fed will come out and rock the open tho like he has the past few years.

Oh, Rogi.

Heartbreaking.

He actually said it after a question about Justine? Poor thing, the press are hell bent on pushing retiring thoughts into his head.

He'll never be able to deal with those losses Roddick's way, he's used to win too much, too often.

I really hope he can make a good comeback at Cinci, because going into the Olympics without that winning feeling in his bones would be extremely dangerous.

its lonely at the top..

Dear tennis followers,

the psychology of the mass, the mentality of us all that need in their life a symbol, a totem, make us blind most of the times.

All of us that saw the W final, I believe sensed that "time expansion" which is unique, if you know what am I talking about.

That experience is related to the depths of our souls and goes beyond common explanations, predictions, rankings etc.

Do not rush to show Roger the way out, or try to make the shine of his metal blur.

Let us respect his moment.
He belongs already to the pantheon of those few that will inspire me, (and I hope you as well), with his style, elegance and noble manners.

Lessons for a life time.

hmm: I don't think Sampras was trying to pile the pressure on Roger by predicting that Roger would win sixteen slams. Though I do think Pete was initially disappointed that his slam record would be broken so quickly, I now think he'd be happy to see Roger break his record. I read his "sixteen slam" comment as encouragement to a somewhat slumping Fed. Especially since Pete can more than sympathize, given the criticism he faced over the last two years of his career.

Kamakshi,
thanks for the post.

I think this is wimbledo hangover, plus the lack of practice, pluse another lack of practice because of rain delay, in decreasing order!

Each year Rafa used to be the one coming to the second half of the year, as the defeated person. His win in FO would have been forgotten, ince he had lost freshly in Wimbledon. Last year he admitted the loss stayed in his mind for a long time. He had to deal with it psychologically and it took time for him to recover.

Fed, used to come here , more rested anf full of confidence, restoring order and ready to rule.

This year that order has changed. Now it is Fed who needs time to recover from the Wimbledon loss and it will take some time.

Plus, they had only two weeks between that epic final and Toronto. Besides Fed usually starts slow, and this was his first match after two weeks. Simon came fresh from winning Indianapolis and had played another match on this surface. On top of that Fed ws not able to get his pre match practice on that court.

It is a loss and it may be costly for Federer, but the media is being overly cruel to him. I can't believe they ask him about Henin's retirement. Some sense? Why torture someone who is clearly disappointed?

I hope, really hope that Fed can shake off this loss and continue. As he said, no one would have asked those silly questions if he had won Wimbledon ( which he could have). RAfa started shaky as well. So , I don't read much into this loss. I hope Fed doesn't either.

Anyone knows how the ranking will look like now that Federer is out of Toronto?

oh poor roger.
come back stronger.

I think the difference is it used to not matter how well his opponent played, he'd win anyway. I recall being struck by that thought watching a match versus Andy at the US Open, might have been last year. Andy played as well as he possibly could have and kept it close. And it didn't make a bit of difference.

The writing on the wall for this one could be seen late in the 3rd Set when Federer started complaining to the umpire about the umpire's failure to sufficiently silence someone behind him doing some kind of heckling. That behavior from him tells you he knew this one was slipping away and his tennis on the court wasn't enough to prevent it. It screams lack of confidence, and it's fear based. Even more ironic is that before Wimbledon he'd said he cut down his schedule this year by design. But in fact he's played in 2 more tournaments this year as opposed to last year: Estoril & Halle. And if he hadn't played those events he'd be without any titles this year.

Something's wrong with him, for sure. Illness? Who knows. Lack of confidence? Yeah, that seems a given. Nadal & Djokovic having improved doesn't help either. It's probably simpler. What's happening to Federer now has happened to every tennis player in history. As a good friend pointed out: with the ATP Level players it's not so much about age or years as it is about "mileage", both physical & mental. No matter who you are, when you've won 12 Majors in 5 years that's a LOT of tennis in your body and your head. That amount of tennis has to catch up with you at some point. Your physical, mental & emotional faculties don't recover as quickly back to full capacity. One half step slower, or a mind wandering briefly away from summoning the volley you need at 3-1 to talk about a heckler instead, and before you know it you're on your way home after your first day. Some down time could help. Or maybe losses like this could start to make him hungry again. But what's clear is something has to change, because what he's doing now isn't working anymore.

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