Unquestionably, Roger Federer is one of the greatest tennis players ever. His record 16 grand slam singles titles are a shining testament to that. At 33 years-of-age, considered old in modern day tennis, he continues to compete at the highest level.
Federer has not won a slam in over two years causing many to insist that he cannot and will not win another. With each loss he suffers at a major, those proclamations become insidiously more abundant.
But if one examines how tantalizingly close he’s come to winning a 17th singles crown, surely it’s premature to state emphatically that he can’t or won’t achieve that feat again. I think he will.
To my eyes the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that Federer is not finished.
He exhibits no appreciable loss of a vast array of skills, not the least of which is his extraordinary movement. I’m a firm believer that Federer is the greatest natural mover of all time.
Regarding shots, If anything, he has refined the drop (a shot he once abhorred), and debuted a clever new shot, so masterfully disguised that it leaves both opponents and viewers amusingly flummoxed.
The shot is a fake drop. When the occasion arises, as it did twice in the BNL d’Italia tournament in Rome, for all intents and purposes, it appears that Federer will hit a winning drop shot at a most auspicious moment.
Watching it on TV I thought it, commentators thought it as they prematurely announced, “Here comes a drop,” and those present at the match thought the same as they uttered a collective sigh of resignation to what appeared inevitable.
But then he does it, something unexpected, something unusual. He push/slices the ball deep for an outright winner leaving his onrushing opponent, who was fully convinced that he needed to dash forward at breakneck speed, startled to find himself rushing right past a ball easily within striking distance.
The bait was simply too good, the hook too firmly imbedded for the hapless foe to do anything but what he did, look foolish.
The experience is analogous to falling for, in basketball, a shooter’s head fake that gets a defender off his feet freeing the shooter to execute an unencumbered shot, or a juke in football that leaves a tackler embarrassingly deceived as the runner easily evades his grasp.
Certainly Federer isn’t the first to fake a drop and do something else, but he is the first I’ve seen do it so cunningly that only he knew what was about to transpire.
It’s vintage Federer magic, only it’s new.
The man still has the goods.
So, if anything, what needs to change for Federer to again hoist the winner’s trophy at a slam.
Shortening points by resolutely making more trip to net is something that Edberg has apparently made help solidify in Fed’s game.
Other than that addition, physically, technically or strategically, I think nothing needs changing. But I do think, and I’m fully prepared to be taken to task for saying this, that Federer needs to loosen up some, maybe not just some but a lot.
One of the traits that we have come to associate with him is a consistent appearance of emotional control during a match. After a match he’s been known to bawl like a newborn, but within the heat of battle, he almost always appears calm and composed.
That just can’t be whats going on inside his head.
From personal experience, I can say without equivocation, when you are locked in combat in a tight, tense tennis match, there is a raging inferno of fear, anger, doubt and a number of other negative things bubbling over, moving you ever closer to an abyss. If you fall into the abyss, invariably you lose. That’s just the nature of competitive tennis.
I think that Federer has become so absorbed with a need or desire to appear in control at all times that it’s become burdensome. There’s got to be a substantial energy expenditure in working to gloss over inexorable internal struggles.
On June 28th, the eve of the 2015 Wimbledon, Roger should get mad, I mean really pissed off. He should call the CEO of Nike and tell him in no uncertain terms, “I’ve got a job to do. I’ve got to win this tournament. I don’t give a s**t if the Nike swoosh symbol on my Nike bag is facing outwards for the cameras or not. And furthermore, I’m wearing some pirate pants or maybe even some cut off bluejeans, without a Nike swoosh mark on em! You hear me?!”
Then he should tell Mirka (or more likely a maid or wardrobe person) to not put any freaking starch in what ever shorts he decides to wear. In fact, don’t even iron them. And just lay out an old wrinkled tennis shirt from the time before he became “The Fed,” the champion, the gentleman, the man of unflappable demeanor.
At the beginning of his first match, he should don a cheap terry cloth headband (without Nike swoosh mark), let his hair fall out as it may instead of having strategically flopping locks dangling about, and proceed to kick butt.
And when he feels some anger, vent for Christ’s sake, like he did during a 2012 comeback win against del Potro in the French when he shouted at a woman to, “Shut up!” He looked damned angry too.
It worked. The entire stadium went temporarily mute, partially out of shock to see Fed let go like that and partially because he commanded them to “shut the f**k up” when he’s playing an important point.
The most I said was, “Whoa!” I even said that sort of under my breath despite being over 4000 miles from Paris and watching a TV screen.
His mini-rant had the desired effect. He needs to do more of that, not boorishly but without hesitation when appropriate.
Roger Federer is a great champion, a gentleman, a man of impeccable character and unfailing generosity. He couldn’t possibly be a better role model. And he is a consummate ambassador for our sport.
But Roger should get a little testy now, talk a little trash. He needs to go into Wimbledon and tell Rafa and Nole, “This is my house and on the sod I’m the king.”
Along with loosening the constraints he keeps on his emotions during a match, he needs that extra pump. He needs to let his guards down and luxuriate in a bit of human imperfection. It could prove very liberating.
After all, he still has more grand slam singles titles than any man on this planet and I think he can get another.
I think Roger Federer still has the goods.