In his quest for the elusive Slam No.18, Roger Federer has to rediscover the courage of a Champion
The question refuses to go away, because the man in question just does not quit. He does not how to quit.
The receding hairline and the three day fuzz make him look like a battered warrior. Sometimes the back does not hold up and sometimes the knee. When both hold up, the nerves refuse to. He talks about setting smaller goals and fulfilling them. He finds positives in defeat and harps on the fact that outcomes are irrelevant as his love for tennis is bigger than everything else.
Yet, his eyes light up on the prospect of holding aloft another Wimbledon trophy. After all, this is where it all began. He won Wimbledon as a 16 year old and won his first Wimbledon, his first ever Grand Slam, as a pro. His 17th Grand Slam, four years ago, was at the hallowed portals of Wimbledon. In a way, life has come a full circle for him.
But, he is not done yet. Roger Federer wants one more Wimbledon.
He has experienced a title drought since the start of this season. With Wimbledon as a priority, he made the tough decision of skipping Roland Garros. Videos of him working out in the gym and gearing up for the grass season made the rounds while his compatriots fretted about rain delays in the French capital. After his Semi Final exit at this year’s Australian Open, Federer has had a dearth of match practice with just five matches to his credit on clay.
The title drought continues in the grass season. His semi-final exits at Stuttgart and Halle, where he is an 8 time Champion, pose new challenges for Federer on his favorite surface. The defeats at these tournaments were inflicted by torchbearers of the next generation, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. Post his semifinal loss to the 19 year old Zverev, Federer, like always, first drew strength from the positives. He sought solace from having played 7 matches in 10 days. He then acknowledged the need to work on some areas heading to SW19.
When asked about the verdict on Maria Sharpova’s drug ban, Federer unequivocally backed a zero tolerance stance against doping. There are indeed a couple of areas of his own game that he should have a zero tolerance stance on if he wants to have a chance at winning an 8th Wimbledon title and put the question of the elusive 18th Grand Slam to rest.
The nerves jangle at crucial moments
Many would say, and have said that Federer had no business losing to Dominic Thiem in the semi-final of the Mercedez Cup at Stuttgart last week. He squandered two match points in the Second Set after enthralling the crowd with a dominant performance in the First.
It is the manner in which those two match points were wasted that raises concern. On the first match point, Federer flubbed an easy backhand volley into the net. And on the second he chose to serve and volley on a relatively poor serve. At 7-7 in the tie break, he executed a half-hearted backhand drop that found the net. From that point onwards, Thiem grabbed the match by the scruff of its neck and romped home with a win.
It is hard to believe that a legend who held his nerve on Championship points and went on to win 17 Grand Slams in his career, now has a challenge controlling them on Set points. Ivan Ljubicic needs to help Federer find his silver lining when clouds of self-doubt loom large on critical points that could make or break the match.
Improve on break points conversion
Federer’s break point conversion percentages, in his total 7 matches at Stuttgart and Halle, have been appalling to say the least.
His break point conversion rates were 11%, 17% and 38% in his matches against Taylor Fritz, Florian Mayer and Dominic Thiem at Stuttgart. At Halle, he converted a mere 14% of his break point opportunities against Alexander Zverev.
These poor break point conversions either have forced him to go the distance to win some of the matches or have cost him the match. It is imperative that Federer cleans up this aspect of his game ahead of Wimbledon. He needs to aim at keeping his initial rounds shorter so that he has more gas left in the tank to take on the likes of Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and some next generation stars like Thiem and Raonic.
Rediscover the courage of a Champion
In this interesting piece by Simon Hattenstone, the author alludes to Federer’s backhand pass down the line in his epic Wimbledon Final in 2008 against his arch nemesis Rafael Nadal.
It is match point for Rafael Nadal in the fourth set. But Federer conjures this moment of magic and pushed the Final to a deciding Fifth.
Like the author says, it was not only the quality of the shot that made that moment incredible but also the ‘courage of the shot’. A calm and collected Roger Federer made the right choice of shot in a pressure situation and it all looked so casual. These days he struggles to stay in the moment. At match point he gets nervous at the sight of the finish line.
It is this courage of a Champion that he needs to rediscover and harness if he is to capture another Wimbledon. The courage has been conspicuously missing in the Grand Slams. The big occasions still get to him. It contributed to his loss, as much as Djokovic’s supreme display of tennis, in the Wimbledon Finals of 2014 and 2015.
Even the reigning World No.1 , Novak Djokovic, wobbled while he tried to serve out the match in the recently concluded French Open Final against Andy Murray. At 5-2 in the Fourth Set he seemed to crumble under the weight of expectations but found his courage just in time to clinch the elusive title.
Federer is not alien to having the heart of a Champion; he just needs to rediscover it in him. In his defeat to Djokovic at the Barclay’s World Tour Finals in London and this year’s Australian Open Semi Final, the Swiss was defensive when questioned about his self-confidence.
Is the Maestro in denial about his lack of courage or is he too smug to admit it?
Either way these reasons don’t help his cause. If he wants to have a chance at winning that elusive 18th Slam, he needs to rediscover the courage of a Champion.