Roger Federer - Should we rule him out?
Short answer – No.
A devastating second-round loss at Wimbledon, a semi-final loss to an unheralded opponent, only one title in the entire year – all of this seems to indicate the end of a career of a great champion. But then, Roger Federer is not just a great champion; he’s the greatest of them all.
Even after losing to Delbonis in straight sets last Saturday, Federer remarked that he was happy with his new racquet and he was simply beaten by an opponent who was better on that day. This, to me, does not sound like a statement made by a man who is in the twilight of his career, hoping for one last hurrah to make his way out of the tennis stage – it sounds like somebody who is in the middle of a major change, hoping for better things in the future.
If you would have watched the Delbonis match, you would have seen clearly that both men were equally matched – no breaks of serve and two tie-breaks emphasize this point. It was simply an opponent who was in ‘the zone’ on that day, playing every cross-court forehand to perfection, and putting pressure on Federer’s backhand – the Achilles’ heel we all know he has.
It might seem that Federer fans have been making this excuse (that his opponent was too good on the day) far too many times recently, but its true – Stakhovsky will not play a better match in his life again, and the same may be the case for Delbonis. Federer is not getting beaten due to his game declining; he is getting beaten by tough opponents.
Of course, that is not to suggest that there is no decline in his game – Delbonis and Stakhovsky wouldn’t even have stood a chance against the Federer of 2005-2007. But the fact remains that his game is still good enough to win Grand Slams.
Federer’s attitude to his (for lack of a better word) ‘decline’ has been nothing but optimistic – always a student of the game, Federer decided to play more matches on clay, his least preferred surface, just to ease his new choice of racquet into play. He knows that the courts these days favour power hitters from the baseline, and the grass of Wimbledon is a prime example – I have not seen grass play this slow ever in my life. The finesse that his game brings is pleasing to the eye, but is incompatible with today’s courts – he needs power in his groundstrokes to compete with the likes of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.
Even though it has been talked about a lot, Federer’s single-handed backhand groundstroke is not the weakest part of his game – that award goes to his backhand return. I really feel that Federer should work on his backhand returns, because the ‘chip-back-into-play’ tactic doesn’t work these days.
I’m sure Federer is clever enough to know this, and there must be a solid reason as to why he is not able to be more aggressive on his returns, but it is truly baffling how easily left-handers are able to win points just by directing the serve to his backhand – this was one of the major factors in his defeat to Delbonis.
Federer will now play the clay-court tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland. He plays his first match on Wednesday. Being a Federer fanatic, I would only hope that Roger has the mental strength to overcome this ‘block’ that he faces – his technical and physical aspects are still strong enough to have an amazing hard-court season, maybe culminating in a sixth US Open!