The resurgence of Roger Federer

At 34 years old, Roger Federer is playing some amazing tennis. Maybe, equivalent to the tennis he was playing when he was at his prime 5‐10 years ago. For example, in the Quarter Finals of the 2015 US Open, he demolished the # 12 ranked player of the world, Richard Gasquet, in 3 straight sets and in less than 90min. Everything Roger did was amazing: serving, volleying, lobbying, forehand, backhand, etc. He didn’t even face a breakpoint during the match. Lately, he is performing very well in every tournament and he has even beaten the #1 player at the moment, Novak Djokovic at the finals of some Master’s tournaments.

Did Roger find the Elixir of youth? And what is it?

There could be many explanations for Roger’s resurgence, but in my opinion the #1 factor is the decline of another tennis great, Rafael Nadal. Roger and Rafa had a seemingly fantastic rivalry 10 years ago; but the truth of the matter is that Roger had difficulty beating Rafa, even when Rafa was a junior. When Rafa reached his prime, Roger was losing to him badly on every occasion. To put it simply, Rafa found the game plan to beat Roger very easily, by keeping him on this backhand and waiting for Roger to make a mistake. I would say that probably Rafa had the easiest time in court when he was playing Roger. Their latest matches were not even competitive and humiliating for Roger. It wasn’t that Roger didn’t have the skills. It came down to mental, and Roger developed what is known in psychiatry as specific phobia (Rafa phobia). When the two were to play, the game was finished before Roger was entering the court. It was a depressing show.

The last 2 years, we have also witnessed the decline of Rafa, who started losing to #100‐ranked players on many occasions. He was even losing consistently to guys like Fabio Fognini and many mediocre players, including those with a very good backhand. Novak Djokovic became Rafa’s nemesis. You may have noticed that in any tournament that Rafa is losing early, Roger is doing very well. And now that Rafa is no serious threat to winning a major tournament and challenging the all-time Grand Slam record that Roger has, Roger has started to recover from the Rafa‐phobia and play to his abilities. No question, his natural talent is the best we have ever seen.

So, it isn’t that Roger found the elixir of youth, but he recovered from the Rafa‐phobia, with the help of many players such as Fognini, Djokovic and others. My prediction is that the earlier Rafa loses in a tournament, the better Roger will do. And I bet that even at this stage, when everybody says that Roger is such an amazing player, if you put Rafa and Federer to play together, I will put all my money on Rafa winning in straight sets.

Let us reaffirm, that tennis is more of a mental game and less of a skills game, when it comes to the top players of the world.

Last but not the least, phobias are contagious and I have no question that Rafa is now suffering from Djokovic‐phobia.

The next interesting questions are: If Rafa will recover from his Djokovic‐phobia, and if Nole will soon find this nemesis? (maybe Kyrgios‐phobia?)

Why Federer ousted early from Australian Open 2015

One observation about men’s and women’s tennis over the last few years is that all players have  substantially improved; better equipment, better training, and more hunger to get  a piece of the pie. It is now common to see players in the 100-150 world rank to play spectacular tennis; booming serves, bullet forehands and fierce backhands. Consequently, it becomes more difficult to claim a point, let alone a game, a set or a match. Boy, it is highly competitive out there; and it is expected that the situation will get even more competitive. Hungry youngsters must claim part of the money pie or get out of the way for new ones; and there are plenty, many from poor countries.

So, what is wrong with Federer? Nothing really; the guy still plays excellent tennis, but there is one major issue here. He is not improving. He has about the same game that gave him 17 grand slams. But the gap between him and guys like Andreas Seppi is now very narrow. A bad day and you are out; if his serve does not work well, then, getting him on the backhand, which was never his weapon, transforms him into a regular player. And losing the crucial tiebreaker can be devastating; this is what happened with Seppi; too close game, no comfort, lost to tiebreakers. Based on this information, I doubt that Federer will ever win another grand slam; too many equivalent players, too much exploitation of his weaknesses and time is not working to his favour either.

What about Rafa and Djoko? Apart from health, Rafa’s game is still improving. And he has no obvious weaknesses; forehand, backhand and serve all solid; plus fighting spirit, persistence etc. The guy still refuses to lose. When he loses, it is mostly due to health issues not hitting issues. So, he is still the man to beat, no matter what he says. Do not believe him when he plays humble.
Same with Djoko. He is a machine and he has perfected his game to be simple, efficient and lethal. He found the right combination of shots to keep Rafa moving (boy, Rafa hates that!) and he can beat him handily. So, while Rafa and Djoko are still adjusting and improving, Roger is stagnant or is declining slowly.

But there is danger for Rafa and Djoko too. There is a breed of big, young, hungry guys who are coming closer and closer. Milos is not the brainless big server anymore; he is becoming a complete player with a big weapon and peripheral game enough to win top matches. The likes of Kyrgios and Kokkinakis are improving to a point, good enough to overwhelm even the Rafas and Noles of the world. It is a matter of a year or two, maximum.
This is why I see Rafa ending with about 15-16 and Nole with about 13-14 grand slams and Roger staying at 17.
We will see!

Single or Double-Handed Backhand?

A friend posted the question if her newborn should develop as lefty or righty, and if single handed backhand is preferred to double-handed backhand. For the first question I would say that I would let nature decide if the baby is going to be lefty or righty, and have no intervention in the process, whatsoever. Over the years we have seen many great players who are either lefties (eg: Rod Laver and Rafael Nadal) or righties (eg: Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg). Some of the second tier lefties include John McEnroe and Jimmy Conners and some of the second tier righties include Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and many others. I do not see an advantage, either way.

Regarding single vs double handed backhand: my answer here is unequivocal. A single-handed backhand is a beautiful stroke and a feast to the eyes. Properly struck, it could be a bomb with a great angle and single-handed backhand players have a great reach, they volley better, etc. But the truth of the matter is that the double-handed backhand is a lot more consistent and can support the current way of playing a lot better than single-handed backhand. Even the best in the business, and probably even the most talented player of all time, Roger Federer, cannot hit more than 5-6 backhands in a row while the likes of Nadal, Djokovic, etc can routinely hit in excess of 20, with great accuracy and placement. My prediction is that single-handed backhand will disappear completely from the men’s game, with the next generation of players (once Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Del Potro, Murray, etc retire in 5-7 years or so). So, why would anybody reinvent an antiquited shot and not go directly to what is considered the standard of business now? You probably noticed that there is not a single woman who can hit a single-handed backhand (with one exception, Francesca Schiavone). The same thing will happen in the men’s game.

So, let us adopt the double-handed backhand as the standard of business for the future of our beloved game.

Does Serena Williams Like Tennis?

Just after the turn of the new year, 2012, Serena Williams admitted, while in Australia preparing for the Australian Open, that she does “not love tennis today” and she doesn’t “even love sports”. Let us admit that Serena Williams is one of the best players to ever play the game, with 13 Grand Slams and counting. Why did Serena make this amazing revelation? Obviously, she hasn’t been in the news lately, due to the long break after the US Open, and she hasn’t had a chance to insult any referees, lines persons or her fellow players. Her revelation was probably the best way to get in the news and attract some attention.

What bothers me with this is the hypocrisy of people like Serena, who have made huge fortunes out of the game of tennis and they are now not as much interested to fight for prize money if they can make money from other activities such as modeling, sponsorships, etc.

Serena has been unique among the great champions; instead of being admired and loved by the fans, she is actually mostly hated; and to my knowledge, the majority of fans (including me!), wish that she will lose a match rather than win it. She represents the type of great player with a very poor attitude, who cannot be a good role model for new players, and who can’t hide their misdemeanors. The Serena-likes are not graceful, they don’t know how to lose or give credit to their fellow competitors. What they do know is one thing – to either win or complain that something was unfair to them.

Serena is a classic example of an athlete and a celebrity who is surrounded by people who are likely telling her how good she is, how good she looks and how talented she can be, in just about everything. The truth of the matter is that most Serena-like people do not know anything else but how to swing a racket and win a tennis match. Having other desires is understandable: there is nothing wrong if they try a few things on the side, while being active professional athletes. Especially for females, many of them have tried other activities in the past such as modeling, fashion designing, acting, etc. with the vast majority fallen by the wayside, without achieving anything. Sponsorship is a different matter. I must say that I truly admire Maria Sharapova who, at least in my opinion, is much better looking than Serena, and has made a fortune from multiple sponsorships and stayed away from sex scandals, controversies, etc. She has been a truly outstanding professional on and off the court. Serena should learn from people like Maria Sharapova, and others, on how to behave.

Let us now come to the core of Serena’s revelation; that she does not like tennis or any sports for that matter. What does she like then? Well, it is obvious that she likes the red carpet and the world of fashion designing and modeling. But let’s be honest – would Serena ever have a chance of becoming a successful fashion designer or model if she were not a tennis star? I highly doubt it and I am almost certain that nobody would ever pay any attention to her “designs”. There are millions of girls who dream of becoming designers, one of them being Serena, and the advantage that she has is likely not her exceptional talent in this area, but her celebrity status in tennis, so that people pay attention to her. Let us see where her designer aspirations will lead her, in 10 – 15 years from now, when people will focus on other superstars of tennis. I am telling you now: I predict that nobody would ever care about her designs.

It comes down to this: Here is a great champion with a terrible attitude and notoriety for insulting just about everybody, from players, to referees, to linesmen and even spectators. She is a millionaire due to her unquestionable talent, but fan-hated and unwanted. She is the exact opposite of a role model and of great champions of present and past, such as Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert, to mention a few. Here is a lady who has tons of talent in tennis, but very likely nothing at all in the glamour business, such as fashion designing and modeling. The circle around Serena should stop lying and tell her the truth on where her talents are. This may bring this lady in line, so that she can try and do her best over the next 3 – 5 years. Maybe they should also advise her to cut the crap in interviews and find other ways to draw attention, and, in my view, the best way to draw attention is to post great results in the new tennis season.

Some history of great players and matchups

Let me remind you of some history to see what happens with great players and match-ups:
A newly rediscovered hero of our game is my beloved Bjorn Borg. I felt for him what my son is feeling for Nadal. And I hated McEnroe when he came and destroyed Borg with his serve-and-volley game. McEnroe scared Borg so much that after (Borg) beat him at Wimbledon one year in a classic match (like Fed did to Nadal) he lost to him in the next (like Fed-Nadal again). He then lost to McEnroe and Connors (I believe) in 4 finals at the US Open (like Fed lost to Nadal at 5 French). And what do you think Borg did? He quit the game at his peak age of 25!! And he never touched a racquet again for 3 years!! Yes my friends, it is scary out there and very traumatic.
Then, came Ivan Lendl. Despite the fact that McEnroe beat and retired Borg and was ranked #1 for years, he could not beat Lendl, who beat him 12 matches in a row. The result? McEnroe went to see a psychiatrist and asked for advice from just about everyone he knew on how to beat Lendl!!
Then we have the story of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Chris was the beloved  sweetheart of the court who won (I believe) some 120 straight matches on clay and 18 majors.Then came the muscular Navratilova who everybody hated because she destroyed Chris (with her intimidating serve-and-volley) and pushed her to retire because she was losing in every game. Navratilova did not have much competition until Steffi came on the scene; and Steffi was getting beaten up later very consistently by Monica Seles; Seles was so much hated by some Steffi fans, that one of them even stabbed her with a knife, which ended her illustrious career very prematurely (and allowed Steffi to win some more titles). The sad part of this story is that these types of players are warriors, and such cowardly acts by crazed fans destroy some of their athletic goals. The champs need to win to feel any satisfaction; In my opinion, nothing would ever make Rafa feel as good as beating Nole cleanly, by himself, on equal grounds.
Before I go on to the last example, let me tell you that tennis is not unique in such rivalries and mental battles, when it comes to individual sports. Jack Nicklaus is still hated (despite holding the record for most Grand Slams) because he dethroned America’s beloved golfer Arnold Palmer. And the most fearsome boxer, Mike Tyson, became a total loser after losing just one fight to the unknown Buster Douglas. Tyson NEVER recovered from that knockout!!
Let me finish with the Federer-Nadal rivalry, and the new rivalry one that is evolving. Fed is the most talented player ever. But when Nadal came about, Fed had trouble beating him, even very early, when Nadal’s serve was a liability. When Fed gets into the court with Rafa he becomes afraid. He starts well and then fear always prevails and he loses badly, despite the fact that if he were to play his true game, there would be no match-up. In their latest match at the French, which some said was a very close one (it was not), the reason Fed played a bit better is because he knew Nadal is beatable by Nole!! And he thought he could do the same. Alas,same result. By the way, I do not want to see Rafa and Federer play each other again. I know what the result will be, and I feel bad for Fed. He does not deserve the humiliation and it damages his image.
And here came Nole: with he game he has, he found the formula to beat Rafa consistently. In my opinion, his key to success is the solid ground strokes, and especially the backhand, BUT more importantly, his timing against Rafa’s game. He takes the ball very early, not letting Rafa settle into a rhythm; Rafa is always on the move, playing offensively and eventually making mistakes. Could you ever imagine somebody winning long rallies against the most consistent player ever?? And here builds the fear and the doubt. The guy whom everybody fears and usually dismantles everybody with his thoughtful game (Rafa), fears defeat by just one other player (Nole).
What is the antidote for Rafa? Well,he is mentally very strong and if he persists and manages to beat Nole a couple of times in a row he may recover. Otherwise,he will do what Fed has done. Federer now goes to tournaments with the hope that somebody else(Soderling??) will beat Rafa so that he can then prevail. The big danger is if Rafa loses a few more matches against Nole.
As of now, nobody can predict anything. One thing is for sure.The next “prince” of the game will be somebody (Bernard Tomic??) who can beat Nole clean and consistently. Maybe captain Milos with his rocket serve??
Until then, let us get think about the meaning of one Greek word:
Nemesis
“one from whom there is no escape”
Borg to McEnroe
McEnroe to Lendl
Lendl to Connors
Evert to Navratilova
Graf to Seles
Federer to Rafa
Rafa to Nole? not yet sure; too early to call
Nole to…we will see
and some not so famous (Rusedski to Philippoussis!!  Or Isner to Mahut; hahahahahahahaha…………….epic battles for…………….nothing)
For us tennis is just a game. Let us use it for entertainment and exercise.
Good Night.

Make Your Mind Your Best Ally

Quote

Hi,
It looks like that after Federer and Nadal another player is about to dominate the men’s tennis for quite some time: the new Wimbledon champion and new #1 – Novak Djokovic.
I shared my thoughts on the final match on the blog so let’s see what’s new…
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1. Tennis Thoughts Blog
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a) Novak Djokovic is living his dream today. His tennis was for 3 sets at the highest level in men’s tennis and Rafael Nadal didn’t have many chances to turn the match around.
I share some of my worries for Rafa when it comes to future matches with Novak.
Your thoughts are welcome!
b) Roger Federer lost in the quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in match where I believe Tsonga got completely in the zone in the last 3 sets.
Could Federer have done something to break Tsonga’s perfect mental state?
I think he could have…
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By the way, I’d also like to congratulate Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia for winning the women’s doubles title at this year’s wimbledon with Kveta Peschke.
Go Slovenia! ;)
Enjoy your summer tennis (I do). Until next newsletter issue…
Best, Tomaz
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