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!

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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SPORTNO SVETOVANJE
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