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?)