Fed Ex back on track

The Swiss Ace Roger Federer has been playing some scintillating tennis after his dramatic loss to Novak Djokovic in the 2011 US Open and it has finally paid off. The tennis world was only just getting used to the Nole-Rafa era but Federer has silently stolen a march over Rafael Nadal and replaced him as world no.2.   Still hurting from his loss at the slippery blue clay of Madrid, the news couldn’t have come at a worse time for Nadal.  Bang in the middle of the clay court season, where he was hoping to make up some psychological advantage that he seems to have conceded, he has to now also catch up with Federer before he beats Djokovic.

Tennis has got more physical and more demanding through the years and it would appear that a feat akin to Jimmy Connors reaching the US Open semi finals in 1991 cannot be repeated in contemporary tennis.  And yet, Federer has found a way.   His motivation cannot be too high, given that he is sitting pretty on the open era slams record.  His body must surely be slowing down now.  That’s at least is what one would think.  And yet, Federer is actually playing better than he has in a long time.

It did appear as if he was not too high on motivation post the 2010 Australian Open.  He returned some less flattering results at the slams, getting no further than the semis at US Open in 2010 and 2011 and losing in the quarters at Wimbledon in 2011.  During this time, his ranking slumped at no.4 as even Andy Murray surged ahead of him.

In hindsight, losing a semi final from match point on serve in the fifth set (US Open 2011) seems to have been the antidote to his troubles.  Federer was uncharacteristically bitter after the loss and even suggested that Djokovic had had some good luck.   He would later acknowledge that he was losing out on the mental side in tight matches during this phase and he had worked on it post the 2011 US Open.

How much of a difference will that make in slams remains to be seen.  He enjoyed the upper hand against Nadal in this year’s Australian Open semi final and still lost the match.   But it has certainly spurred him to play more aggressively than he has in a long time.   Watching Federer now is like a throwback to 2004 when he worked Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt, among others, effortlessly, pushing forward with geometric precision and unfailingly finding that easy volley to put away.  Tennis is supposed to be a lot tougher now than back then when, if you listen to his detractors, he got lucky and cashed in on a weak field.  But you could hardly tell, looking at how he dismissed Tipsarevic or Ferrer at Madrid.  Or John Isner at Indian Wells.  A deceptive slice or drop here or there to lure the opponent and Federer moves in for the kill.   With grace and elegance.

If anything,  his amazing footwork is even more in evidence when contrasted with some of the top contemporary players.   His serve having regaining the machine like reliability that it had partially lost in the interim, he relies on footwork to punish opponents who stand too far back in the court and display wooden limbs.  The Australian Open encounter with Juan Martin Del Potro is Exhibit A.   At Madrid, his ability to remain in position no matter how much he stretched for his stroke gave him a massive edge over opponents who were habituated to hitting balls off balance.

He is also consistently hitting through his backhand and, especially, shown more commitment with the crosscourt.   He still doesn’t seem to hit some of those incredible angles off the backhand that he could get in, say, 2006.  What’s most interesting, though, is he has started to imitate some Nadal-like movement.  This was especially noticeable at Madrid, where he ran backwards or sideways without turning, just the way Nadal is fond of doing.  Of course, with Federer’s feline-like grace, you hardly notice even when he is being a little un-Federer in his ways.

At 30, far from preparing for a slow retreat into the sunset, Federer is rolling back the years and reminding the tennis world about his credentials, just in case they had forgotten for a bit.   He still needs to do something about his now two year long slam drought.  But he may finally be putting himself in the best position to win one more…and in the meantime, is more than regaling crowds with his racquet artistry.




One Response to “Fed Ex back on track”

  1. rjsays Says:

    Only one quote would suffice, “as simple as that.”

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