The hype says Fed is finished with his worst season for ten years. The facts say the opposite. Even in his worst season he still qualified by right as the top eight in the world tour final and made the semis. Even with back problems and the responsibility of two children he is still comfortably at the top. Just not as firmly entrenched as he has been for 10 years. What the past shows is consistency.
He is trialling a larger racquet. I feel his dominance made it hard for him to notice his relative fall. He hasn’t dropped his standard but those around him have rapidly increased theirs. Recovering ground is possible but there is every chance he will now suffer from the injuries that plagued his rivals. He has adopted serve and volley but I wonder if this is both the source of his injuries and ultimately encourages his decline.
The reason is because he is the most attacking of the top four. He is probably the best attacker in tennis. That is where he is comfortable but his defensive skills are good but lacking at the top level. He is probably the worst defender of the top four. The two successive losses against Novak in the semifinals of the US open highlight this. He got to match point but couldn’t finish the match. I see this more and more with Federer. He is so used to leading and being dominant that he actually panics if he goes behind against the top four or if things don’t go his way.
Rafa and Novak simply don’t panic. As the best defenders they can lengthen points and matches until they find the answer. As Novak did two years running against Fed and Rafa did at Wimbledon to eventually overtake Roger as a force on grass. What I see is an imbalance in the Swiss that I don’t see any more in the others. They can match his attack but he can’t match their defence.
That means that they can use their big shots and tactics against Roger and win the majority of points but he can no longer do the same to them. He just can’t stay in points long enough. The longer points go on the more worried Roger gets. I say this because it’s also what happens to me. I am more of an attacker than some of the guys I play. I don’t struggle against fellow attackers. I don’t always win but we both leave enough openings that who ever is on form wins.
Defenders though are more of a challenge. I can play my best attack and still lose because they feed off it. That is what I am seeing with Federer against the top 4. He can’t match their defence so he attacks and opens himself up for his opponents to take advantage. Maybe his back problems are the underlying reason but I think this actually reflects his style. Attackers who dominate with their serve generally get back problems.
He hasn’t changed his racquet for so long he is likely making up for its deficiencies by forcing his shots. Over trying and pushing his body too far. It should really be the racquet that takes the strains and generates the pace. At least that is how the rest of the field is moving on. Fed is still human, he can’t generate all the power and control it at the same time. That isn’t what is greatness is based on. His racquet does the work Fed simply times it all perfectly.
Hopefully the new racquet will help. A little confidence and Roger will at least resume his trend of reaching the semifinals in majors. If things go his way that means a final too and who knows what would happen.
So I still think Roger is a threat but this year will tell us a lot about the kind of threat that will be. A consistent all court master or a specialist at his favourite slams and events that suit his game most and tire his body the least like Wimbledon.