Roger Federer: 7 Reasons Latest Victories Will Carry Him to a Big Year in Majors
He has reached the stage of his great career when he must rely on much of his experience in order to maximize the tools of his talent, as evidenced by a handful of specific and successful matches the past two months.
In examining Federer's skills it is helpful to provide a brief contrast with his two chief rivals. What are the weapons or tools that best describe the efficiency of their skills? (Note: these are metaphors to represent their styles, not to decide which tool/weapon is actually best for hand-to-hand combat.)
Nadal's game relies heavily on his topspin forehand, which is deadly, efficient and lethal. This could be a sword made from Toledo steel.
Djokovic's game is a quarter-staff, efficient on both sides, and equally capable of offense and defense.
Federer's versatility provides a tool set and will be represented by a Swiss Army knife.
The following slides will examine seven recent matches, and how Federer won them by executing a different kind of skill to help make the difference in overcoming his opponents
The aging Maestro could have a big year in the Majors with his Swiss Army knife variety.
7. Tweezers: Resilience to Pull out a Victory
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Rotterdam's semifinal, February 18, was not Federer's best day. The forehand was floating long and landing wide, darting and spinning with a mind of its own, like a wayward hummingbird.
He was fighting himself as much as Nikolay Davydenko, a veteran pro who was determined to win and not be a doormat to the finals. As Federer sought to find his game, he had lost the first set, 4-6.
Of course, Federer won the next two sets, 6-3, 6-4. It was an important victory in leading to another title, but most importantly another demonstration of resilience when things are not going well.
Federer will need this toughness more than ever in the upcoming best-of-five sets French Open against grinders like Nadal, David Ferrer and No. 1 ranked Djokovic. He will face younger opponents, fitness tests, monotony and momentum twists on the red clay.
But in case the tennis world needed a reminder, Federer showed he is ready to pull out victories with his Swiss Army tweezers.
6. Screwdriver: Uncorking Awesome Serves
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Federer was simply dominant in the Dubai quarterfinals against overwhelmed Mikhail Youzhny. In the first set, he converted 20-of-25 times on his first serve.
It was a display of serving beauty. He would set, rock back rhythmically, float his toss carefully into the air as if releasing a dove, and then coil his body into its precise timing. The racket head then accelerated into its pronated explosion, to produce one heavy missile after another against a defenseless Youzhny.
When his serve reaches near-perfection, Federer can turn back the clock to 2006. He can unleash his forehand, take chances with his backhand as if hitting with a training partner back in Basel, and toy with his drop shot. It's an unbeatable combination for Federer, an entire arsenal of weapons, all backed up by his awesome serve.
This is the kind of serving that will win any of the three remaining Grand Slams. It will not happen and does not need to happen every match, but if it comes together for one magical semifinal weekend, he will add to his Grand Slam trophy collection for a 17th time. The Swiss Army screwdriver is lethal.
5. Big Knife Blade: Sweeping, Powerful Forehand
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Andy Murray had reason for optimism after his defeat of No. 1 Djokovic in the semifinals, but his game was quickly stymied by Federer's great forehand.
Murray played well, but was overpowered behind his own baseline. The difference was a few key points and their forehand pace.
The hard, fast surface seemed to mirror the beautiful blue of Arthur Ashe Stadium, a kingdom Federer once ruled with sweeping forehand blasts.
At this year's Majors, Federer may reach back into his past and retrieve just a little more of his legendary forehand power. At Dubai, it was clear and evident that the large Swiss Army blade was as sharp as ever.
4. Saw Blade: Model of Consistency
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For 11 minutes, Juan Martin del Potro battled Federer to a stalemate. It looked to be a long, grueling match, perhaps a shootout reminiscent of 2009.
Suddenly and innocently, a Federer serve was disputed. The wounded Hawk Eye lines machine refused to mediate, and Federer went on to hold what would be the all-important first game.
Del Potro was visibly upset and later admitted he did not concentrate following the dispute.
Federer just cruised along with a surgeon's hand and a clock's consistency.
The lesson? If a player lapses, Federer will close him out. It was less a match and more a study of seasoned savvy and constancy following a disputed moment.
It wasn't karma for del Potro's late challenge in the 2009 U.S. Open, but Federer's consistency is usually elite. His Swiss Army saw blade is tried and true.
3. Corkscrew: A Refurbished and More Aggressive Backhand?
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For Nadal, the Indian Wells semifinal last month was not his finest performance. While the wind whipped fiercer than his own forehand, and the rain spotted some strange tennis twists, Nadal was clearly out of sorts. Blame the weather, but most of all examine one important upgrade in his renowned opponent.
Federer did not wait for Nadal's angry topspin to jump into his backhand. Instead, he anticipated, stepped into the shot earlier, and drew forth his racket with all the grace of a master swordsman.
The backhand was clean, deep enough, and able to disrupt his disgruntled opponent. It was a triumph in one occasional tactic, but one large mental statement.
His adjustment not only set up his other prolific skills, but also foreshadowed a piece of strategy that could reverse some key points in the late stages of a Grand Slam tournament.
Federer's confident backhand might be the Swiss Army corkscrew needed for one more valuable win.
2. Scissors: Continuing His Championship Composure
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Last month, John Isner crashed into the top 10 by outplaying world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Indian Wells semifinals.
His confidence was further buoyed by his convincing win against Federer one month prior in the Swiss Maestro's Basel backyard. An encore would net him the Sony Ericsson championship.
Isner continued his spectacular play behind the intimidation of his booming serve that regularly topped 130 mph. There's an extra dose of pressure in facing a big server, and the first set was coming down to a game of chicken. Who would blink?
Federer has had an epic championship career, but each title match is one more last opportunity that cannot be redeemed. Losing any title is like leaving a five-foot putt just short of the hole. You can't make up for it later.
Federer's victory was spurred on by winning the first set tiebreaker, but it was won with composure. It's not easy trying to sort through only a few break-point opportunities to capture a title.
He possesses the Swiss Army scissors that will eventually cut away his opponent's strength.
1. Can Opener: Opening and Playing with Energy
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Against young 19-year-old American Ryan Harrison, 30-year-old Federer won the war of youthful energy. He bounced on his toes like a bantam weight boxer, and moved his feet to set up every shot as if it were the Wimbledon finals in 2007.
To watch a great champion grace his sport by hustling hard on every play in a second-round match should be fully appreciated. Federer did not cheat his profession by relying on his gifts.
Oh, the talent was certainly there as for most of the match he cruised with his usual spectacular fashion, but anyone could see his tireless effort to find the perfect hitting position.
There will be three Grand Slam opportunities in the next five months. Federer certainly has the energy, and will assuredly give nothing less than all he has.
He has proven himself for years, but the last two months have also shown the Swiss Army versatility and skill set to carve out a big year in the majors.