I know this article is going to be one of the innumerable ones written by Federer’s (anguished) fans. I’m sitting in office and have to finish a lot of work. But I can’t focus. I have got to write about Federer now. Work will have to wait.
There were so many reasons for Fed’s loss yesterday. For starts, his serve let him down big time. As he put it, service depends on the "day-form." Fair enough, his day-form was bad.
His break point conversion ratio was appalling, especially while considering his opponent’s impressive ratio.
I have always been awed by Fed’s keen feel for the big moments in a match. He’d play some nonchalant games and suddenly out of nowhere he’d come up with some really high intensity points to break serve.
And when his service game is under threat, he’d routinely serve himself out of trouble. Not much of that happened yesterday.
I felt he should have approached the net more often and keep the points short. Instead, he got repeatedly beaten in the long rallies by Rafa’s angled shots. Fed definitely seemed to miss a trick or two.
I can go on about what went wrong but the fact of the matter is Fed was playing well within himself. He was not going for his shots and was content waiting for Nadal to make a mistake. That is how Nadal plays and he had forced Fed to change his game, which is such a pity.
Fed was fighting two opponents:
(1) His greatest tennis rival on the court and,
(2) the demon inside his head which keeps telling him he can never win against that man on the court.
The demon inside has been steadily growing since Rafa beat him 6-0 in a set in the Roland Garros final, 2008.
This was followed closely by the defeat at Wimbledon 2008. The demon grew bigger.
His 237-week ATP first ranking was taken way by the same man. The demon became seemingly insurmountable.
And now, after AO 2009 loss, Rafa has defeated Fed in all three surfaces in less than a year.
So, does this mean it is the end of the Federer era? Do we have to resign ourselves to the notion that he might win another Slam if Nadal somehow doesn’t make it to the final? I daresay NO.
As Jillie Jones put it so rightly in her article “Roger Federer’s year of living dangerously”, I believe that the answer lies in Roger going for broke from here on.
I think Fed has run out of ideas to outplay Nadal when that demon resides so firmly in his mind. I think a sense of resignation has come into him.
He actually said in between sobs “Hi guys…this is killing me…may not come back again” before he broke down, at the presentation ceremony yesterday. That, to me, said it all.
He had accepted that Nadal was invincible, at least, to him.
In my opinion, herein lies the key to Fed’s success in the future.
He will go into every Slam as No.2 (or 3) and will not be the favourite.
The weight of expectations (in Federer’s words ‘the monster’) will no longer be as big. He knows he’s got to make the most of the opportunities that are available.
Roger Federer’s mindset, free from the monster and the demon, will be similar to the Federer that won his first Slam at Wimbledon in 2003.
I think we are about to witness the Federer of the old for the next few years and he is sure to win a few more Slams.
Australian Open 2009 might just have been the inflection point that we have all been waiting for.