Much has been said and written about Federer's games over the last year. Some say he's in decline. Some say he should leave on top (a la Bjorn Borg). Some say he will beat Sampras' record if only because there will, at some point, be some wacky tourney where a lot of the top seeds lose or get injured and are out, early clearing all of Fed's recent troublemakers out of the way, so he should stick around. Many seem to think his days of dominance are over.
I disagree; I think his days of dominance could be over if he doesn't make some changes. I was in Miami this past week at the Sony Ericsson Open and watched Fed play I didn't meet him (I'm not the type to hang around for an autograph or a handshake or to try to put myself intentionally in someone's path), and I don't know anyone who knows him personally. However, from my own observations as well as from the lips of some who do know him, here is my list of suggestions of what I would do if I could make him listen to me. I say "if I could make him listen" because word has it that, although he wins all the sportsmanship awards, one of his faults is that he is rumored to be pretty stubborn. On to the list...
1. He needs to do some strength conditioning. I saw the picture on his Web site of him with Mirka announcing the baby, and he has a little pooch to his stomach. Perhaps this was taken in the offseason. When I saw him at Miami, too, he seemed to have some small man-boobs. And Peter Bodo said that his non-playing (left) arm resembles a number 2 pencil. He stays light so that he glides on the court and it helps him avoid injuries. All of that is good, but he is losing to players like Murray and Nadal (and Djokovic yesterday), who are very fit and are fine physical specimens.
2. He needs a coach. A coach could encourage (or insist) that he work on his weak points. Fed has said before that he doesn't worry about his weaknesses (backhand) because his serve and forehand are the best and he tries to improve those or keep them sharp. Well, the players he plays are using the fact that he doesn't shore up these weaknesses against him. Furthermore, a coach could help him strategize against certain players and possibly get his head straight.
3. He needs to play more than two clay court warm-ups and more than one grass warm-up. That is all he had scheduled this year, before taking Roland Garros and Wimbledon, respectively
4. He needs to practice against a left-hander more often. Obviously, he plays mostly right-handed players in the tournaments. In fact, outside of Nadal, he may never face a lefty. So, when he goes up against Nadal, he is having to spend a set and a half adjusting to it. When he drops the first set to Nadal, he rarely wins those matches.
5. Next year, outside of the preseason Australian Open prep, I would have him not play the hard court tournaments between Melbourne and the clay court season. The prize he really seeks is the French Open, as it would make him an all-surface winner, give him a Slam win, and equal or exceed the Sampras Slam count (if he wins one before next year). Beyond those obvious benefits, he would also win on Nadal's surface, which would have to bring a great deal of satisfaction. Let's face it: he has not done that great of a job at Indian Wells and Miami, and the hard courts are what wear out a tennis player's body anyway, so skip them and go "all-in" at Roland Garros. His legacy doesn't need any more minor hard court wins.
So there are some things I would do to make Federer great again. No, he wouldn't be invincible, but he doesn't have to be. The only Slam final he has missed in the last 15 is the Australian last year, when he "only" reached the semis because he had mono. So he's still pretty formidable. He just needs to reach it and win a time or two to get the monkey off his back. Removing that pressure of the 14th slam would lift his game all by itself.
I'm looking forward to reading any comments, and seeing what other ideas you have and what you think of what I wrote.
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