Is Roger Federer Going Back to Drawing Board on Clay in Hamburg and Gstaad?
Roger Federer certainly is full of surprises.
In the middle of a season that is sub-par by his own lofty standards, meaning that he is only 27-8 on the year with one title, Federer is showing that he still has the guts to try new things.
The proof? This year Federer will be playing tournaments between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open Series Masters events for the first time in nine years.
That's one way to turn back the clock.
This is usually the time of the year that Federer is focusing on rest, relaxation and training. But after an early exit from Wimbledon in the second round to Sergiy Stakhovsky caused his ranking to drop to No. 5 in the world, the 16-time Grand Slam Champion has decided to try something new. Actually, make that something old.
This week, Federer will play the ATP event in Hamburg, Germany for the first time since 2008.
The Genius at Work has a lot of experience and great memories in Hamburg, since it used to be a Masters Series event played at the beginning of the clay-court season. He has a 29-4 record at the tournament and has taken home the title four times.
More importantly than that, he has achieved many career milestones on the Hamburg clay courts. He won his first Masters event there in 2002 over Marat Safin in the final, a win that pushed him into the Top 10 for the first time. Additionally, in 2007 he beat Rafael Nadal in the final to snap the Spaniard's unheard-of 81-match winning streak on clay.
On his website, he confirms that he is excited to return to the spot of past glories:
I am ... looking forward to competing in Hamburg this summer. I always did very well at Rothenbaum, played some fantastic matches and celebrated important victories there - great memories!
And Federer won't stop in Hamburg. The next week he will play in front of his hometown crowd in Gstaad, Switzerland for the first time since 2004.
Federer will come into Gstaad on a five-match winning streak, since the last time he played there he took the trophy. However, he's only 9-6 overall at the event, despite playing it seven times. Still, it's a special place since he got his first career wild card there in 1998, and he will surely relish the chance to play in front of his local fans.
He echoed those sentiments on his website:
I’m looking forward playing in Switzerland in front of my fans and to participate once again in the tournament that offered me my first wild card on the ATP World Tour when I was only 16 years old.
When Federer first announced his plans to add to his schedule, many tennis lovers were shocked. There were even whispers that, considering the nostalgia attached to both tournaments, this might be a part of a "retirement tour."
But have no fear, Federer fans. The Swiss Maestro has repeatedly confirmed that he has no interest in slowing down any time soon.
In fact, fans should consider this a good sign. Federer feels healthy enough to play for two extra weeks. He is determined to build ranking points to get back into the Top Four and he might even be making the necessary gear changes to get him back competing with the best of the sport.
That's right, Federer seems to be experimenting with a racket change.
For years, Federer has been criticized by armchair pundits for his decision to stick with his small racket head. But, if the pictures that surfaced Sunday from his practice session at Hamburg are any indication, he has finally decided to transition to a larger frame.
This is a big change for a player to make at 31 years old, but it should give Federer a much bigger sweet spot to work with—a frightening thought for his opponents.
The smaller tournaments of Hamburg and Gstaad will be the perfect place to try out his new weapon. He's comfortable in both places, he will be the best player in the fields and he won't have the pressure that he'll have at a Grand Slam.
If the next couple of weeks are successful, he could go into the U.S. Open Series with confidence, conviction and momentum.
That's great news for Federer fans and terrible news for his competitors.
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