Roger Federer’s semifinal loss at Hamburg’s German Tennis Championships was merely one step of refinement on his way to the 2013 U.S. Open. He understands the hard work needed to synchronize his best tennis into the year’s last major.
For many of Federer’s fans, it was difficult to watch his inconsistencies against journeyman Florian Mayer and get overpowered in straight sets by Federico Delbonis, a 22-year-old qualifier. They would like to see instant results with the larger racket he is now using, though Federer continues to shank his defensive backhand.
It will likely take several weeks to acclimate himself to the new racket. His work on clay will need patience to pay off for improved conditioning and timing. Then, he will adapt his game to the hard courts in Montreal and Cincinnati. It’s a process—not a quick fix—especially after nursing a bad back for much of the Spring season.
Concentration Is Keen
Federer has always been in touch with his mechanics and the tempo of the match. Trailing Delbonis in the second set, he tried to rally his spirits. He peered out narrowly between his dark eyes, challenging his opponent and himself.
Federer likes to play fast by today’s standards. The wheels of his mind turn quickly, dedicated to each of his routines and efforts. He knew what he needed to do to turn the tide on Delbonis’ big momentum, but it was like trying to edge past hot-hitting Fernando Verdasco. The kid had serviceable touch and the fortitude to execute drops and volleys under pressure.
The week in Hamburg was what Federer needed. He had to work harder on his defense and could not rely on his forehand to hit through the court. He moved his feet better, even if the results were uneven.
There was one poetic moment in the sixth game of the second set after Federer misframed a backhand at the baseline. He ran up to the spot of the debacle and gave a swift kick. Dust flew up and Federer gracefully retreated. It was nothing more than a moment born of frustration, a simple act from a timeless legend reminding us of his humanity—brief defiance and nothing more. We could look inside him for just an instant.
Going for Gstaad
The tour is getting younger and deeper, but Federer will continue to club away on clay at Gstaad, Switzerland. It’s a kind of training purgatory, necessary for hardening his game. The price must be paid early for later rewards.
Federer’s defense has been exposed more this past week, but it will sharpen his reactions. It will also help him identify his offensive goals on hard courts. Can he attack early and put away bigger forehands on quicker surfaces?
He knows he cannot lock into baseline wars with the likes of Djokovic and Murray. He looks to take the initiative, and he still can.
There will be more bumps and bruises this week at Gstaad. There is also the excitement and pressure of playing in his home country, and at Gstaad, he is revered. They once presented him with an 800 kilogram cow in the days following his 2003 Wimbledon victory.
Cow or no cow, Federer wants desperately to get in top condition and milk one more Grand Slam title this September. It's not time to put him out to pasture just yet.