After Roger Federer's straight-set loss to Daniel Brands in the Swiss Open on Thursday, the 17-time Grand Slam singles champion has now lost in back-to-back warm-up events for the 2013 U.S. Open.
What were supposed to be events that would boost the 31-year-old's confidence have turned into consecutive losses to unseeded foes. Federer also lost to Federico Delbonis is straight sets in Hamburg.
Much has been made of Federer's change in rackets, and for good reason. Federer has gone to a bigger 98-square-inch head, hoping some tinkering will do him good after losing to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round at Wimbledon.
And while the change didn't appear to do him much good in Hamburg and Gstaad, it's only natural that it would take time to grow accustomed to the new racket.
Federer said on Tuesday, per ESPN.com:
So far, I'm happy with this change, but I need many hours on the court to see if this is a good decision. I haven't yet taken the decision on whether to use it in the US. I still need to think it over.
It would actually be a surprise if Federer didn't switch to his old racket for the U.S. Open. He's been doing it for years with the same racket and all of a sudden changing things may hurt him even more on the court.
But certainly, I believe Federer should stay with the new racket after the U.S. Open.
This is an experimental stage for the Swiss veteran, no doubt about it. He's older now, and this is the first year his advanced age has showed. He's 30-10 with one singles title on the year, which would be acceptable for most players on tour but not for an all-time great.
Generally, a larger racket allows for more power behind a shot and more leeway when a ball is hit off-center, but it doesn't allow for as much precision. For a player like Federer, who has basically made a living off of precision, that may seem like the wrong move.
But Federer is also older now, and using a larger racket that can give him more power behind his shots and allow him to stretch for more balls on the return may pay dividends.
Racket technician Roman Prokes has worked with many top pros throughout his career. For years, he urged Pete Sampras to switch to a larger racket (Sampras used an 85-square-inch head).
Sampras plays with a larger racket now and has said that he wished he had listened to Prokes back in the day, per Tom Perrota of the Wall Street Journal.
Prokes said, via Perrota's report: "Change is not easy for anybody in life. Sometimes you have to take a couple of steps back in order to take a couple of steps forward."
Taking a couple of steps back, perhaps after the U.S. Open, may do wonders for Federer. He is currently in a stage that all pros inevitably get to down the line; that is, he realizes that he's not invincible anymore.
It takes a humble and aware man to change what he's been doing his whole life. In that sense, it's no surprise that a humble and aware man in Federer would start experimenting after some shocking defeats.
When reinventing your game, nothing can be rushed. You take it step by step, gradually growing comfortable with the change and reassessing (and reassuring) yourself along the way.
Federer is doing what many top pros never have the guts to do: He's admitting something is off and is putting his ego (if he even has one) to the side.
Maybe the racket change helps, maybe it doesn't. But at least Federer is giving it a try. At this point, it may keep his decline at bay.