In every sport, the coach is considered an integral part of the team.
Whether they are motivating their teams before a football game, reviewing strategy before a basketball game, signaling plays in a baseball game, or instructing a player on his swing before a round of golf, coaches are the leaders and brains behind a team, or individual, in each sport.
But that hasn’t been the case for the No. 1 tennis player in the world as of late.
Roger Federer split with coach Tony Roche about eleven months ago and has not had a coach since.
It was a surprise for many to see Federer enter the 2007 French Open without Roche considering that Federer still has not won the French.
Federer seemed to be fine without Roche as he advanced to the final for the second year in a row. But, for the third year in a row, Federer’s quest for the elusive Grand Slam title was thwarted by his nemesis Rafael Nadal.
In typical Federer fashion, the Swiss star didn’t let his failure in France deter him. Federer went on to capture his fifth straight Wimbledon and fourth straight U.S. Open, in addition to winning the year-end Masters tournament finishing No. 1 in the world for the fourth consecutive year.
Since the New Year, things have not been so bright for Federer, though.
He was unable to play any warm up tournament before the Australian Open due to illness. Federer didn’t find out he was suffering from mononucleosis until February, but he felt its effects during the Australian.
Federer’s rust was obvious. He was pushed to five sets by unseeded Janko Tipsarevic early in the tournament. Though he managed to advance to the semifinals, Federer was ousted by the up-and-coming Serbian Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
Now, four and a half months into 2008, Federer is still without a title, spurring many analysts to speculate over how much Federer has left in the tank.
There’s no denying that Federer hasn’t looked good this year. But, there are several things that have to be taken into account.
First, consider Federer’s fitness. Announcers have repeatedly said that Federer does not get enough credit for his fitness, (which would be because fans are simply in awe of his shot-making whenever he plays).
Nevertheless, Federer’s training routine is considered to be one of the most grueling on tour. Training in Dubai alone would get anyone in shape. That added to the amount of time that Federer spends working on his endurance and strength makes for one rigorous workout.
People have begun to counter this with the argument that Federer’s getting old (at 26) and is losing his edge. It’s tough to argue that Federer’s in as good of shape as he was a few years ago, but there’s no question he’s still in much better shape than the vast majority of tennis players on the ATP.
While everyone may not be able to last as long as Andre Agassi did, Federer certainly has the potential to. He has already expressed his desire to play tennis into his early to mid-30’s.
Of the three things that could hinder Federer’s endurance, age, illness, and injury, one of them came to fruition this year. Federer got sick, which is nearly the same thing as being injured.
It wasn’t merely that Federer was drained of energy from having mononucleosis, but it was the fact that he wasn’t able to play. There’s a reason he’s only entered five tournaments this year, and it’s not because he was vacationing in the Swiss Alps.
Federer managed to practice before the Australian Open, but he had no time to play actual matches. Any tennis player can tell you there’s a big difference between practicing and playing, especially heading into a tournament that lasts two weeks.
Federer has said that he’s now nearly back to normal. But when April rolls around and he still has yet to win a title, no one considers that normal.
Surprisingly, Federer’s results haven’t been as bad as many have made them out to be.
He actually did better this year at the Pacific Life Open in California and in the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami than he did last year.
Federer lost to Guillermo Canas in both tournaments last year, going out in the first round and third round, respectively.
This year, Federer made it to the semifinals in California before falling to the surprise of the tournament, Mardy Fish.
It was another American who thwarted Federer down in Miami when Andy Roddick shocked the world by ending his 11-match losing streak and beating the world-No. 1 in three sets.
For once, Federer will be relieved to begin the clay court season. To say the least, the hard courts were not kind to Federer this year. While clay is Federer’s worst surface, he is considered by many to be the second best clay courter in the world behind Nadal.
Federer will be hoping to turn around his play just in time for the French Open. And in order to do that, Federer has reached out to Jose Higueras.
The coach’s résumé attracted Federer. Higueras coached Michael Chang to his only Grand Slam title in 1989 at the French Open and has worked with the likes of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Guillermo Coria, and other former top-ranked players.
The most appealing part of Higueras’ résumé is the fact that he’s a clay court specialist. With the hiring, Federer can’t make it much clearer to the rest of the world that he has every intention of finally winning the French this year.
It won’t be long before we find out if Federer’s newest coaching change will pay off. He’s currently playing in his first clay tournament of 2008 in Portugal at the Estoril Open.
The expectations are lower for Federer heading into the clay court season than they have been in years, which could be a major benefit for Federer.
Recently, Federer’s inability to capture the career slam has been the major headline heading into the French Open. This year, on the other hand, everyone will be talking about whether Federer will be able to get his game back on track and just win a tournament, let alone the French.
Federer is far too competitive to simply rollover in matches. But this may be his best tactical move yet.
If he is able to go into Paris without the pressure surrounding him as it has recently and actually win it, he’ll be praised more than he would have if he had won it any other year.
Not only will he have captured the one Slam eluding him, but he will have done it in a year that everyone considered him to be down and in a slump.
Maybe Federer’s slipping, maybe he’s getting older, and maybe he’s sicker than he’s revealed. But maybe he’s held himself back just a little in order to save enough energy for the red clay in Paris.