Although he is not the dominant force he once was, Roger Federer still has the talent to make a deep run at the 2014 Australian Open. Of course, it will take some solid play in order to avoid elimination.
The Swiss superstar started at the first Grand Slam of the year with straight-set wins over James Duckworth and Blaz Kavcic. Although he did not drop a set, he still struggled at times and made mistakes that better players will take advantage of in later rounds.
Federer has had a lot of success at the Australian Open throughout his career. Since 2004, he has reached the semifinals in every tournament while winning it all four times. If he wants this to continue, however, he will have to work on these keys to victory going forward.
Don't Be Afraid to Miss with Serve
This is a strange strategy in a sport where most players will try their best to get their first serves in play at all costs, but Federer is one of the few who know how to work around it.
Throughout his career, he has been one of the best in history on his second serve, winning points at a 56 percent mark. In reality, he does not want to have to do that, but it is not the worse way to win.
The goal should be to serve away from his opponent to keep his percentage of first-serve points high. In the first round, Federer got only 58 percent of his first serves in play, but won an incredible 89 percent of those.
Although he cannot afford five double faults against elite competition, the serves he got in play were nothing short of incredible. He gave his opponent little chance of returning, and it led to a dominant showing in service games.
In the later rounds, he has to worry about making sure each serve is placed away from his opponent with good enough speed to make things tough. It will not matter if he gets every serve in play if he is dominated in the one area he usually excels.
Stay Aggressive at Net
Although Federer has been impressive all over the court, one area where he has excelled in the first few rounds is at the net. He has a knack for serve-and-volleys, which keeps his opponents on their heels.
After going 18-of-22 on net points in the first match, Federer went 23-of-29 to keep his strong play going.
The superstar touched on this in his assessment of the second-round win, via Eleanor Crooks of the Irish Independent:
It was a good first two sets I thought. I played really aggressively and it worked out. In the third set I think he was more consistent. He served better. In the process, it got closer. I'm happy I got it done in three.
This aggressiveness not only leads to successful points, but it also helps end rallies sooner. As implied in the quote, Federer will want to end every match as soon as possible to maintain energy throughout the tournament.
At 32 years old, it is not easy to play five-set matches multiple days in a row.
Going up to the net will help him win in a shorter amount of time, which will allow him to keep winning deep into the tournament.
Embrace the Underdog Role
For the first time in over a decade, Federer enters a tennis season without high expectations. Early exits at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open have dropped the former No. 1 player in the world down to No. 6.
Although there are hundreds of professionals who would love to be where he is in the rankings, it is still strange to see such a high number next to his name.
Instead of creating more pressure on himself to come back, he should instead learn to relax and simply have fun while playing. In this interview on the Australian Open Twitter account, he seems to be doing the opposite:
Federer should refuse to acknowledge the pressure and let it sit on the shoulders of his competitor. This could ease his tension, which should lead to stronger play.
In the second-round win over Kavcic, the veteran had 17 unforced errors in the third set alone. At that point he started to try avoiding a loss rather than playing for a win. He cannot have this mindset against top opponents.
The talented player has to go out and play without pressure in order to beat opponents rated higher and lower than him.
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