There's a certain level of conflict provided when watching Roger Federer practice.
For those who have seen him rack up all or most of his 16 Grand Slam titles, the effortless nature which he takes to the practice court just doesn't add up to his success.
Looking freshly groomed with not a hair out of place when he strolls towards the back courts of whichever locale he's visiting, Federer's practice time would lead many who have never been to a tennis event to question: "Just how good is this guy, really?"
Throughout my year's of covering tennis, I've probably witnessed three to four dozen of Federer's practice sessions at about 10 to 12 different tournaments. And with each passing month, with each passing year, the routine has remained the same.
Federer will usually walk onto court—which was previously occupied by another player(s)—provide a subtle nod or say hello, and then sit down. Waiting patiently as if he's got all the time in the world, Federer will slowly bend over and pick up his racket of choice.
Keeping his track jacket on as he approaches the net, Federer approves of his string tension by gently thumping his palm off of his string bed, while engaging in a wide grin conversation with whoever stands on the other side of the net.
After shaking out his legs and raising his racket over his head to stretch out his shoulders, Federer will typically glance up at the sky and pick which side he will begin his warm up.
Starting off his first rally with a sliced hit feed, Federer's intensity and footwork continue to remain in a very casual sequence for the duration of his session.
Unlike his chief rival Rafael Nadal, Federer's movement and outlook towards his practice time revolves more around developing a feel for his shots, and not overexerting his body.
Where Nadal grinds, grunts, and full on attacks every shot when he's practicing; Federer will glide, caress, and more often than not let a ball that is out of reach sail by.
I've always been amazed at how Federer can transition from his easy going "hit," to his eclectic presence in match play.
The Swiss star will enter Center Court with no sense of urgency, before he tightens his headband, adjusts his wristband, and makes sure that his weapon of choice is ready for battle.
I guess the ability to know when to step it up is an elite commonality that only the game's best players share. I remember reading an excerpt from Brad Gilbert's book titled Winning Ugly , suggesting that what made Pete Sampras such a dominant force was his elite ball-striking ability. There was really no need to implement a game plan for Sampras, and subsequently very little in the way of providing an answer to combating his genius. Gilbert commented that the outcome of Sampras' matches rested on his shoulders, and that his experience had taught him how to address various situations.
Federer in many ways is cut from the same cloth as Sampras, while taking his modern strokes to another level.
We've all heard many great players claim that when they've played at their highest levels that they've been in "auto-Pilate" mode.
I've sensed that from watching Federer on numerous occasions that irrespective of his wins or losses, his ability to cruise through the point-by-point flow of a match has always remained in place.
Federer certainly believes in his strengths and the surfaces that he's gathered his greatest victories.
I must confess that I enjoy watching players who wear their emotions on their sleeves, and show us constantly that their rewards have been hard earned. But I must admit that there's something special about watching Federer go about his daily routine (especially on the practice court) that holds a timeless quality.
The precision that Federer has been able to consistently place his shots time and time again within the singles sideline has never provided anything short of a disbelief look from the crowd, or a subsequent dismal sigh of anguish from his opponent.
Federer may once in a while provide a "c'mon" or an "allez" to spur on his charge, but his practice court mentality will always stand as the cornerstone of his match time dominance.
The best players have always designed their own set of routines that have matched their successful careers, but not too many of the greats have been as relaxed on the practice court as Federer.
I certainly hope that the trend of Federer's practice court regime doesn't trickle down to the future great's of the sport, but there's no question that the easy going resolve of the Swiss has resulted in his historic on court brilliance.