In what was quite possibly the most one-sided defeat since the 2008 French Open final, Federer had to fight hard in order to avoid embarrassment in the semifinal defeat to his great nemesis Nadal.
It seemed to me that in terms of what he was trying to employ as tactics was totally wrong and seemed to suffer from some kind of mental block. After the promising first service game he played, Federer seemed totally consigned to defeat. Employing quite frankly an unreasonable tactical game plan consisting of hitting the ball harder and harder, the more he started to loose. In this article, I'm going to look at some of the areas in which I think Federer failed to use the best tactics against Nadal.
First of all, let me say that Federer to me, despite the wonderful player he is to watch, has never been a great match player. Look at how many tight matches he has lost against Nadal and his five-set record is not something to be particularly proud of. He seems to crumble in the face of any serious resistance, and I think this is why he has a losing record against Nadal. Nadal's relentless baseline crawling and willingness to go toe-to-toe with Federer seems to interrupt his rhythm.
Mats Wilander once critized Federer heavily for having a lack of "heart and balls" when he lost his first French Open to Nadal. This has always mirrored what I thought about Roger. When it's 50-50, he lacks that bit of resistance and sternness that Nadal does in order to gain that extra one percent in order to pull through.
A further reason is his point blank refusal to change tactics either during the match or between matches. Federer, for a while, seemed to be under the impression that he could go backhand to forehand with Nadal, when he finally decided to change it up and go up the line with his backhand in Rome, he had a five-set final and match points.
So, let's have a look at what went wrong for Federer tonight.
Tonight, Federer seemed to ignore any kind of tactics he employed in the World Tour Finals match played last year. Instead of utilising the slice serve out wide from the deuce court into Nadal's backhand to draw him wide, he simply tried to hit the ball hard and go for aces. This was the first problem facing him. His serve is such a key weapon, and tonight, instead of serving wisely, he seemed to be under the impression he was Andy Roddick.
Once again he was too content on using the top spin backhand in such ridiculous circumstances. This didn't change throughout the entire match. One particular point I recall was a very low bouncing ball which Federer tried to go for a winner with while hitting it from standing in the tramlines over the highest part of the net. This is such low-percentage tennis, and due to how low the ball was bouncing, was not the right shot to choose. For me, he didn't utilise the slice down the line to Nadal's backhand. This is a much higher percentage play, and if played deep, can be very effective.
With Paul Annacone as his new coach, the most disappointing thing for me, Federer did not come to the net anywhere near the amount of times he needed to. Federer was getting Nadal out of position with some sniper-shot precision forehands, instead of capitalising on Nadal's court position and trying to come to the net.
Federer waited at the baseline, and Nadal simply looped high shots back in order to regain his position. By the time Federer was hitting the next forehand, Nadal was back in the centre of the court. I don't care who you are, you're not going to be able to hit enough pinpoint forehands in a row in order to completely out position Nadal before you make an error.
If your going to run around on your backhand and leave the entire court open for balls to go into, you better make sure it's a really good shot. The problem with Federer is when he does this, Nadal's high-bouncing balls are hard to attack, and he either puts back a mishit or fairly lame duck of a shot, leaving him well out of position for Nadal's next shot. Also running around this balls and trying to hit winners down the line to Nadal's backhand on such high bouncing balls isn't going to cut it, too many errors were made tonight trying to achieve this.
Forehand Unforced Errors:
This ones a no-brainer. Tonight, Federer made an unacceptable amount of unforced errors, and that's just never going to cut it against Nadal. What's worse is he seems to think the best idea is to try and hit the ball harder and harder instead of mixing it up and coming in more when he's not hitting the ball well.
Get up and Go:
There seemed to be no spark in Federer tonight, no spring in his step, nothing, just totally flat. Even early on in the second set with the crowd totally on his side, he failed to draw up any spirit or emotions to react to the crowd and draw upon some inspiration, I know he's never been the most animated player, but he's not short of a few come on's or a showing of the fist.
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