Discussions about Roger Federer and his future continue to heat up as the Swiss star looks for new direction. The separation of Federer and former coach Paul Annacone has suddenly brought in perspectives from former tennis legends and other media.
"Rocket" Rod Laver, holder of 11 Majors and two calendar Grand Slams, said, per Tennis Now, “I think he's certainly capable of winning maybe the Australian, and of course Wimbledon is something that he's pretty involved with.”
Pete Sampras, another player often esteemed as tennis' greatest, remarked in The Tennis Space, “I think he can win another major. He will at least contend. Maybe he won’t be the big favorite that he was around 2005. I think that if he is playing well, and stays healthy, he is capable of winning another Major.”
Is this merely fraternal support and optimism among fellow legends, or is Grand Slam No. 18 really within grasp?
Laver and Sampras are unique even in the tennis world. They represent only a handful of players who completely dominated their respective eras. They are champions who possessed a special aura of greatness, striking fear in opponents and claiming their places at the top with dominant skills.
While age eventually eroded their physical peaks, it was important for them to hold onto a few more years of great tennis. Their belief was paramount for making a final career push, something Federer could very well do in 2014.
Sampras admitted in his autobiography, with Peter Bodo, that he had to rediscover his confidence and belief in order to win his final Slam, the 2002 U.S. Open. He made reference to this, in The Tennis Space, as the key for Federer:
People wrote me off. But what the great players have is belief, and once Roger has that belief back, and starts playing well again, I think he can win another major.
Belief is the scepter of all champions. It’s the way they command respect from their competitors. It’s how they coordinate their amazing talents. In the end, it’s the difference between the legends and the other supremely talented stars.
The difference is crucial. With belief, another Grand Slam is always in sight; without it, he is just another talented player.
Adrenaline and Recovery
Laver’s comments about Federer also mentioned that Federer’s recent inconsistencies do not mean he is physically incapable of winning another Slam. Laver mentioned, per Tennis Now, that adrenaline and recovery could be the most important factors for Federer:
But sometimes I notice him, he just doesn't have it that day. But the day before he was magnificent. So it's not a training method, fitness, nothing to do with his body. So, you know, you just wonder, is it adrenaline that gets you up for matches.
Athletic adrenaline is essential for athletes that are climbing the mountain to achieve their dreams. The hunger of winning and becoming No. 1 drives them to fight day in and day out. Physically, it’s easier to recover for a younger player, and mentally, it’s easier for him to keep his edge and welcome the fight.
Federer no longer has to prove he is a great champion. His accolades collect dust on the trophy room shelves. While he craves adding another piece to his collection, his hunger and belief must teach his body to respond and play with the same kind of urgency he did when he fended off a world of challengers.
There’s a mental investment, a price that must be paid to get him into Grand Slam contention. It can certainly happen again.
Chasing No. 18
Federer’s separation is a clear change in direction, symbolically if nothing else. He is placing on himself greater responsibility, risk and work in order to get back to prominence. It’s another phase, a last gasp, that says he is throwing everything he has into training and thinking differently about the end of his career.
In a way, Federer is looking to replicate the comeback of Rafael Nadal. This doesn’t mean he will win 10 titles and two Grand Slams in 2014, but it will require him to have passion and courage in his training. Tennis must be his uncompromising obsession.
The Australian Open could very well be where he returns to glory. Three months of preparation and resolve are enough time to gain the fitness and mentality to compete with his best tennis. A healthy, confident Federer is still a much better bet for a semifinal appearance than inconstant also-rans like Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych.
Andy Murray may not be ready to compete at Australia. Nadal’s knees and inexplicable opening-round ousters at Wimbledon mean he is not a lock for winning the title. Even three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic is far from invulnerable.
Why not Federer? He could still conjure up more special tennis with his nimble footwork, fabled forehand and dominant serving. When he is right, nobody else can match his variety and finishing touches with offensive tennis. He can still present unique difficulties to more defensive baseliners, even his superstar rivals.
Many tennis fans and media might have written off the Swiss Maestro, but not Laver and Sampras. They wore the shoes long before Federer and know that the next Grand Slam trophy is ready to claim.