Roger Federer: Getting the Mental Edge by Every Means Necessary

Sam HaddadCorrespondent ISeptember 2, 2010

NEW YORK - AUGUST 28:  Roger Federer of Switzerland talks to the media during a press conference held on Arthur Ashe Kids' Day prior to the start of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images)
Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images

Federer has the occasional habit of delaying making excuses for a loss, sometimes for months.

This, in my opinion, is done to suit his particular needs with regards to getting some sort of edge over his opponent, or bolstering his waning sense of security before the Grand Slams.

In a recent interview before day one of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, Roger Federer announced he had a variety of ailments during his run at the Masters event in Toronto in early August.

Federer stated that because he had not played a match since losing at Wimbledon at the end of June, he was affected by a variety of physical issues.

"In Toronto I really had a lot of muscle pain, my arm, my wrist, my chest, my shoulder. Coming back right off the bat after six weeks and playing such tough matches early on was tough on the body," said Federer

These are, in effect, carefully planted insinuations as to why he lost to Andy Murray in the final of Toronto and are designed to get into the mind of his recent and subsequent opponents.

Federer has a history of blaming past losses to Murray on illness and injury.

At the beginning of the current season, he pinned his defeats at the hands of the Scot in 2008 on "mono" and a back ailment. This is an example of Federer's 'delayed excuse' tactic that he sometimes implements before important matches at the Slam events, and will be discussed later.

In his post-match interview after the final match, he praised Murray's new-found aggression and made only minimal excuses for his loss.

One could have deduced from these words that Federer was starting to have respect for his young rival—a player he is known to dislike simply because the talented Scot is one of the very few who has the resources to take him apart, not by brute force, but by tactical cunning.

Federer's respect, however, was short-lived, and as is so often the case before the majors, he needs to resort to explaining past defeats to strengthen what he perceives as his fading court presence, especially in the eyes of those who have dealt him heavy blows in the past.

This is a clear and disrespectful strategy to get a mental edge over his opponents.

It is sneaky behavior of the highest order, and worse than making injury claims right after a match, such as his excuses after losing to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon—in the latter case without even being specifically asked.

It will be recalled that his main rival, Rafael Nadal, had the same lay-off after Wimbledon, but made no mention of injuries after his semifinal defeat by Murray.

And the Spaniard could easily have done so to bolster his ego, and would have made a believable case for himself, considering his history of knee troubles.

After Federer lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2008, no blame was laid on any physical issues—nor should there have been. Federer dispatched both James Blake and Berdych, both solid hard court players, in straight sets.

Towards the end of that season, he stated that he was, indeed, suffering from an illness and was hampered physically in that match.

Federer was looking to either boost his fading aura and get under the skin of his rival, or take away from Djokovic's tremendous achievement. 

In 2008, Federer lost to Murray at the Masters event in Madrid, and at the group stage of the Masters Cup in Shanghai. He had some words of praise for his opponent after those losses.

At the Australian Open this year, Federer changed his mind about the Scot's past victories, blaming his losses on illness and injury.

Like his bravado before the final match with Murray in Australia, when he all but declared his indestructible prowess in the Slams, those attempts at downgrading Murray's wins were meant to rattle his still maturing rival.

Perhaps Federer should get a lesson in humility from Andy Roddick.

After his defeat at the hands of Janko Tipsarevic in the second round of this year's US Open, a major upset in the eyes of many, Roddick simply acknowledged his opponent's brilliant game.

"Tonight, I felt like the guy earned it. That's probably easier to deal with when he comes up with the goods."

The American could easily have mentioned the illness with which he was diagnosed not long ago, as a possible reason for his loss, but tactfully refrained from doing so.

Going back to the interview discussed at the beginning, Federer also mentioned that he is in good physical and mental shape. "I feel as good as I can feel prior to a Grand Slam," he said, also adding that he has "no niggling injuries, no pain anywhere."

Let's wait and see if he holds true to those words, should he lose at the Open. Of course, his opponent might be a determining factor.

We all know how he feels about Murray. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.