Roger Federer has been hailed by commentators and tennis fans around the globe as one of the tennis world’s greatest of all times (GOATs), but his recent performance seems to contradict all of the positive expectations placed on his game.
As a multiple grand slam champion, Federer has been severely underperforming on the tennis court in 2013.
Most recently, Federer got upset by Gael Monfils in the third round of Shanghai in an uneventful match. To the disappointment of all his fans, Federer seems to have lost his winning edge over his opponents.
In the past, Roger Federer held the #1 ranking for months at a time. Today, his current ranking is at a meager #6 on the ATP tour. For a player that was once considered undefeatable, the #6 ranking is a considerable downgrade.
Reasons for Federer’s Dismay on the Court
Some speculators have concluded that Federer may have passed his ‘prime,’ and his lagging performance may simply be due to age. Tennis is no different than any other sport in that a player is considered old, once they reach the magic 30 age mark. There is a huge premium on being young and agile, as this gives a player time to improve even more at a young ripe age.
Tennis is also largely a game of momentum. Momentum can shift easily during a match, however momentum can also shift through a player’s career as well. I believe that Federer’s winning momentum has begun to lag due to factors that may not be seemingly obvious at first glance.
I don’t believe that age is entirely the factor behind Federer’s lack of results in recent matches. Although I agree that it definitely may be playing a role. Having a family and raising kids is never an easy task, even for a professional player with nannies at their disposal. Coupled with the added responsibilities of being a father, this can possibly be taking a toll on his performance on the tennis court.
I think that a portion of the problem may be due to his mindset and shot selection on the tennis court.
Going Back to Basic Fundamentals
Back in 2007-2009, Federer was literally unstoppable on the tennis court. Every shot Federer hit turned into gold no matter where or what court position he was in. Even at Love-40 down, Federer could pull off wicked short cross court angle passing shots time and time again.
Federer’s 2007 Australian Open Semi-final match against Roddick illustrated this example perfectly.
The same shots that would turn into untouchable winners in 2007 are now smacking the tip of the net or sailing long for Federer. His unforced error count is increasing, because the same ridiculous shots from out of position that would go in are no longer working for him in match play.
If I was Federer’s coach, I would immediately advise him to go back to basics by playing high percentage tennis, based around consistency. To illustrate this point further, I would recommend shots to be hit with higher margins over the net for safety, rather than trying to skim the lines.
If aggressive shots from out of position are no longer working, a player simply cannot keep gambling on hitting the same shots over and over (even if you are a professional player). It is clear that even Federer needs to take a step back and play a more consistent overall game.
Federer’s opponents are defeating him in matches not because they are playing the best tennis of their life (a level they were once forced to play to beat the 2007 Federer), but by simply playing a high percentage consistent game.
For example; using the Shanghai matchup, players such as Gael Monfils are now beating Federer by simply playing a solid baseline game. In the past, such a game could not suffice because Federer would eventually dominate with superior shot-making abilities.
It is clear that Roger Federer needs to take a step back and focus more on the basics of high percentage shot selection. In fact, Federer needs to show his opponents that he is willing to hang in with them from behind the baseline.
For example, instead of going down the line on the second or third shot of the rally, he should play all of his shots crosscourt to pull his opponents out of position before pulling the trigger.
Of course, in 2007-2008 Federer could get away with hitting low percentage winner shots, simply because he was playing God-like tennis.
Given the circumstances, Federer needs to adapt his shot selection to the way he is currently playing. Rather than focusing on being the aggressor, he needs to learn to balance this by learning to play from a neutral position until he gets an obvious opening to hit more of an aggressive shot. This is especially true for a player that is no longer playing at his best.
Learning from Andre Agassi in the 1990s
Andre Agassi also went through a period in the mid 1990’s where he was no longer playing at his optimal level. In fact, he completely fell off the charts for a period of time, until he hired Brad Gilbert as his coach. Agassi’s ranking slumped to an all-time low of #147 in the world in 1997.
Brad Gilbert recommended that Agassi get over his slump by playing a few challengers to regain his confidence. Then, he worked on Agassi’s serve and ground game. Cumulatively, they realized that they needed to find an edge over the other players on tour.
Agassi’s answer was that he would need to play smarter, rather than harder. Instead of trying to skim the lines with winners down the line (like his younger counterparts), he would need to utilize smarter shot selection.
As a result, Agassi learned to win more matches by using high percentage plays and getting his opponents out of position and then finding the open court to hit to. He realized that if he could get his opponents off balance, he could move less, use less energy and subsequently win more matches.
Agassi also realized that if he could position himself closer to the baseline and hit shots more on the rise, he could give away less ground and also take time away from his opponents. This forced his opponents to scramble from side to side, whilst Agassi picked each shot off the ground by moving only a few steps.
This is the formula that allowed Agassi to make a remarkable comeback from his slump. Even in the final years of his career, he was a formidable grand slam competitor at the highest levels of tennis.
Applying this Principle into Your Own Game
Players at all other levels of the game can apply the same principle of going back to the basics of playing consistent tennis, rather than spectacular tennis during a rough patch in order to regain confidence.
Federer’s answer to gaining his competitive edge back may be different from Agassi’s approach. However, one thing is certain. If Federer wants to get back to being a consistent grand slam champion, he will need to find a winning edge against his younger and more agile opponents.
In order for Federer to become a winning tennis player as in the past, he must learn to take a more conservative approach to his shot selection and decision-making until he regains his confidence in his game. Like many other tennis fans around the world, I will be rooting for his return to glory.
This article was written by Coach Ed of Optimumtennis.net