Hey all, the US Open is now a distant memory, the cold nights are drawing in here in the UK and Roger's favourite part of the season, indoors, looms large.
Whichever way you look at things it's been a very poor year for him in terms of his level, titles won and the manner of his defeats. The way I see it from here till November it's merely a salvage operation and a chance to start rebuilding confidence. I'm hoping he can regroup for the indoor season and use that as a stepping stone for a good run next year at the Majors and in some of his preferred Masters 1000 tournaments.
We often discuss in the comments section what Roger should and shouldn't do in terms of scheduling, how he plays and tactics so I thought it'd be a good idea to do a post on what Roger can do to ensure he has a good 2014.
Rather than my thoughts, I thought it'd be an interesting change up to get some other fans perspective on it all, so I asked two prolific commenters and die hard Fed fans to give their thoughts on a number of questions that I sent them.
Before we start I'd like to thank them both for taking the time to write up these answers as I had a lot of fun reading them (which I'm sure you will too). Also it was damn sight easier from my end as I had to write virtually nothing so I should have thought of this sooner 😛 Take it away Sid & Susie…
Q. 2013 has been sub standard from Roger so far, with just one title and his rankings on the slide what do you think he has to do to have a better 2014?
In 2014, I'd like Roger to…
…re-dedicate himself and redefine his goals. If family and personal life is more important, he is better off quitting tennis than staying in it and tarnishing his legacy. The goal should be at least two slams in the next two years. He still has the game. In terms of total mileage, he could be right where Djokovic and Nadal are. He just needs a bit of extra speed, and any kind of help from a racquet change.
The second serve must be bigger. The backhand down the line should be used more often. The loopy backhands slightly above the strike zones have been a problem. He needs to do more with them, try to open the court with cross courts, and a bigger racquet will help.
Returning, especially on the second serves should be more aggressive. He must take at least a couple of more extended breaks in the season to help with recovery, preferably one during the clay stretch. Fresher legs would mean he can opt to get into more patient rallies if a match situation demands it. Recently, we've noticed he is throwing away points with shanks, and hitting forehands inexplicably long. These are all a result of impatience.
Something I'd like Roger to do is throw some loopy balls at opponents especially when they are under pressure, and keep them guessing. These change ups would have the opposite effect of what we see when someone like Nadal injects pace. In short, I'm advocating for change in his ground stroke patterns.
He should add the Brisbane tournament before the Australian Open to the schedule. Play Queens instead of Halle. It's understandable he had to skip Montreal because of the two extra clay tournaments he played but it's imperative he goes to both Montreal and Cincinnati, even if he prefers not to go deep in one of them. He did say that 2013 is a transition year.
I hope for the sake of his fans that is true and that he has something up his sleeve. I've already declared that 2014 will be a good year and he will win at least one slam. In terms of game play, he is not getting to the ball as quickly as he would like to. He seems to be a fraction of second late getting into position. We might see an improvement in that department in 2014.
Roger has to steady the ship. He says he still wants to compete at the top of the game ( still no 6 in the rankings!) and his fans certainly want to see him at the latter stages of the tourneys he plays, although more realistic about another Slam…..So certain aspects of his game need urgent attention.
He can't buy confidence overnight without putting himself out there, trying to win as many matches as possible, playing clutch in the tougher games, and still being prepared to put up with some losses, as long as he plays a positive match.
I see the following as current negative elements in his matchplay which that he must turn to positives.
-Free points on serve. This has declined as he has had back issues, lost some power, and his ace count has gone down. For me, this is the no 1 priority because if he starts holding serve more easily, with more free points then he gains confidence to go for it on the return, and he can afford to be more aggressive against the lesser second serves of say a Murray or a Djokovic.
-Return. Attack the opponents second serve. Be prepared to step in, take risks, come over the backhand and drive the ball back. He's slightly too rigid in the chip return and that has become a bad habit.
-Break point conversion. Very much connected to the second point. He must maintain aggression on break points and put more pressure on his opponent. Mix up his returns with chip and charge, but come in on the right shot! Has been passed far too often this year on a poor centrally placed, flat approach. Converting break points will gradually make a huge difference to his confidence factor (note his immense frustration against Robredo which led to his downfall.)
-Get his consistency back! Stay in the rally a little longer before pulling the trigger. Consistency was always his byword in the past! So he needs to play more, even smaller tourneys because consistency equals form. Form equals confidence.
-If healthy, play the max he thinks he can. He did say earlier this year that 2013 was a transition year given the amount he played in 2012. Stated he cannot possibly do that every year at this stage in his career. Sounds as though 2014 could be a big year if he is fit. And if he plays more he must ensure he beats the lower ranked players, this gives him his invincible aura back again which he sorely needs.
Q. All the talk after Wimbledon was of Roger's new racquet, which of course he trialed on clay but held off using it for the USO. Do you think he should trial it for the indoor season, and should he stick with it indefinitely no matter what his results?
First of all, the new racquet was never user on hard courts. Nor was it used against any of the top four or five, so the jury is still out.
The Pro Staff 90 gives him superior maneuverability but the courts and the opponents equipment do not support that style of play any more. Whether or not he trials the new frame during the indoor season, he must stick with it long term. We noticed that his backhand was better with the new racquet but some other aspects of this game suffered, particularly feel on volleys and out of control forehands.
Here's an interesting fact: The Pro Staff 95 has slightly smaller sweet spot zones compared to Roger's Pro Staff 90, so it's not going to be a matter of just switching to a bigger frame, but accounting for variables, like extra weight and lower tension for bite, balance, that will give him the most forgiveness, without sacrificing the maneuverability he is used to. Hopefully, for his sake, and the sake of his fans, he will find the right balance.
Yes, if he can steel himself to have some rough times, he cannot stop now. Otherwise he will get blown off court by increasingly bigger power players and out rallied by the consistent baseliners. He needs that more forgiving large sweet spot as he loses physical power himself! Sampras always said he regretted not changing and I see it as a brave, career extending decision.
Q. A small contingent of fans think Roger needs to bulk up and add some muscle to his upper body. Are you in agreement or worried it could it put extra weight on his back plus slow him down further?
Bulking up is not the solution unless Roger has decided to radically change his playing style. That is unlikely. Roger currently stands at 6'1″ and weighs 185 pounds. A five pound increase would drastically slow him down considering his game is based on anticipation, reading the ball very early, and quick effortless footwork on the baseline.
Djokovic is an inch taller, just 175 pounds, and has more power. It has got nothing to do with bulking up. If anything, I feel Roger needs to lose a few pounds. And because Roger's game relies on perfect technique and using the kinetic chain most efficiently as opposed to muscling the ball like Djokovic and Nadal, he can do a lot of damage if he can reach the ball a fraction of a second earlier.
Roger still has the game, and his slightly diminished movement and power can be overcome with the right racquet. A forgiving racquet will give him many more options to fall back to during a point and will improve his defense radically.
No I don't hold with that at all as it's not his body type. Both Roger and Djokovic have shown that lithe, low fat strength can compete with raw muscle.
Interestingly I fear that Murray's increased bulk could compromise his back as he is not flexible. Fed hits with a relaxed looseness, through all the muscle chain links, which I believe would be compromised by bulk.
Very different to say Rafa or Serena who are less loose, far more reliant on brute muscle strength if they are off balance. And I do agree that the back benefits from keeping lean. I would prefer it he worked on maintaining good lateral movement, and flexibility.
Q. One thing we have talked about on the blog is the chip return and how it's becoming ineffective, if Roger wants to win another slam, or even a
Masters 1000, do you think he has to return more aggressively? Or can he still get away with chipping to just start a rally?
A couple of posts ago, I commented in detail on how chipping the return back has given Roger a lot of advantages. There was a time when Roger's game was good enough to negate the effects of a weak return. Not any more.
With serves becoming heavier, the chip has become less effective and solid opponents have been picking up on it recently, including on grass. A certain left handed player has shown no respect whatsoever. He was returning aggressively with the new racquet and must move away from simply resigning to starting a rally. I have no doubt if you take Roger's statistics over 2013, you will notice that he is probably winning a lesser percentage of return points, particularly the ones that matter the most, break points, and the points that help set up break point situations.
The answer is, aggressive returning is a must if Roger wants to harbor any hopes of winning a slam in 2014.
As mentioned earlier it has become a habit, his go to return when under pressure, but he should not revert to it when not under any serve pressure. It also depends slightly on the surface and the opponent I think. Chipping on grass right to the baseline can still be effective with the slightly less sure, lower bounce (watch Wimbledon Semi 2012 v Djokovic) and less predictable footing.
On hard and clay against Nadal, Novak etc it immediately puts the rally back in their control. Less experienced opponents can find it difficult to deal with, but against the top 3/4, forget it!
Q. How important do you think having a good end to the year is? And will his results indoors have any bearing on the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne?
It's always great to have a good end to the year, regardless of how you've done before that. In case of Roger, winning a few titles can only help. If nothing else, it would assuage the grief of his fan base, which includes me. But, the results indoors will have no bearing on the first slam of 2014 because…first, it's a different kind of surface, it's outdoors, slower, and much slower during the semi and finals (played at night).
Second, there is a substantial break between the World Tour Finals and the Australian Open to carry any sort momentum that Roger may have gained. All these hobbled bird dogs like Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal (should he decide to play), will come back refreshed to play more fetch ball during the Australian Open, so the odds are stacked heavily against Roger. Don't forget what a nightmare Tsonga was last year at the AO and what he did to him in Paris.
Although against many people's views, I think he should go hard for the end of season, rather like he did after his 2011 US Open loss! If he isn't playing until Shanghai, then he will have had a good break, no Davis Cup crap, plenty of practise, and ready to fly.
Ideally I would like him to play Beijing as a warm up but if not, just aim for London, nothing else, and keep that goal clear in front of him, no excuses!
Q. Annacone – should he stay or go? Give reasons as to why.
It's a no brainer. Annacone stays. I'll allude to what I mentioned in an earlier post. Do you keep Annacone for helping create 16 break points? Or do you fire him for wasting 14 of them? Annacone is a proponent of the aggressive playing style. He believes in trying to finish the point as soon as possible.
There really is no other coach who complements Roger game as much as Annacone does. The big question: Is Roger really listening to his coach? My guess is, Roger is being a bit stubborn.
Should we call him, Deaf-erer? It will also take Roger the better part of a year to adapt to a new coach and there is no guarantee the gamble will succeed. My vote is for Paul to stay.
Interesting one. Arguments both ways.
Go. Served his purpose, got him the through to his last slam win by making him mix up the game more, proving he was an excellent net player, using the net charge etc. However, cannot help him any further in today's modern attritional game. Annacone himself belongs to another era, Fed needs a new voice, maybe a harder voice to see if he is prepared to graft and be selfish for 2 more years!
Stay. Doesn't need to give the critics (already at his throat), another reason to stick the knife in, to say how Federer is getting more and more desperate to stay at the top! Fed knows the game has changed, he knows he must trust his own game to stay top 5 for next 2 years as long as he keeps strong in mind and body. If Annacone is part of his unit, pushing him on, then no reason to change.
Q. Make some predictions for the big four next year – Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray – how do you see it going for them? Does Fed bounce back or is he going to continue slumping?
Nadal, who has achieved his objectives of a multi slam year and getting back to No.1, will slow down, if only to create an illusion of mortality. He will return though to build his case for hard courts, something Toni Nadal understand is essential for him to be considered the GOAT. I've given Nadal until the end of 2014 or early 2015 to do whatever damage he can.
Djokovic will come back stronger. I feel that we haven't seen him peak yet. But he needs to put his mind back into it.
Murray has reached the top of his potential. He has shown at the US Open that he is satisfied with what he has achieved so far and cannot be a threat to either Djokovic or Nadal. I suspect he will focus on his one slam per year strategy.
Roger will have a very good 2014 in my opinion, at least in comparison to the wretched 2013. I'll give him one slam, probably not the AO or FO. If he stays with the 90 sq. in. frame, I'm selling all his stocks in double quick time.
Djokovic actually has work to do. He still needs better technique on his net play and smash. His service has been less effective and clutch play must improve. Although he will want to defend Australian Open, he will work his whole year around the French Open which is becoming his “must win” tourney to prove he is a true great!
Nadal, number 1 by year end. Will push like crazy to win a second Australian Open and will then take another long break! He won't win French, will get beaten early at Wimbledon again followed by another break! This will become a repeated pattern as his career extends.
Murray, I do see him as perennial no 3 although feel he will be at the business end of the Australian Open and Wimbledon (he's a fine grass court player now)
Fed? Interestingly I see the Auastralian Open as one of the Slams he could still win. I'm sure he makes at least the semis as he likes the surface, weather, fans, and the venue! Kind draw? You never know!
Also think he will be there at business end of French and Wimbledon if he mentally decides 2014 could be another big year! Also think he will get back into the Top 4 as I see Ferrer, Berdych, Delpo fading slightly!
And there we have it, a fans perspective on how Fed can improve in 2014. Again thanks to Sid and Susie for contributing to this, better than anything you'll read on Bleacher Report all year.
What do you guys think? Do you agree / disagree with the points above? Will 2014 be better than 2013? Let us know in the comments.