After a disappointing Wimbledon, an early loss at the Rogers Cup and getting dumped out of the Quarters of the Cincinnati Masters by Berdych, I'm pretty sure the question on many peoples lips is ‘Can Federer win another Slam?‘. I don't doubt Roger has the game to win another slam, however, I don't think he will win another playing in the same mould as he is now. With that in mind, the focus of this post is ‘what Federer has to do to win another slam.'
Roger hasn't won a slam since the 2010 Australian Open – which is fast approaching 2 years, which where he's concerned is an awful long time.
Roger seems to be increasingly struggling against power hitters – ever since the US Open final against Del Potro in 2009, he's lost to guys like him, Tsonga and Berdych on several occasions. Is it because he's getting old? Is he getting slower? I don't think that's the case. If you watch clips from 06-07, and compare with them 2011, I don't really see a noticeable deterioration in Rogers footspeed or general movement around the court. I attribute Rogers lack of slams to several reasons:
Firstly, players have gotten better – Nadal, Djokovic etc have improved their games no end, which inevitably makes it harder to win.
Secondly, modern equipment has made the game easier and subsequently made Rogers margin for error much less – he plays with a 90″ racket head, which is the smallest on tour. String technology and rackets that play like toys make it easier to hit big, and keep the ball within the lines.
Thirdly – Rogers priorities have changed now he has a wife and family to look after, he of course will argue otherwise, but regardless of what he says, it's inevitable they will have changed somewhat.
And finally – Roger has achieved so much in the game, it must be difficult to train and play with the same enthusiasm when you've pretty much accomplished everything there is to accomplish in the game.
What does Roger have to do to win another Slam?
It goes without saying that Roger definitely has the game to win another slam – having won 16 previously – you don't lose that ability over night. In some aspects, Rogers game has improved since his prime, his serve is definitely better than it used to be. However, to win a slam I believe there has to be several changes in his setup. Whether or not he can make them is a different matter.
1. He has to start playing with much more variety.
Of late, Roger has been guilty of playing a very one dimensional style of play. For example – the Tsonga match at Wimbledon, he stood on the baseline and rallied with Tsonga, and got blown off the court. When plan A isn't working, he is reluctant to change things, and ends up being responsible for his own downfall. Whereas before, his level was so consistently high, even if he ran into a player who was on top form, his Plan A would eventually win through as it would wear his opponent down, they'd have to play unbelievably well over 5 sets – which is nigh on impossible. This is no longer the case – Roger isn't as consistent, and modern equipment means players can hit the ball bigger and keep it in the lines much easier due to the advancements in string technology. Anyone who has played with that illegal triangular like string where it's practically impossible to hit the ball long knows what I'm talking about.
Reasons he can add variety to his overall gameplan
- He has the biggest repertoire of shots in the game.
- We've seen matches where he's been able to execute mixing it up and varying his shots – the win against Del Potro in Cincinnati earlier this month is a great example of this, along with the win against Djokovic in the French Open Semi Final.
- Up until the Clay court season of 2009 – Federer had rarely, if ever used the dropshot in his matches, this all changed in the run up to the French Open, and many pundits and tennis fans credit this shot as being the reason behind him winning the tournament. So we know he's capable of adding shots to his reportoire and use them in matches
Reasons he can't/won't add variety to his game
- He's very stubborn – so we know he'd much rather beat power hitters by hitting them off the court and beating them at their own game rather than mix it up.
- He's played several matches of late where variety was the key to winning – yet he's failed to implement it.
- He seems reluctant to use the slice.
2. He has to play more aggressively
The nature of Rogers game instantly makes his style of play an aggressive one. He hits the ball very flat and is always looking to get on the front foot. However, in many of his recent matches, he's lacked this aspect to his game. (I would say the last time he displayed the right aggression over successive matches was at the World Tour Finals last year in London) And really of late, he's played very passively. It's like he is struggling to come up with ideas of what to do. Take the Tsonga match at Wimbledon – he played great for 2 sets, then let his opponent back in, and just played the same passive baseline tennis for the next 3 sets. Roger has to play like he did against Novak in the French – he has to get his opponents off balance, he has to get them moving forward, and constantly second guessing what's coming back over the net. He has said himself he plays his best when he plays 1st strike tennis, so really he needs to practice what he preaches on a permanent basis, not just every now and again.
Reasons Roger can play more aggressively
- He's naturally an aggressive player, so it's not like he'd be starting from scratch. If this was someone like Murray, then you'd be worried, because he has zero aggression, so making him play aggressive is impossible. With Roger, it's not.
- He's managed to play aggressive in key matches previously – Djokovic in the French Open etc
- He still has unbelievable racket head speed
- He has Annacone as a coach – who was an exponent of serve/volley, which is the most naturally aggressive way to play the game.
Reasons Roger can't/won't play more aggressively
- He's reluctant to – maybe the confidence in his ground strokes isn't there
- In matches of late – he has somewhat frozen on court – take the tie break against Berdych in Cincinnati – he looked pretty clueless throughout that
- In the clutch – he's making errors, and this is when he needs to be at his most aggressive
3. He has to take more chances on the return game
With heavy hitters like Berdych, Tsonga, Soderling etc, Roger cannot afford to just chip the ball back into play. He will either a.) be instantly on the back foot in the rally, or b.) leave a simple put away for his opponent.
This was exactly the case against Berdych – Berdych was serving flat and big, and whilst Federer managed to chip return a few over the net, Berydch was on the service line ready to put them away with ease. The fact he didn't manage to create a single break point on the Berdych serves pretty much proves his return game is off. The last time I really think Roger played ultra aggressive on the return was against Murray in the Australian Open 2010 final – he really got after Murrays second serve that day and it won him a lot of points. It also put more pressure on Murray to make more first serves, which ultimately made him make less due to his mental frailties.
Reasons Federer can take more chances on the return game
- He has the shotmaking capability to
- He has the footwork/hand eye co-ordination to step into the baseline and take the ball early
- He's usually good at reading an opponents serve meaning he can pick the ball early and get in position to hit solidly
Reasons Federer can't/won't take more chances on the return game
- Huge serving opponents make it harder
- Small racket head makes the margin for error smaller – meaning more shanks and miss hits
- When he does try and get after the second serve he often hits long
- He has to get past his comfort zone of just hitting the ball back into play
4. He has to play with more confidence and self belief
Against Simon at the Austrlian Open, and against Djokovic at the French Open – Roger showed huge confidence and self believe in his game. Djokovic was the overwhelming favourite going into that Semi final, yet Federer played every single one of his shots with conviction and that is what won him the match. When he called upon his first serve in the key moments, it was there.
In the final against Nadal however, he seemed to lack belief he could win, and was almost content with just making the final. Then against Tsonga at Wimbledon, in the final sets – he looked a forlorn figure out there, as though he'd genuinely given up and no matter what he tried wouldn't win him that match. That isn't good to see, and also helps give opponents who maybe watching the belief they can do the same at a later date.
Reasons Federer can play with more confidence
- He is Roger Federer
- He's won 16 grand slams
- He beat a red hot player at the French just 4 months ago
- He has no reason to not have confidence in his game
Reasons Federer can't/won't play with more confidence
- He still has a mental block against Nadal
- He's taken some moral dropping defeats in the past year – Melzer, Tsonga x 2, Berdych
- In big matches he has not played his best tennis – Djokovic Aus'11, Nadal French '11
5. He has to show more fight in the key moments
I never thought I'd accuse Federer of showing a lack of fight, the amount of Grand Slam Matches where he's been 2 sets down, looked totally out of it, only to regroup and come back to win. But of late – I've seen Roger to an extent just roll over and die. Nadal in the French Open final – he was up 5-2 in that first set, only to self destruct and throw the set away and after that, he wasn't same the player. Of course he's human, and these things happen, but they are still awkward to watch. The Tsonga match was similar – when that match hit the 5th set I didn't see Roger winning for a split second, and from the way he was carrying himself neither did he. We need Federer to play with swagger, and not play timidly in the key moments. If he lost after giving it everything and going for broke, then I wouldn't mind. Least he would have left everything out there. Of late though, I don't think he has.
Reasons Federer can show fight in the key moments
- He managed to be totally clutch against Djokovic
- He's showed fight on many occasions before
- He has little/or anything left to prove – so he should go for it
Reasons Federer can't/won't show fight in the key moments
- Lately he seems to give up way too easy – as though he'd rather be at home with his wife and kids (not blaming him for that)
- Some players have a mental hold over him
- He's getting older
What do you think? Can Roger win another grand slam? What does have to do to win another?