Friday, January 24, 2014

Evaluating Roger Federer's Australian Open

As I was thinking about the fact that Roger Federer's Australian Open 2014 is over and processing his semifinal loss to Nadal, I was remembering back to two weeks ago.  The draw had come out and Federer fans were reacting with dismay about the "draw from hell."  In order to win the title he would have to go through, most likely, four top 10 players.  It seemed impossible, especially given that we still weren't quite sure what to expect with his form, and to be honest were still a bit gun shy from the previous 12 months.

Now here we are two weeks later and, sure, we would have loved to see him find a way to get through Nadal for the first time in quite a while and get to an all-Swiss final with his compatriot and friend Stan Wawrinka, who reached his first grand slam final after an intense battle with Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal.  But look at what Roger did accomplish in the last two weeks!  He played some absolutely brilliant and beautiful tennis in several of his matches, looking confident once again, being aggressive and coming forward, presumably helped by the influence of new part-time coach Stefan Edberg.  He took out Jo Wilfred Tsonga in straight sets, who much of the time just looked rather confused as to what he could possibly do against someone playing so well, and he also got past Wimbledon winner Andy Murray.  Though there was a little blip in the confidence and level of play to drop a set in that one, he still closed it out in four.

Of course, the complication came when he had to face his nemesis once again, the kryptonite that he just can't seem to figure out, Rafael Nadal.  I thought he might have what it took to find a way to get it done this time, given his recent aggressive play and new found confidence.  But Nadal knows the formula he needs to continue to beat him, along with raising his game to an incredible level every time he plays Roger.  It definitely is discouraging while watching it, hoping he can turn the tide and then seeing hope slip away.  In fact, once the second set was done and I knew it was virtually impossible, I didn't finish watching the match since it was the middle of the night for me  But even though it always hurts to see that head-to-head continue to get even more lopsided, the depressing thoughts didn't last for long.  Here's why.

As I noted above, two weeks ago it looked impossible.  I didn't even know if he would get past the 4th round, and here he was in the semis with the possibility of getting to the final and winning the whole thing.  Plus, as mentioned, he beat top 10 players and he made massive improvements in his level of play.  Last year I would often watch in fear because so often the ball sailed crazily long, or was shanked, or some other such error that was so uncharacteristic.  But in the last two weeks that has been so much improved.  Instead his shots were often finding their mark, many times with sounds of awe from the spectators as the magician once again came up with something truly special.  He seems to be adjusting well to his new larger racquet, and it will only improve as he continues to get used to it and find out all that it can do.  And Roger himself said that he didn't expect to be playing his best until March or April.  

While we can greedily wish that he had won the title in Brisbane and that he could have beaten Nadal to have a chance at another AO title, the fact of the matter is that he has started out 2014 very, very well.  And it looks to only be improving from here.  Though he will drop to #8 in the rankings, he has little points to defend until the end of the year and can thus play without a lot of pressure, just continuing to improve his level of confidence with the racquet and his own form with a (hopefully) healthy back.  I think there is much to look forward to in the next months for the fans of Roger Federer.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Amazing Roger Federer Back to the Quarters

It does the heart of the hard core Federer fans good, those who have stuck with him through thick and thin, never believing the tiresome reports that he is done and that he should retire, to watch him come up with such a dominant performance against top 10 player Jo Wilfred Tsonga, someone who beat him convincingly in the last major they played in.  The Federer we watched send Tsonga packing in straight sets in the 4th round of the Australian Open was one reminiscent of the guy who made 23 straight grand slam semifinals and 18 out of 19 finals.

From the very start of the match he looked in control, confident and dictating points, aggressive and forcing errors, not allowing Jo to play his game.  It wasn't that Jo was playing bad, but Roger simply didn't give him the opportunity to play the hard core style that has given Roger problems in the past.  Not only was Federer playing aggressive and in control tennis, but the errors that have plagued him over the last year were largely absent.

He has been talking for the last few months about the problems with his back last year and how this didn't allow him to have the large practice blocks he needed to play well, not to mention simply not allowing him to move in the way he needs to move to play the kind of tennis we had come to expect.  Many in the tennis world seemed to pretty much ignore this, however, just saying he was in decline and that he couldn't keep up any longer with the younger generation who were overtaking him.  Regardless of how the rest of this week goes, though, I think he has proved already that he is still very capable of playing top notch tennis that will challenge anyone he plays.

There was a lot of talk during the match about the difference the new racquet is making for him.  It seems to be allowing him more power and a bit bigger sweet spot.  When he tried it earlier last year he wasn't at a point with his body where he could give it a fair trial.  But this is the perfect time for him to catch up with the other players in the equipment department to give him a little more help that he needed.  It's so encouraging to see this making a difference for him and that he is adapting so well to it.

Of course, stronger tests are on the horizon for him as he has to take on Murray now, who has a slight edge over him in the head-to-head.  Personally I think he is up to the task, especially given that he completed his match in less than 2 hours and should be rested and ready for the challenge at hand.  Hopefully in a couple days I will be writing another post talking about how amazing he is playing and contemplating the semifinals.  After his last match it seems like a good possibility.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Vintage Federer shows up in Australia

For tennis fans we look forward with much anticipation to the grand slams.  We plan our schedules around them, we deprive ourselves of sleep, and our lives become crazy for two weeks at a time - at least that's what happens to me.  My TV is on at least 12 hours a day, and I am frantically trying to keep up with all the tweets on the computer.  Oh, and you mean I still have to work, cook and grocery shop too, not to mention try to get enough sleep to function?  But these are the things we do for tennis because we love it.

For me the Australian Open is my favorite slam - the Happy Slam as Roger calls it.  For those not living in the southern hemisphere it comes during dreary January, always a letdown after the busy holidays and still a long ways off till spring and summer.  What could be better than watching amazing tennis in brilliant sunshine and hot temperatures?

Ok, let's get to what's really important - Roger Federer!  He has now successfully completed two rounds with straight set wins in each (giving him a record 70 wins at the AO).  In his first match against Duckworth he played reasonably well but still with a few bugs to work out, I thought.  But in his 2nd round match against Blaz Kavcic, wow did he give his fans a treat!.  These are the matches that those who love him, those who sacrifice sleep and watch him in the middle of the night, totally live for.  The first two sets were vintage Federer at his absolute best.  The winners he was hitting out of nowhere were breathtaking.  Several times Kavic watched the ball go by with disbelief.  How can a mere mortal come up with those shots? 

Those who went through the difficult 2013 season with him know that he would sometimes play a great match giving his fans hope and then turn around and play a puzzling and disappointing match in the next round.  Given this fact I was very aware while watching the match that we have to completely appreciate these matches where he is playing in god mode.  At the same time, though, it felt like this was a very positive and encouraging sign of what's to come this year, as he is now healthy, he has had a lot of time to practice, and he is adjusting to his new bigger racquet.

At this point it's one match at a time, but I plan to appreciate every moment that I get to watch Roger play his beautiful, graceful and jaw-dropping tennis.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Expectation breeds disappointment - thoughts on Federer's week in Brisbane

As usual after a Federer loss, it takes me a while to process the disappointed emotions.  As I watched the final in Brisbane against Lleyton Hewitt I felt everything from confusion, concern, frustration, disappointment, annoyance, a bit of relief at times, and only little bits of happiness.  I realize, however, that I set myself up for the negative feelings when my expectations are set so high that only winning the tournament will satisfy me.  That realization makes me have to take a more realistic look at what I am expecting from Federer for the year 2014.

First of all, some thoughts on the week in Brisbane and on the final.  I think overall we saw some good positive signs.  He seemed to be moving well for the most part, his serve seemed to be back on board for much of the week, and it just seemed like he had worked himself back into good form.  That's why it was so confusing, especially in the first set of the final, to see a completely different player than what we had seen all week.  Since it doesn't sound like the back was an issue (thankfully), I have absolutely no explanation for that set.  It was encouraging to see him find his rhythm in the 2nd set.  My hope was that he would take that momentum and let it carry him through to the win.  My biggest frustration/disappointment was his inability to capitalize on his multitude of break chances once again.  He won't win tournaments if this continues.  However, the fight, determination, and really quite brilliant play at times from Hewitt gave him an edge that it seemed Roger simply didn't have in this situation.  Was there any feeling of him wanting his old friend to have the special victory?  I tend to think not, but my husband is convinced it played a factor.

On to expectations.  I admit I set myself up because I knew that technically he should win this tournament, and it just seemed that after such a difficult year in 2013 in which he struggled with injury, what better way to start a new season and prove to himself and others that there was a new mindset and determination moving forward now that he is feeling well again.  However, at the stage he is at in his career, with all he has going on in his personal life and with all he has accomplished in the past, I simply can't be "expecting" the very highest anymore.  Do I still desperately want it?  Oh yeah!  But is it realistic?  No.  And do I want to have a depressing tennis year if he doesn't meet up to my "standards?"  Absolutely not!  So over the next week I need to work on my mindset going into the Australian Open and the rest of this year, setting more realistic goals and enjoying every moment that I get to watch him play, no matter whether he is in Maestro mode or in Federror mode.  

As for the positives to take out of Brisbane, he made it to the final, he got good match practice with his new racquet, his friend Rusty got to win a special tournament in his home country (which he really deserved), and he is feeling good with great determination for Melbourne, whatever the outcome ends up being.  Ok, I feel much better already.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Roger Federer starting 2014 off right

Happy New Year Federer fans!  I can't think of a better way to ring in 2014 than with a decisive first win for Roger.  And for me it really was ringing in the new year since I was up watching it at 1 a.m.  I actually went to bed and was going to see the results and hopefully a replay on You Tube in the morning - after all, this is only a 250 tournament, right?  But I woke up a bit before the match was going to start and of course then there was no way I was going back to sleep.  It was well worth sitting at my computer in my bathrobe in the middle of the night!

After the year Roger had in 2013 none of us knew for sure what to expect.  But he has been sounding confident, knowing he is feeling well finally and had a good block of training time, and that certainly gave me confidence that he was going to be a different player than what we saw much of last year.  And that was definitely the case.  I had come to expect, though dread in 2013, the multitude of errors that were coming off his racquet, whether using his old trustworthy 90' or the new bigger racquet head he tried in the summer.  Was that going to be the new but older Federer?  Instead what we saw last night was the confident and aggressive Roger that only showed up on occasion last year.  Of course this still needs to prove itself over several matches, but to me he looked like a different guy to the way he had been playing.  The combination of injury, lack of practice and lack of confidence makes a huge difference.  

I am certainly hoping the negative press and media members who had been claiming his drop in form was all about age will soon have to eat their words and admit that even though he didn't talk about it much until the end of the year, it really was about injury not about decline.  He will have a test against Matosevic in the next round, but I see him getting through it in straight sets.  In fact, to be honest, I see him winning this tournament to start his year off just the way we would want to see it.  Hopefully I'm not setting myself up for disappointment, but that's how much I believe in him for 2014.