Federer has been great to watch in 2013; ofcourse he is not winning as much as he has but his performances always merit mentioning. The great man is entering the Autumn of his career and although the brilliance is still there, he is beset with mental lapses that we rarely saw in his pomp. It does make great viewing as a tennis neutral, we get to see the champ, the greatest ever fight against guys who he would normally swat away with a flick of that perfectly coiffed hair. Federer is against the wall, written off by many journalists and players alike and we now get to see how much fight and hunger he really has for the game.
The season started pretty well for the Swiss, a 5 set defeat against Andy Murray down under maintained his quarter final record and all seemed pretty well in Team Federer. In Rotterdam a surprising loss to Julien Benneteau in February, followed by a three set loss to Birdman Berdych in Dubai began the downward spiral for the Swiss. An injured back didnt help his cause against Rafa in Indian Wells as he fell tamely to the Spaniard 6-4 6-2. A 7 week sabbatical followed by Federer next playing in Madrid, falling in three sets to Japans Kei Nishikori. Talk of decline and been undercooked was rife. In Rome, Federer made the final again to fall to Rafael Nadal 6-1 6-3, expected on the dirt.
In Paris in May, the 34 grand slam quarter finals in a row record on the line, as he fell to a pumped up Jo Wilfried Tsonga in 3 sets, failing to make the semis. In Halle, Federer went back to his favorite surface and won the tournament against Youzhny in three sets. The biggest shock of all was to come, as Federer fell in the second round of his beloved Wimbledon to Stakovsky. The net rushing Ukrainian playing out of his skin to serve and volley Roger off the court. Under normal circumstances Federer would take a summer vacation until the US Hard court season really kicked off however this year he decided to enter the German Tennis Champs and the Credit Agricole Champs on clay. Federer fell to Delbonis in three sets in Germany and was knocked out in the first round in Gstaad. The experiment to get match practice and change rackets proving a failure.
Federer returned a matter of weeks later to the Western and Southern Open in Cincy and was narrowly defeated by Nadal again. On occasion Federer looked back to his best as he sliced through Nadal on both sides early on taking the first set and continuing his form in the second. Unfortunately Nadals relentlessness proving too much again for Federer; but green shoots of positivity certainly for the Swiss.
In the US Open against a guy whom he has beaten umpteen times in a row, Federer fell in three sets to Tommy Robredo, another low in the 2013 season with many scratching their heads at what was going on in camp Federer. Had Roger lost his nerve? Had he played so little and lost so many games in 2013 that his game was beginning to fall apart. The x factor that made Roger the greatest, the belief in his ability, began to desert the Swiss. Could this be the beginning of the end for Roger? Another disappointing result in Shanghai saw La Monf defeat Federer in three sets.
Back in Europe for the Autumn Indoor swing, Federer restored some level of consistency and performance, falling to Del Po in Basel final and in the semis of the Paris Masters against Djokovic both in three sets. The indoor pedigree stood with Federer in the World Tour Finals in London’s 02 arena, as he beat 2 top 10 players back to back to make the semi finals only to fall to that guy again Nadal in the semis.
So an up and down year for Roger where does that leave him? It really is hard to say, Federer suffered from back pain which has dogged his season and admitted that he had only been able to play pain free during the indoor season. The split from Paul Annacone was amicable but a strange one indeed. Annacone and Federer seemed a great fit, with Federers natural instinct to go on the attack and Annacones forward attacking ideals, the match would seem ideal. Clearly not. Federer continues to have Severin Luthi in his box and altough there has been no chat of a replacement, Federer may seek a new voice for an alternative view. The game has changed so much in the past decade, with defence and long drawn out rallies being the key component of winning tennis. Federer is a good defender but simply cannot live with the likes of Murray, Nadal and Djokovic who have incredible movement and defensive capabilities. Federer is also open to attack from big hitters like Del Po, Tsonga and Berdych who all have beaten him in grand slams before.
Looking forward, it is interesting to note that Federer requested that a book about his footwork drills written by Pierre Paganini be suspended until the great man finishes his career. Perhaps an indication of that Federer is hoping to continue for years to come and avoid the dreaded retirement question. Roger stated in his final press conference of the 2013 02 Masters that he aimed to win 5 tournaments in 2014. A bold prediction but from the guy who has won 77 titles including 17 grand slams you wouldnt put it past him.
Formula one aficionados will be familiar with the phrase ‘going off the cliff’ which is used to describe when tyres are so worn that the lap time just drops off dramatically. At times this year, I did think Rogers tennis was about to go off the cliff especially following the clay court losses to Delbonis and Brands. However the strong Autumn and the fighting victory against Del Potro in London demonstrate that Roger does have the hunger and desire and as the song goes, he will continue to do it his way.