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Federer losses – is there more than what meets the eye?

Posted by tennisplanet on March 29, 2007

The first loss at Pacific Life Open was being dismissed as an aberration. But then, two days later, Federer lost the doubles match too, against some unknowns. We let that one slide too, dismissing it as one of those days, for the beloved World’s No. 1.

But two weeks later, he loses again? To the same player? Now people are wondering, is there more to these lapses, than what meets the eye? Is this, the beginning of an end, to the frantic pace, Federer has been on, for the past three and a half years?

Here are some reasons, alongwith suggestions, for Federer to regain the magic touch. Mind you, this is a sincere effort, to point out, what ‘we think’, in the hope that it will lead Federer to even higher goals. It is, in no way, meant to criticize or critic him:

1) It is natural for all of us to relax, specially after having annihilated, everything in sight for a good stretch of time. We all have been there, in our own small way. Times when we have a great run going, we are motivated, we work hard, practice, prepare and get results. It just becomes routine, like second nature.

But with success and money, comes all those temptations, that only success and money can buy. And being human, we are all guilty of letting our guard down, and enjoy the good life we have earned.

But it is impossible to have both, without giving up the discipline and hard work that got us those luxuries, status, friendships or what have you, in the first place. The new life inevitably drains, at the very core of values and ‘down and dirty’ work ethic, which lifted us to this hallowed status.

Rocky II movie, is probably the perfect example of it – where Rocky after becoming a big star (from humble beginnings), now practices in fancy gyms surrounded by hot women and media, whereas the challenger is down in some islolated basement, honing his skills with intense hunger.

You want to look at someone closer and real? How about Serena Williams? She became a celebrity (from humble upbringing) due to her prowess as a tennis player. And that new status, eventually took her out of tennis, almost for good – acting, designing etc. According an open letter, written by Chris Evert in Tennis magazine, she challenged Serena to come back. Chris believed, Serena would have surpassed the best in history, if she had stayed course. 

As they say, nothing stays stagnant. You are either moving up or going down.

In one of his interviews, Pete Sampras was asked, about what his routine was, during his playing days.  As expected, it was two or three days to recuperate after the tournament, and then back to the tennis courts for 6-7 hours a day. He had no girl friend, no other appointments, business engagements or whatever.

That has been the work ethic of any legend, across the board, no matter what their area of expertise is. Just raw talent can get you only so far, without the intense focus and the perspiration.

Maybe, the various interests, that have sprung up around Federer, since he became a star, are taking away from the laser focus and the ‘dirty’ work ethic, required to sustain the unique run, beyond the boundaries set by past legends.

It would be a shame to waste that huge talent, we all recognize in Federer, and not milk it to the last drop. He, undoubtedly, has the potential to set the bar, perhaps, beyond anyone’s reach.

2) As has been the case of any legend in any sport, there comes a time, when his age does not allow him to have the same repetoire of shots, he had when he was at his peak and younger. That’s when he adjusts his game, to counter the inevitable effects of aging, by playing smarter and developing new shots in his arsenal.

For instance, Michael Jordan developed his ‘fade aways’, when he could not take it to the basket as often. He worked on his outside shooting, to compensate for the famous dunks. He was still able to maintain that scoring average and domination of the game, but with new strategy.

Federer will be 26 years of age, in four months, this August. That’s little over middle age in today’s tennis world. With teenagers almost breaking the door down, to gain entry in the elite circle, maybe its time to revise the whole strategy and retool the entire arsenal. Whatever has worked in the past will clearly not work as effectively now, since you are taking away some of the physical prerequisites of that thinking, due to ‘aging’.

The famous example is of ‘the greatest’ Mohammad Ali, when he fought the seemingly invincible, George Foreman in Zaire. Ali was clearly past his prime, facing an intimidating Foreman at his peak. ‘The rope a dope’ tactic developed by Ali, to counter the fierce punching power of Foreman, eventually diffused any advantage Foreman had over Ali. Ali not only won the fight in the 8th round – he KNOCKED him out!!! What a sports spectacle!!! If you haven’t watched the fight, rent the video, and you will have enjoyed one of the most thrilling sports event of all time.

3) Related to above is pacing. Legends begin to use their ability in a very controlled manner. They begin to pace themselves for the bigger moments in their sport, and save their best when it matters the most. Its quality over quantity.

For example, look at Shaq. Just like clockwork, lately, whenever the playoffs come along, Shaq’s numbers, in practically every department, start soaring. In 2005 season, when asked about his team’s little-above-average record in the regular season. He replied “numbers are overrated. Look at the Pistons, they had a phenomenal regular season record, but what happened. They did not win the championship”.

He is now 34 and wisely paces himself, for the important moments, by focusing on the bigger picture. He wants the championship, but he needs to play smarter and save himself, for the big push, when his team needs him the most.

Look at the tournaments Federer has played for the past few years. Maybe, its time for him to be more selective, and screen the various events, based on what he wants his legacy to be, and whether they align with the bigger picture.

-2006-18
-2005-16
-2004-19
-2003-26
-2002-27
-2001-23

By smartly choosing quality over quantity, these legends have, in the process conserved energy,  limited the wear and tear and reduced injuries to the minimum, while preserving their legacy and extending their career beyond the normal life span. You think Connors used some of that, while accumulating a record career 109 titles? You bet.

As tennis fans, we all want Federer to continue and extend his dazzling display, for as long as possible. He is a class act, both on and off the court and a great ambassador for tennis, worldwide. It is due to him, that tennis has gained a new lease of fresh life around the globe. He has wowed and surprised us with his incredible talent, and the tennis world is ever grateful to him. Thanks champ!!!

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