I am writing this post because I want to remain faithful to my blog. But it’s taking everything inside of me to fight the urge to just leave it and move on. I don’t want to replay last night’s match; I don’t think I can go through that experience again. So I’ve decided that I can’t write my usual post, this will be just my take on Roger Federer the past few days.
As recently as my last post, a mere 24 hours ago, I mentioned how happy I was with Roger’s movement. All of that seemed to have evaporated in this match. Throughout the match I noticed him not reaching for shots that he otherwise would have made a run for. There were times when he should have bent down to dig out a dropshot but let his hands do the work the best they could which inevitably didn’t work. His serve, which was already pretty shaky this tournament, dropped down to dismal levels. He hit multiple double faults and unbelievably his second serves were often even worse than his first, he hardly won any points off of them. But none of this would have bothered me as much had I also not detected an overall sense of gloom and negativity. His shoulders drooped, his walk had no confidence and he appeared to have no interest. It almost seemed as if he didn’t even want to try to play better. There was no hunger in his eyes. Just going through the motions one missed shot at a time.
The entire week I thought something was off, he was breathing heavily and sweating a lot from the very first match but I figured maybe it was because the stadium was so hot. Still it’s unusual to see Federer sweat and huff and puff like that. It was the same the next two matches too. I don’t know if ultimately it was his old back problem that had come back to haunt him or maybe it was a flu bug that was going around, we heard reports of Tsonga being sick and who knows, maybe even Goffin. I have another theory though. This drop is quality and demeanor reminded me of another time in the recent past where I had seen Federer like this – the Shanghai Masters last year. And I thought what do they have in common? Then it hit me, his family didn’t travel with him then either.
I think Roger has set up his team just perfectly to his liking. And when they are all together, it works for him. And I think his team not only includes Luthi, Annacone, Vivier and Godsick but most definitely Mirka and at this point even his twin girls. I think it becomes extra difficult for him to find motivation and focus when half his team isn’t with him. Not only was Annacone not there, but more importantly his family wasn’t. Imagine instead of Roger Federer the tennis god, he was an ordinary person off to another country for a work conference and then gets news about his daughters being ill, or something of such nature. He would be distracted like the rest of us. Now I’m not saying that his daughters were sick but I merely wish to illustrate a point. It’s hard being away from your family, especially if you actually don’t do it too often, which he doesn’t if you think about it; perhaps an entire month out of 12 which is highly unusual considering the rest of the ATP.
Before the twins were born Mirka was with him EVERYWHERE all the time. His players’ box might have had different coaches and physios to none throughout the years, but Mirka was always there, no matter how big or how small the tournament. And I’m sure for years she has temporarily filled in as coach, physio, hitting partner and strategist whenever he needed any of them. In his interview a few days ago he joked about having lunch at 5pm and then said in passing “It’s been very quiet. I’m going to bed really late…”. I think he misses the hustle and noise of raising two young children in the house. Conversely when he won Paris Bercy in 2011 and was asked about juggling his life with his children he mentioned how the night before, he needed to get up at 4am for his daughter who felt unwell and laughingly said it wasn’t the best way to prepare for a final but that’s what he needed to do and he was glad he had to do that because maybe that even led him to win the match.
I think Roger is fantastic at multitasking and giving attention to each component of his life very carefully. This includes matches, practice, training, sleeping, the ATP Player’s Council, ATP promotional events, ITF events, sponsors photo and video shoots, media commitments, philanthropy, finalizing his tennis gear with Nike and Wilson and also Mirka and the twins. He seems to thrive on being busy and when this setup is tampered with, maybe he feels like he’s lost his anchor a bit.
Now you can obviously tell me that I’m desperately searching for answers here and who knows maybe I am. Or maybe it’s a combination of this in addition to being sick and/or having back issues. All I know is he didn’t seem like his usual positive self this tournament. Perhaps his next tournament will be a good test of this. It’s in Dubai where his family is so maybe he will be renewed in vigor. He’s also the defending champion there, having won it 5 times so far, and might care more about a title defense at his second home, especially considering he crashed out of Rotterdam. It seems for now though he’s headed to South Africa on Sunday as part of his Roger Federer Foundation commitments and he hopes he can meet the great Nelson Mandela. This also means less practice time leading up to Dubai so I am not entirely sure on how I feel about this. Maybe it will be good to get away from tennis and instead focus on his organization which in turn might motivate him further once he gets back to playing. I guess we’ll find out on the 25th of February which is 9 days from now.
Till then, I hope he can put this behind him and get back some positive energy into himself. If he is feeling personally happy and confident, his tennis will automatically follow. But Roger has been through this time and time again and he wouldn’t be the champion he is if he didn’t know how to handle losses. I always think he handles it so much better than I or any of his fans do. But then again, I would rather have it be this way than the other way around. Our job as fans is to tear apart every draw, to worry about his every cough and sneeze, to scrutinize every opponent and have countless debates on social media with other fans about the merits of our champ. Roger’s job is to rise above it all, to reach the sublime and to prove time and time again how writing him off is dangerous and worrying about him is silly. I am quietly confident that Roger will soar again – and we will be with him every single step of the way. It’s our job, it’s what we do.