In the midst of a certain grass court slam that shall not be named, Roger Federer made 2 announcements in 2 days: #1. He will play in Gstaad, an ATP 250 clay tourney. The last time he played there he won the title, back in 2004. #2. He will also play in Hamburg, an ATP 500 clay tourney, which used to be a Masters back in the day. He had some fabulous moments at Hamburg, a title he won 4 times including his 2007 win over Rafa breaking the Spaniard’s 81 match winning streak on clay.
I’m glad Roger has chosen to play these tourneys. Not only will it add more ATP ranking points, it will also help him with more match practice and build up his confidence. I saw a lot of comments bemoaning about why he’s playing 2 clay tourneys before the hard court swing. Well frankly, there aren’t any hard court tourneys in Europe in the coming months and it makes no sense to travel to the US (or Bogota!) so early. Besides, I think he needs practice in terms of honing his match skills, not necessarily practice on a particular surface. Also, these tourneys allow him to stay home (Gstaad) or relatively close to it (Hamburg) with his family so it works out in every way.
It’s interesting that some people are thinking Roger is planning his retirement via these tourneys because I actually see it completely differently. To me it signals that he’s still here, he’s ready to fight, and he wants his wins and points so count him out at your own peril. Rafa went all the way to South America to jump start his return with an ATP 250. I fail to see the problem with Roger doing something similar. Whatever makes him feel better about his game, I’m all for it.
I do agree that this makes his schedule quite busy which is why I still think there is a chance he will skip Bercy again this year. If he gets enough points before then to qualify for the WTFs, I don’t see him going there. (I actually think Bercy this year might suffer a repeat of last year with other players leaving early too. This issue will be resolved in 2014 when there will be a week in between Bercy and the WTFs allowing the top 8 a bit of a break before London.)
I can also see Roger tweaking the rest of his schedule to fall in line with how the year goes. Maybe he will add an ATP 500 like Tokyo in the gap between the US Open and Shanghai. What I do feel strongly about is that he will do everything in his power to be able to qualify for London. I actually think the World Tour Finals are his 2nd favorite tournament after Wimbledon. And he’s used this tourney plenty of times to turn things around to end the year on a positive note; 2010 and 2011 come to mind. So we might see a rearranging of the schedule keeping London as the goal.
But back to the present, I hope Roger has some good tourneys in the next few months. I’m a little wary because the field is quite tough for both Gstaad and Hamburg with the likes of Wawrinka and Haas. Regardless of whether he wins any tittles or not, I hope he goes deep, plays well and most importantly, gets his confidence back. It’s important that he is at a good place mentally before the North American season starts. In the meantime, we fans get to see him play more which is frankly a relief as well as joy; the thought of having to go 5 whole weeks without seeing the Maestro was not a summer I was looking forward to :(. Thank you Roger for giving us something to cheer for!