After such a climatic year, which involved winning his 17th Major, reclaiming the number one ranking and winning 3 Master titles, what can we expect from Roger in 2013? What is there to look forward to?
Shortly put, a lot! We examine what to expect for the upcoming year and also look at some of Roger’s performances this year, noteworthy events and the arising implications for 2013.
We begin with the positive, first looking at specific brilliant performances and then discussing what Federer generally did well this year.
Notably good matches (and their implications):
Gritty – Federer vs. Del Potro, French Open, Quarter Final, 2012
After losing to Federer in Australia, USA, Dubai and Rotterdam, Del Potro had learned his (four) lessons and knew where to approach this match. He played superbly for two sets, pinning Federer back, crushing his forehand and not giving Federer any time to move him around.
What was so special about this performance was how different the match looked in set four or set five compared to the first two sets. Federer put aside any disappointment from losing the first two sets, composed himself after a further incident (woman shouting) and kept asking Del Potro questions by moving him around the court.
Aware of what was needed to win the match after being two sets down, Federer performed better. He dug deep in, his timing of the ball improved due to no more rushing; at two sets down, rushing is the last thing in your mind. Patience was required, otherwise he would lose. His first serve percentage increased, he came into the net with better approaches and found the range on his forehand. This was a fantastic match for Federer to “come back” and win, as Del Potro will be a big contender for Majors in 2013, Federer can use this specific experience in the future.
Artist – Federer vs. Tomic, Australian Open, Fourth Round, 2012
A true JesusFed performance. Federer played perfect here. In 2012, Tomic built a tenacious reputation for not giving maximum effort in his career, however many forget that he had a superb Australian Open campaign – recording 5 set wins over well-established Top 20 players (Verdasco, Dolgopolov) on route to facing Federer.
Tomic’s game style seems to mock opponents; forehand slices, crazy backhand variations, drop shots and lobs, are all locked in the Tomic tactic manual. He takes opponents out of their comfort zone, recall his match against Nadal last year in Australia, he performed admirably.
Yet, Federer delivered a master class. He was the one being audacious: hitting inside-out forehand slice drop-shots, behind the backhand volley passing-shots. The Australian crowd had built such hype for Tomic, however during this match it was not apparent. Federer has a unique ability to control crowds with his breath-taking play. Tomic was in awe, shaking his head several times at the ridiculous shots Federer hit.
This match illustrated the tennis toolbox that Roger has. He is at his worst when forced to play a certain way or is rushed and is at his best when he plays freely and utilises everything in this toolbox. Watching him in 2013, any match like this should be a good indicator that Federer is still technically sharp and has motivation to play well.
Timing – Federer vs. Nadal, Indian Wells, Semi Final, 2012
The extremely windy weather conditions leading up to this match called for many predicting that Nadal would win. In what would occur, Federer gave a master class of a performance. This performance can be explained by one word: timing.
Federer timed his shots and ideas perfectly. He did not change his usual aggressive approach against Nadal, just handled the wind with suitable timing. Mentally, Federer could have been a Shaolin monk; he was extremely calm, serving an ace to seal the match after a brief rain delay.
This match gives positive feelings towards facing Nadal in 2013. Federer needs to be calm when playing Nadal. No rushing and taking the match point by point is the only way he can break down Nadal.
Taking the Serve Away From a Serve Bot – Federer vs. Raonic, Madrid, Second Round, 2012
Facing a young, motivated and intelligent opponent who was firing aces and winners at will early on, the (seemingly reasonable) tactic to play Raonic from the baseline was not working. Raonic may move poorly and lack speed but his superb footwork and huge power compensate for it.
This match, for a while, was in Raonic’s hand. He was proactive and took everything to Federer. Nalbandian, a good clay-courter, had been swept aside by this intensity in the first round to Raonic.
It made for a remarkable match when Federer decided to serve & volley on first and second serves on clay. The tactic did not always pay off, some of Raonic’s passing shots were superb and Federer had to produce a couple of unbelievable volleys to win crucial points, relying on good timing and execution.
This approach changed the match around gradually, Raonic’s serve still did major damage and he came close to winning. By the latter part of the last set, Federer was the proactive player.
Federer found the winning strategy by not doing what Raonic expected him to do. Which is (on clay) to rally. He had taken time away from shorter players (i.e. ones who cannot serve as big) by taking returns early and making his opponents move behind the baseline. Against Raonic, nobody had found the solution as it is impossible to return his serves; they were just too big. Federer’s unique strategy showed his tactical nous.
Notably bad matches:
Not Enough Creativity – Federer vs. Nadal, Australian Open, Semi Final 2012
This was the first “real match” of the year and it was a treat. Federer took an initial lead, making tennis look easy. Hit the ball to Nadal’s backhand, move around a bit and smack a forehand winner.
Problems arose when Federer could not consistently deliver required attacking shots – he fit far too many backhands down the middle and missed some crucial volleys. Nadal became more aggressive and trapped Federer into a match we have seen before many times; rallying from the baseline. Nadal’s approach here was reminiscent of the early meetings. He won many crucial points with surreal passing shots. Federer dominated play but Nadal won the key points. He chased everything down (when it mattered), with incredible stamina and agility, it’s not a surprise that he made so many superb passing shots.
Federer should have taken Nadal out of his comfort zone. Hitting drop shots is no easy task against Nadal and Federer’s net success record in this match was good. At some crucial moments, his approaches were unprepared and gave Nadal easy passes.
There were far too many baseline rallies (for Federer) and he let Nadal bully his backhand in crucial moments. His backhand held up very well in this match, the sole shot was responsible for taking him from 1-6 in the third set tiebreaker to 5-6. He sliced well (arguably not enough) and hit with good spin. He didn’t target Nadal’s backhand enough and again, this cost him some crucial points.
Nadal’s insane approach to this match and tournament held out for a few more months until his body could not take it anymore and as a consequence, Nadal missed most of the year through injury.
Although just four sets, Federer gave a superb performance here. Nadal’s level was stunning. At the big stages, Federer needs to find a way to make Nadal lose his ideas, court positioning or depth on his shots. Federer didn’t hit many return winners, nor did he try radical tactics enough; slicing consistently, ripping Nadal’s serves, drop shots; all need not be hit severely well, just enough to change the play.
If these two are to meet in a Major in 2013, Federer must not get dragged to Nadal’s level.
Firing the Opponent Up – Federer vs. Berdych, US Open, Quarter Final, 2012
Federer began this match superbly. When playing Berdych, you want to move him around to ensure he cannot dominate with his huge groundstrokes.
It looked good early on; slick slices gave Berdych no rhythm or pace, huge variation on the forehand meant Berdych’s court positioning suffered; he didn’t know where to position himself. Federer hit his backhand up the line superbly in the opening games. Flawless.
This prompted Berdych to play better. Federer took his foot off the gas, Berdych served better and Federer started entering groundstroke rallies with no intention of ending them early by coming to the net or offering something different to which Berdych was not expecting.
It pumped up Berdych enough to stabilise his game and to allow winning this match as a possibility. Early on he focused on just getting into the match after being initially over awed, with Berdych being comfortable with Federer’s game style, he could now apply his ideas.
Many times Federer has beaten fellow top-ranked players comprehensively by specifically playing a creative game, opponents cannot employ their usual game style or ideas as they cannot respond to what Federer is doing on the court. It makes sense that Federer not utilising his creative ability allowed Berdych to integrate his ideas into the game. Suddenly, Federer had to adjust to Berdych’s ideas.
This isn’t the first time this has happened; Federer has lost to Berdych before and has lost to Tsonga, Soderling and Del Potro all in similar ways to this. He gets stuck into rallying from the baseline, forgets his extra qualities (huge variety with both wings, net game, astute tactics) which allow for his opponents to exert their hard groundstrokes and take Federer’s rhythm away.
Federer must not allow matches like this specific one to turn into baseline wars in 2013. They tire him physically and mentally, bringing his confidence down. He needs to approach these match by avoiding any possible rallies until late on. Even then, when he played a first fantastic two sets at the US Open, Quarter Final, 2009, against Soderling, the approach of relaxing and entering more groundstroke rallies allowed Soderling to integrate himself in to the match and the next two sets were very close; 6-7 and 7-6.
Poor Execution and Rushing – Federer vs. Djokovic, French Open (& Rome), Semi Final, 2012
In my view, this was the most painful match for Federer in 2012. He struck his forehand and backhand superbly, his serve fired on all cylinders and his forehand and net game were reasonably well. All in patches. As each set came to its end, Federer became self-destructive; bizarre forehand errors, backhand shanks and awful tactical play all somehow came along.
He was well prepared after beating Del Potro in a testing encounter. Given that Djokovic had almost lost to Tsonga in his last round, Federer came in confident. He had a game plan and he executed it superbly (at times) in all sets; he broke Djokovic five times.
So what changed? Federer started rushing. Djokovic became more aggressive and started forcing Federer to hit bigger shots. Federer’s mind became stuck. No longer did he look to change his approach to ensure Djokovic could not become aggressive, he just hit the ball harder. This worked well in getting the breaks of serve, however it cost him the match and the tournament.
If Federer is insistent on camping to the baseline as he did in this match, he will lose big matches. Not coming to the net because passing shots are “too good” or the style of play is “too risky” isn’t a good reason. If you are getting beaten in straight sets then clearly the approach you have used, camping on the baseline, which is playing Djokovic/Nadal/Murray at their own games, is “too risky”.
This idea should allow Federer to attack freely without any confidence dropped at the prospect of winning more points from the baseline. The modern day game is fixated on homogenised courts with a strong baseline and serve game.
Federer offers more, he should use it. In 2013, it is essential he does so in the big stages. We should look out for his tactics in preparation for the semi-final and (hopefully) final of a Major.
Other noteworthy events
Federer’s six day Southern America tour was a huge success, acquiring new followers and consolidating his current fan base in America.
He may just be the only sportsman with the “perfect” image, exposing himself to countries where professional tennis is not hugely popular (Columbia, Venezuela) is a fantastic business move.
Hence, fans in these countries will associate professional tennis to Federer due to such small exposure and given that Roger’s matches included dancing, wearing exotic soccer shirts, audacious shots and such.
Fans were treated to the fun side of tennis – they saw Federer’s creativity. Also, seeing him wear a hat and man purse is a treat for anyone.
It is likely that Federer will do something similar in 2013, perhaps in the same continent or smaller exhibitions in different parts – he grew up in Europe, has won a lot in North America and Australia, but hasn’t done so much in Asia – untouched countries such as India may be his attention for exhibitions and public appearance.
Federer’s transition into 2013 will be to continue increasing his public image which ensures as his age increases and his playing performance (sadly) decreases, his source of revenue will come from other place; advertising, exhibitions, etc. all relying on a good public image. Consumers are not paying for Federer’s performances in this case, the association is now on Federer being a universal, successful figure.
Overall tactical adjustments and comments
Federer’s belief and motivation for the game is axiomatic. Many fans and “expert” pundits ruled Federer in having no chance to come back so well. Federer’s worked closely with his team (Mirka, Paul Annacone, Severin Lutthi, etc.) to achieve this come back.
With Lutthi expected to be Wawrinka’s full-time coach in 2013, the team could be altered slightly. However, it is unlikely to change Federer’s strategy in the upcoming year, he respects the fans and media but only listens.
Arbias Hashani – Backhand Dropshot