Tuesday Food for Thought

My flu meds and electoral rage have given me a rare moment of lucidity, so let me write this in the only way I know how – numbered, listed, for and against. The acknowledged limitations of my education.

1. With Roger Federer’s win this weekend, speculations have begun as to what role Annacone played in his two weeks of good form. The most popular theory seems to be that the biggest change brought about by the Federcone was in the attack game – serve and volley, chip and charge, this is what Annacone and his past protégés are all about. I wonder though, how much of this victory was due to a change in coaching and not to other factors – i.e. more rest, a fired-up Federer post-Wimbledon loss. I’m  firm believer that as a genuine blue chip, Roger Federer’s stocks are only capable of sinking so low, and any emotional investments I make will one day be returned in abundance. At Wimbledon, he hit the nadir, and as if you needed to see Wogie McFed’s sourpuss face after losing to Berdych to know that he’s had enough.

In fact, the single, consistent message we got from those associated with Feddykins during his 6 week break from tennis post-Wimbledon was that he practiced like a maniac and sought outside help. If there were positive indications that Mr Federer’s stocks were on their way up, they came earlier than Toronto 2010, and came at least partly out of a desire to ‘get’em back’.

I’m not trying to discredit Annacone’s role here. As far as coaches go, sans Daren Cahill, I can’t think of a better match for the Fed than the Cone. But isn’t it a little premature to make out grand theories as to what Annacone may or may not have done for Federer based on pure speculation and Federer’s newfound willingness to attack, conquer and spit on his opponent’s remains?

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’m hesitant to buy this “new coach, immediate success” story. As the Fed himself says, let’s reevaluate post-US Open. We may have very different, and possibly not very nice things to say about the Federcone then.

2. And where does all this leave Severin Luthi? He was court-side as usual last week, and his presence sparked the general mixture of emotions from Federer fans: love for his absolute loyalty to Fed, exasperation – the same kind you get when you see the most beautiful woman dating … well the antonym of “the most beautiful man”, and general WTFuckery – the inexplicable relationship between the two which Federer himself calls “coaching”, if only we believed him.

In a way, Luthi’s tight-lipped media-shyness over the years hasn’t done him any favours with the so-called tennis connoisseurs out there. We have no real evidence that he has a mind independent of Roger, or an authority to guide, instruct or direct Federer to try something he doesn’t want to try. In this sense, Luthi has been reimagined by the media and by fans into something more akin to a confidant, rather than a coach. I wonder if that’s true.

But then again, perhaps Luthi’s discreetness is precisely his biggest asset, for Federer has shown him more loyalty than he has to anyone else on his team, save Mirka. Hey, what do I know?

3. Personally, I’m thrilled to see Federer back at No 2, but for reasons more vain than practical. I was never worried that Fed wasn’t going to move up the rankings again. After all, dude is defending a shiny total of 5 points between Shanghai and Bercy, and don’t get me started on the rankings bonanza post-Australian Open next year. Sneak attack on the rankings, don’t say you weren’t warned, ATP.

But back to the present: essentially, the difference between a No 2 seed and a No 3 seed at the Open is the difference between getting Nadal for the semifinal or Murray for the semifinal. Which is really the better choice here – rankings be damned?

I wanted to avoid a Federer v Nadal semi for sentimental reasons, but who am I to say that a 50% chance of getting Murray for the semifinal is really the better draw over a 50% chance of getting Nadal? Not based on recent results anyway, although I would never bet against Nadal, not even in my feverishly delirious state. In either case, Djokovic seems to be the bunny of the lot … until the bunny turns into something far more sinister and carnivorous. Come on, it’s a slam after all, the only prudent thing to do is to be scared shitless of everyone.

4. In the clusterfuck of my life over the last weekend, I almost missed the fact that Serena Williams has pulled out of the US Open. Let me be the first to slap an asterisk onto that trophy, since we’re such fans of asterisks in modern tennis.

But her absence (along with the absence of Henin) has indeed decapitated the field. Who’s going to win it now? Svetlana? Sure, she’s in good form, but when her form is good, the last thing she needs to know is that the seas have been parted for her to win a third slam. GodforbidWozniacki? Fortune favours the brave. Aggression wins slams. May those remain truths universal. Will Kim Clijsters defend her title? For some reason, I don’t see it happening. Happy to eat my humblepie should I be proven otherwise. Venus? Perhaps. If she doesn’t lose to someone ranked outside the top 40 in the first week.

And somewhere in a hotel room in New York, hope lives on in Sharpie’s heart.

What say you?

xx doots


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28 responses to “Tuesday Food for Thought”

  1. TennisAce says :

    The media and certain blogs have been hyping Sharapova to win the USO this year even before Serena’s withdrawal. I posited the view a few weeks ago whether they knew something that the rest of us did not. Serena’s withdrawal from the Open did not come as a shock to me. What is a shock to me and which is quite under reported is that ever since the USO 09 Serena has not played a match on US soil? That should give fans of women’s tennis cause for pause. She returns to competition in September in Japan.

    Now, as to the asterisk, of course everyone breathed a sigh of relief when she withdrew. No one, and that includes Sharapova wants to see Serena in the draw next to their names. It gives a lot of them a fighting chance now. Some are now trumpeting Wozniacki as the new IT girl as well as a future No. 1. Women’s tennis has never looked as dim as it does now.

    As for Federer, I will posit the view expressed by someone else, i.e. that Federer was already getting advice from Annacone prior to announcing the trial period. I think a lot of what we saw in the last 2 weeks has more to do with Fed’s confidence in his game, his health being back to what it was and him feeling less pressure to perform on the big stages.
    Just as how Nadal had no confidence for the 11 months that he went without a title, so too must Roger has felt when he went almost 8 months without a title. He is back on his favourite surface for the rest of the year and all things being healthy and equal he could have a good run at the USO until the end of the year.

    • dootsiez says :

      “I will posit the view expressed by someone else, i.e. that Federer was already getting advice from Annacone prior to announcing the trial period.”

      I’m intrigued. Why this theory?

  2. marcoiac says :

    for some reason rafa now has an aura that is similar to the one fed had during his magic stretch, when he lost 15 matches in three years. but i really see no reason why fed should be scared of rafa. i actually see no reason why any top player should be scared of playing rafa on hard court. last time rafa won a hard court title was more than two years ago. obviously, it doesn’t mean he can’t win the us open. of course he can. but i wouldn’t worry much about him. i don’t think seeding is important. what’s important is how fed plays. let’s face it, his game isn’t as solid as it used to be during the magic stretch. he’s making more unforced errors. so, he needs to shorten the points and attack. this is why he started talking to annacone. i think annacone’s role is to keep reminding him that he needs to attack, chip and charge, and all that jazz. players tend to fallback to their habits, and fed likes being glued to the baseline. when he wasn’t missing anything, it was working fine. but now he misses shots, so he can’t afford to stay in the rally for too long. and he’s not getting any younger. shorter points mean less demands on his body.

    i think fed needs both annacone and luthi (and he definitely can afford to have both on his payroll….) annacone will give him that all-attack perspective, luthi is the friend-coach that every player dreams about. you need a buddy on tour. no matter how full is your personal life (and fed seems well equipped in that department) and busy you are with sponsors, media etc, you need somebody to talk to. luthi is a good guy, and a competent tennis mind that fills that role for fed.

    let’s not forget that after a good week of fairly aggressive tennis, when he played the final against mardy fish, fed showed a little more reluctance to attack. obviously, it takes two to tango. mardy’s game was pushing fed a little back on the court, but fed could have pushed a little more. no matter how many times you tell yourself the game strategy, your body will go back to habits, routines. annacone needs to be the broken record that keeps playing one single note: attack.

    • dootsiez says :

      In general agreement with you Marco. Fed has his “cat-and-mouse” tennis and recently, that style of tennis has been letting him down.

      Besides, he’s one of the most complete players to have ever graced this sport, why SHOULDN’T he attack, chip and charge and play the kind of tennis some players out there *can’t* play.

  3. Matt Zemek says :

    Basically, Doots, the value of the 2 seed is this: Nadal AND Murray are not potential semifinal opponents. Only Murray is. Sure, if Murray’s name comes up in Fed’s half on Thursday, it’s bad luck, but Nadal is at least out of the semifinal equation; Fed took care of the 1 thing he could control, and that’s making sure Nadal wasn’t a semifinal foe.

    On a tangentially related matter, I did some research last night: I would have sworn before the research that Laver and Rosewall, or other awesome Aussies from the 1960s, would have contested all 4 Grand Slam finals. Nope.

    I couldn’t find any one pair of men’s tennis players who have contested all 4 Grand Slam finals. Federer and Nadal MIGHT be the first, unless there’s an uber-researcher who knows of a pair of men who have done it before. If Woger and Wafa would indeed become the first men to face each other in all 4 Slam finals, that would be phenomenal with a capital F, as in one of your patented “F— YEAH”s. 😉

    So there’s that, too, in addition to Federer reducing the odds that he’ll play both Nadal and Murray in this tournament.

    For the women, let’s just look at the draw and see who gets the path paved with gold. It’s already a lottery to see who wins; the draw will have a major impact. Will a player have to navigate, for instance, the top half of the 2007 women’s draw (Henin), or the bottom half of that draw (Kuznetsova)? Land mines or lollipops? Whoever gets the lollipops will be playing on the night of Saturday, Sept. 11 on CBS (barring the rain which screwed with the tournament last year).

    • dootsiez says :

      Oi Matt, me thinks there is a flaw to your logic. The No 3 seed CANNOT meet the No 4 seed before the final. So if Fed = 3, and Muzz = 4, there is no conceivable way for them to meet in the semis, thus the choice is Nadal OR Murray.

      I’m just not sure if Fed made a fair trade. But oh well, draw Djokovic on your side/lose early and none of that is an issue.

  4. evie says :

    The media is crazy to attribute any Fed success — from making a volley on a particular point to winning Cincy — to Annacone. I’ve never seen anything like it. Perhaps you’re right and it’s Luthi’s lack of media engagement that keeps them continuing to discredit his role, though to be fair, Roger has only started pressing the issue that he’s the Coach in the last year or so. I think he liked saying he’s coachless all those years.

    I said before, I don’t get how a “trial period” works when the guy is not invited to a Masters and may or may not be invited to USO. What exactly is he trying out for? His ability to give advice in the off-season and over the phone? I’m sure there are lots of complexities behind an arrangement I can’t conceive of, but Roger has not given the guy any public signs that he’ll be on Team Fed, save calling him a “nice guy.” Weak tea.

    Rafa’s presser was pretty interesting after his loss in the Annacone context. It was probably completely unrelated, but he told the press that coaches at his level don’t make much of a difference, that it’s the player alone who wins and loses matches. He was probably trying to protect the coach who travels with him when Toni is out of the picture, but I still found it interesting.

    I saw Roger in Cincy. It’s such a small venue comparatively, which makes it great for close-up viewing and rubbing shoulders with greatness, one degree separated. Luthi was feet away from us, though of course, no one seemed to know him. He gave a nice Thank You nod to the woman a few seats away who quietly held up a large Swiss flag during every changeover.

    Understated. I guees that’s how they like to roll.

    (p.s. – hope you feel better!)

    • dootsiez says :

      I do feel better, thanks Evie.

      I thought one of the reasons Annacone wasn’t “invited” to Cincy was actually because he’s technically still employed with the LTA and still had duties there?

      I think Fed started conceding that Luthi was his coach after Higueras came and went and Cahill didn’t work out. Not that it mattered – the media kept on saying Federer was coachless anyway. Federer doesn’t work with his coaches the way other players do – he doesn’t depend on them, he doesn’t require them there for emotional pep talks, each time he seeks a coach, he seems to already have something specific in mind.

      I’m with you though: it’s hilarious the way the media has been crediting every single thing Federer has done well this tournament to Annacone. When he wasn’t even there.

  5. A_Gallivant says :

    I think Fed’s lung infection between OZ and the US hard court mini season really messed with his preparation and he never really got his legs under him through much of the European season. No one mentions that Fed and Mirka decided to forego nannies and such for a brief spell and Mirka got sick and Fed immediately followed.I for one think that the post Wimbly break is a reason for Fed’s return to more impressive, if not “magical” form. He suggested as much in his presser that he had become a bit more passive and he needed to take his game to more guys. I am sure Cone probably echoed these sentiments.

    As for Luthi, I am really not sure the extent of his input but I am not as dismissive of him, I am sure they have talked strategy but probably not in the ‘tell me what to’ coach model say of WTA or Stefanki to Roddick. But maybe I am thinking too highly of Fed.

    • dootsiez says :

      Good point. I definitely think the lung infection played more of a part than has been acknowledged in the media, simple because I don’t see how else you can explain Federer going from his AO2010 form to IW/Miami 2010 form. If you think about it – new parents, sick kids, put in a trip to Ethiopia as well, I doubt he got much practice and training in during that period of time. Colour me surprised if it didn’t affect his tennis – he basically played himself into semi-respectable form over the clay season.

  6. flo says :

    I think the tennis crickets should stop this new “Federer is the favourite for the US Open” meme (especially Bodo the Dodo as in he needs to be extinct in the tennis writing world). I mean, it’s great to see proof of how quickly they’ll shift their opinions but they are flat out wrong. Murray is the favourite by a hair over Nadal and Federer is third not far off but certainly not in the lead. The pressure is on Murray to win his first on his best surface after vanquishing all comers in Toronto and on Nadal to complete his grand slam collection. Clearly, Roger is the guy with nothing to lose; just playing with house money at this point.

    • dootsiez says :

      I’ve got Murray as my favourite, Federer comes in second by a hair. Reasons are results based (while yours seem to be more motivation based): Murray got all the match play and momentum he needed in Toronto, toughed out a few in the heat in Cincy. It matters not that he lost early there, it matters that he gets to New York with plenty of time for rest and recoop. He’ll be the favourite for the US Open.

      It annoys me how quickly the tennis media changes their tune though. Roddick beats 2 top 5 players and suddenly, he’s a contender at the Open. Rafa loses a semi and a quarter and he’s looking oh-so-vulnerable on hard court, when just a few weeks ago, before the summer hard courts were in full swing, he was the odds on favourite to take the US Open.

      Meh. They should all head for extinction as far as I’m concerned.

  7. TGIF says :

    You wrote about Luthi:

    “We have no real evidence that he has a mind independent of Roger, or an authority to guide, instruct or direct Federer to try something he doesn’t want to try.”

    I have no idea what, if any, Luthi’s suggestions have been ,but I don’t think anyone has the authority to get Fed to do anything he doesn’t want to do. When asked about Annacone’s advice, he mentioned that the two of them “debate.” Fed may want to hear some new ideas, but he ain’t gonna follow them if he doesn’t want to. Obviously his run of bad results has made him somewhat more open to experimenting, but I think that would be the case with or without Annacone.

    • dootsiez says :

      I guess authority is a bad word, a better one would be persuasion. The point I was trying to make, TGIF, is that sometimes, someone can be so close to you that you are less likely to value their opinion the way you would value an independent “outsider”, which is why I do think Roger needs a third person there like the Cone to get him to try new strategies.

      A player can have one or two weapons, but Roger Federer has a great number. There is so much more creative strategising he can do with his talent and I do think the right person needs to be there to encourage him to continue to try.

  8. Deborah says :

    One of the best admissions about being wrong about Roger came from PMac during the Cincy semi. He pointed out that he had a lot to say about what Roger needed post AO 09, that Roger basically did nothing (that PMac could see) and came back strong, wins at FO, Wimby, Cincy, and finalist at US Open. Let’s face it: the biggest issue the tennis pundits have with Roger is that he is Roger. The really don’t pay any attention to what he says unless it reinforces the narrative they have already written. Roger was very clear that Annacone would not be in Cincy before Toronto. Why were the pundits acting so surprised (fake)? PA is still under contract to LTA, that’s why he was not in Roger’s box during the Murray match. Roger will do what he needs to do the play at as high a level as he can for this stage of his career. I’ll put my money on the man with 16 Slams when it comes to decision making.

    • A_Gallivant says :

      agree with you on that Deborah! I didn’t understand how they didn’t know about Anacone for Cincy when it was already mentioned in Toronto that he wouldn’t be there due to LTA obligations and such. I think someone said a while back that Roger has done it his way for a long time and pundits, coaches, et. al find it all a bit galling.

  9. pban says :

    Whether Roger continues with Annacone or not Ifeel he needs a third person view of his game,ultimately the truly greats will do exactly what they want because it is this stubborness which defines their greatness.I have always felt that he should hire Pete’s coach and Iwas totally thrilled with Feddy when he did .

  10. flo says :

    After reading that MArtin Devlin crap I think I’ve come to some rules about how to tell if someone actually knows anything about tennis. These are the ones I’m adding from that particular article, if some writes these then I call bs on their credibility to give a worthy opinion on tennis:

    1) that the Australian Open and US Open are played on the same surface
    2) that Federer “overpowered” Nadal at Wimbledon on those occasions on which he won

    minor ones:
    3) that winning 4 of the last 11 slams is a sign Federer won’t add another slam
    4) that Nadal’s durability and dominance is a given
    5) “Nadal’s effortless victories in the same two tournaments this year” – dude had some tough matches at Wimbledon.

  11. jfK says :

    This is from a french member of RF.com
    “In the frnch newspaper l’equioe.fr dated this Thursday, they are indicating that Roger is practicing will Gilles Simon, and mention that Paul annacone is attending the training sessions. “

  12. pban says :

    he practised with Simon last year as well, dude what happened to leSod??

  13. J.A.A. says :

    Not sure if you ever read the New Yorker article on federer. This is an audiobook version. It starts around the 21 minute mark.


  14. Ben says :

    Nice post. It’s nice seeing Federer play a more aggressive style of tennis. I think he’s going to do very well at the US Open.

  15. Philip says :

    It looks like Roger is going to debut his often practiced two-handed backhand at the US Open. What is this tomfoolery! He’s even hitting it with a straight face.

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