Roland Garros: Half Way Point

Well well well, Roger Federer.

Here’s a nice little thumbs up right back at ya!

28 grand slam quarterfinals. 7 years of never EVER losing in Week 1 of a slam. DROP YOUR PANTS IN RE-SPECT PEOPLE. For freakishly spectacular specimen of a man.

Not only was Mister Fed quite untroubled in his fourth round Swiss Derby yesterday against Stan Not-So-Man, the man played like his ass was practically on fire, leaving a blaze trail of ashes and burnt Wawrinka neck beard behind on court as he cruised to a 63 62 75 win.

It’s something that I don’t want to say as a Federer fan, so just to keep it discreet: I’ve been genuinely frightened by Wogie’s form this tournament, which has been slightly short of “Tee Em Eff” in all his miraculous glory. And perhaps most importantly of all, there is such an ease and joy to his play, and it’s reminding me each match of why I became a fan of Federer in the first place.

But the difference between Federer now and Federer 18 months ago is that I can no longer depend on him to peak at the right time over a two week period. There were matches in the past year where he played like he just needed to stretch out his hand and the world would be his once again. And yet, the very next match would give us a different Federer, one that didn’t convert his break points; one that let sitting duck second serves fly away quacking gleefully; one that netted backhands lethargically and shanked overheads into the net with a groan.

Yet, against all reason, against all my prior predictions before the tournament, hope springs eternal.

By the way, how good was Federer’s backhand yesterday? We were so back in the funhouse I almost pee-peed myself in excitement. (Sorry for the cut + paste job, I am rather terrible at selecting the “relevant quotes”).

Q. Could you talk about the backhand stroke a one-hander versus a two-hander? Which is better for the modern game, strengths and weaknesses? Who has the best ones out there?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, two are out there right now. I have seen many good ones over the years starting with Connors, I guess, and maybe even before, Borg and… Yeah, I’m forgetting many, you know. It depends on what kind of a surface you’re playing on, you know. I think we always adapt our techniques compared to the conditions, you know.

I think the strings have changed the game in the last I think 15 years quite a lot, or 20 years, let’s say. Racquets maybe first, then the strings followed suit the last 10 years. I think that has allowed us to play with much more spin so we can use extreme grips.

I sometimes find probably two-hander is probably better these days, but just because I think the slice is a shot you can work on, you know, as a two-hander, too, and have a good one, too. But then you’re maybe caught in, When should I play what shot? So that’s maybe a bit of the issue when you have a two-hander; whereas with the one-hander it’s very natural. You know when to slice. You know when to come over it. Because with your footwork, then there’s only one option which makes it just a bit easier. But then the variety is obviously nicer to have I think with a one-hander.

But you’ve got to be strong. I think it’s hard early on when you’re young to switch to a one-hander, just because it takes a lot of strength, which you don’t have early on, so it’s frustrating.

I went through that, and honestly I can’t believe how good my backhand has become over the years, because it was never my strength. But everybody played into it, and today it’s actually pretty good. I think that happened to many players out there on tour. You know, you thought this guy has a weak forehand, everybody plays into it, and all of a sudden today it’s a great forehand.

We help each other out really, I think. (Laughter.)

Q. Obviously Novak has an incredible streak going. You’ve had some incredible successes. Does a player in his mindset ever get to the point where you think like you can’t lose, you just expect to always win? Can you talk about that a little bit?

ROGER FEDERER: I mean, to a degree. I think you’ll definitely feel invincible at times, like with certain players who you have a great record against, you have never lost or you beat the guy over six, seven times in a row and stuff like that.

We definitely go into the match thinking, Jeez, something really crazy has to happen today that I will lose. But in a knockout system like we have in tennis, you’re never quite sure. That’s why you always prepare the same way, take the same amount of shirts, same amount of racquets, and don’t underestimate and not disrespect any opponents.

The trickier part is all of a sudden you think I’m winning so much, eventually it’s going to snap that streak. That was the trickier part for me; when everybody started to talk about it, the more there was talk, the more likely it was going to happen.

It’s kind of tough to keep your head down and just focus, really.

Q. Everybody talks about Djokovic, but you’ve also beat a record today reaching the quarterfinals. So he has pressure. There is less pressure on you. So is this something which is favorable in a Grand Slam?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, I’m focusing on my next opponent that will be either Monfils or Ferrer, I think. Right now I’m just happy I managed to beat Stan. He’s a great player. At the same time, I’m a bit sad for him. I’ve not had time to think about anything else over the last 45 minutes, so that’s why. My preparation is going to start later this afternoon and tomorrow when I’ll practice again. That’s the way it goes.

Quarterfinals, 28 quarterfinals in a row, that’s great, but that’s another opportunity for me to go one step further. That’s why I’m very proud I accomplished that, and I hope I can go one step further than last year, and then we’ll see.

Check out this great interview post match with Mats.

You gotta admire the memory of Wogie McFed. After 13 years on tour, dude still remembers how he felt before winning his second career title in Sydney, and tells the story like he was that scared little boy again. Fabulous moment.

Meanwhile, another easy day at the office for the Djoker, who took out Gasquet in straight sets. After the match, the Djoker was asked the same question as Federer about singlehanded and doublehanded backhands:

Q. Out on center court this afternoon we had– Stan and Roger were on, and then you and Gasquet.Four incredible backhands. Could you talk about the backhand, the one-handed versus the two-handed? Which overall do you think is stronger and who are the best backhands out there?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, to be honest, you know, even as a two-hander, I still think one-handed backhand is better to watch. Just it looks better when somebody hits it. I guess each of those, you know, two backhands have advantages and maybe disadvantages. It really depends, you know. Maybe nowadays, because of the bounce of the balls, which is I think higher than ever, than it used to be, maybe with a two-handed backhand you can get it on the top, you know, top of the strike zone easier than with one hand.

But still, one-handers can switch to slice much faster than two-handed. So there are advantages and disadvantages, I guess. And at this point, you know, you have obviously Roger and, as you said, Stan Wawrinka and Gasquet are three of the best one-handed backhands in the game. Gasquet, when he’s in the zone, when he strikes that backhand, even today couple shots were just incredible. Great talent. You know, you need to, I guess, rely on all of your shots, not just your backhand.

We’ve gotten to the point in tennis now when every single person knows what the next big story is going to be: the snapping of Djokovic’s streak. The “known unknown” here is the question of when.

For his part, Djoko is faced with the problem of having to 1) talk about him winning, 2) talk about the pressure of all that winning, and 3) talk about the possibility of not winning the next match.

As much as I find the guy about as endearing as a giant, human-sized slug, he has handled the press with aplomb and a whole lotta political correctness.

Q. Obviously there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of talk, the streak, No. 1, everything. And yet mentally you seem to be really in a zone. You seem to be handling it incredibly well. Is that something you had to work on, or is it just something that came naturally and you’re just handling it well?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it requires definitely work and spending a lot of time working on the court, thinking about the sport, thinking about the best possible way to approach the sport. You know, try to have the emotional stability, you know, every day, because tennis has the longest season in all sports. And really it’s really a requiring sport. You have to travel and play so many matches on different surfaces, different continents, different countries. It really is a mental game. In the end, everybody works very hard.

So I think it came as well over the years, because I have been really playing on the top level for last four years. And I have a lot of experience now, even though I’m still young. But I have a lot of experience, and I have been trying to learn every single day of my career. Now it’s getting together.

Just as Djokovic and Federer seem at ease with life and tennis in their “relevant quotes”, life has been less rosy for Rafa.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Nadal is going through a period of mental fatigue as years of grinding and recent challenges in his own backyard catch up on him. His latest press conference reads more like a musing veteran disillusioned with the System, rather than a young man who is still – as of this week – No 1 in the world.

Q. You said the other day in Spanish that you feel the pressure to have to defend your ranking every day, every week. Is it a new feeling, or did you have this feeling the years before?

RAFAEL NADAL: No one new feeling. Is my ninth year on the tour. Is completely the same feeling every year. Well, is my seventh being top 2 in the rankings, so is nothing new to have to defend points today, no? But, you know, that’s for the players in the mental part, physical part. You can’t. You don’t have the chance to stop, never, you know. I think for that situation we have a shorter career.

So having a different model of ranking, a different moment, a different model of competition, I think we can have longer career, no? Because in my opinion, you know, I have almost 25, but seems like I am playing for 100 years here on the tour. (Laughter.)

So I think that’s not possible. And I have this feeling, too, but I have this feeling because is too much every year, every week, you know. I didn’t spend a weekend at home right now since the week of Davis Cup after– before Indian Wells, you know.

In my opinion, that’s too much. In my opinion, the tennis is a very demanding sport mentally and physically. And mentally is special, too. Because you win a tournament, the winner of Roland Garros– well, it happened to me. I won Roland Garros five times, but next Monday I am practicing on Queen’s.

So that’s makes the career shorter for everybody, my opinion, no? And that probably is difficult, have a difficult solution, because we have four Grand Slams, we have nine Masters 1000, and the year is 12 months. But what have a better solution is have a little bit longer stop at the end of the season. I know that they’re gonna reduce two weeks next year, but, seriously, is not enough.

It’s something that I don’t gonna have these changes for my generation, but hopefully for the next generations to have a better sports life. Because I think you need two months, two months and a half of rest at the end of the season. You have to practice.

I never able to practice and to try to improve the things during the offseason, and that’s something I think terrible. Because then it’s like, you know, that’s the game. The game is challenging to keep improving, try to be better player all the time, and you only can try that in the tournaments.

It’s good to try to have one month and a half to say, Come on, let’s go and try to serve this way one month without the pressure to have to compete in two weeks. So that’s not happening. Sometimes it’s like work.

And, in my opinion, tennis is not work. Is passion. Is different — the perspective, in my opinion, is different. With this calendar and with these rankings all the time, it’s like work.

And in news just breaking as I write this, FabFog, with his eyebrows of Amazonian density, has announced that he is pulling out of the tournament after his 5 set marathon win over the Spaniard-No-One-Gives-a-Shit-About: Montanes. Novak Djokovic is through to the semifinals.

Someone keep Albert away from cliffs.

xx doots

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13 responses to “Roland Garros: Half Way Point”

  1. virgilou says :

    Interesting post Doots. Personnaly, I think Nadal should just stop whining and get on with it. What he’s going through, all the other top players are going through also… Fed was number one for 285 weeks and I don’t remember him complaining that much about the calendar, the rankings, the pressure and so-on… Of course, there’s only one Federer; this guy was really meant to be a Champion!
    Having said that, I do agree that the calendar year should be more mellow… and it’s going to happen with those two more weeks of time-off.

  2. TennisAce says :

    As I told Doots on twitter, I am not feeling very sympatico towards Nadal and his comments regarding the season, defending the No. 1 ranking etc. He is 24 years old. He is a multi-millionaire. He is popular and he is really very good at playing tennis. Even worse, he still lives at home and has his parents picking up after him. Tennis is your job. He can choose his own schedule, play whatever tournaments he wants to play etc. Hearing him whinge and moan every year about the schedule and about the rankings etc., annoys me because for years Federer did that and you never heard him complain not once. Now all of a sudden the rankings should be over 2 years instead of 1 and there are too many tournaments. If Nadal believes that the season is too long, he can do like so many players who believe that it is too long, cut your own schedule. The Williams Sisters have done it for years, and have not suffered too much as a result of it. He needs to take stock of what is important to him, do I need to win Monte Carlo and Barcelona every year or do I need to win more majors?

    As far as the Williams sisters are concerned, the Slams are what are important. For Nadal it is every clay tournament where there is a net. It is not the ATP schedule. It is Nadal’s schedule.

  3. Blue says :

    Rafa and Nole’s answers on facing pressure and the rigours of the tennis circuit really puts into perspective what Roger has dealt with so wonderfully for the last 13 years. And they’re both at least 5 years younger than Rog. I’m so not thrilled about Djokovic’s free pass to the semis! 😐

  4. Deborah says :

    Great article, doots and the contrast between the way the current number one and Roger have handled the pressure of sitting on top of the rankings is obviously way too difficult for the tennis “relevant quotes” press to explore and discuss. Even your analysis of the Djoker and his handling of the streak is so much more impressive than anything I’ve seen in the so-called mainstream sports media. Whenever I see an interview with Roger, I’m also struck by his ability to recall and understand the events in his career and how they contributed to making him who he is today. So positively self-aware.

    As for the actual tournament, I’m still in a match by match mode, hoping to see him extend his run through Sunday but I have loved every moment of his first week and he seems to share that feeling. It’s a good thing.

  5. marcoiac says :

    i think it’s also how you play the game. the way rafa and nole play, it’s so mentally and physically intense, that you got to burn out sooner than players like fed, who’s a guy dancing on the court. i am actually amazed rafa stayed on top for so long. he really burns his candle from both sides.
    that’s why sampras accomplished so much (ok, he was an amazing baller, of course). he was so laid back. that helps.

  6. caliope says :

    Roger looks like a top model on this interview!

  7. steve says :

    Heavy is the head that wears the crown, they say, but Federer is the happy exception.

    You would expect the winner of so many Grand Slams to be a dignified, solemn personage, weighed down by the crushing burden of so many great victories, not this genial, plump-cheeked, impish fellow who laughs and jokes so easily.

    He’s not given enough credit for his sound and well-adjusted mentality, his ability to endure the rigors of the tour: injuries, travel, media responsibilities, the demands of fans and sponsors. It is this mentality that ultimately will prolong his career, when others burn out and get mentally frazzled. And now that he has his family traveling with him, he’s even more motivated to continue playing.

    As for Nadal: has there ever been such a little Lord Fauntleroy? 24 years old, world-famous, he’s won every prize there is in his sport. He makes millions of dollars just for hitting a ball around (this in a world where 95% of humanity ekes out a bare living with the labor of their hands) and he thinks he’s working too hard?

    And he’s showing a lack of understanding of the real world with that comment about tennis being “passion”, not work. Tennis IS work. It’s a job. He gets paid to do it, whether he enjoys it or not. If he doesn’t like it, he should quit. He didn’t complain about all this pressure when he was winning everything. Now he’s lost a couple of finals to Djokovic and suddenly tennis is too much work for him.

    He simply wanted Federer’s crown because he was like a child entranced by shiny, glittery things. Now that he has it, it’s becoming clear he had no idea of the burden that crown entails–burdens which Federer shouldered every day when he was at the top.

    • Deborah says :

      Just wanted to agree with every thing you said. If there was any justice in tennis journalism, the folks would have looked up from the hard work of selecting “relevant quotes” and dealt with Nadal’s ass. Instead, we have Neil Harman calling a pre tournament interview Fed gave “bitter” because he still thinks he has something to offer his chosen field.

    • ines says :

      Loving your post Steve!!!

  8. FortuneCookie says :

    Great interview.I looked up Roger’s profile on ATP site out of interest to check that one,and yep,he was completely right,2nd title,Sydney 2002,beat Chela 6-3 6-3 (the list of people he beat to win that title is actually pretty impressive looking at it now;Robredo,Malisse,Rios,Roddick,then Chela),so oui,dude’s memory is AMAZING.Scary to think too that in July he’ll have been on tour for 13 years!!

    As for Rafa and Novak…while I certainly don’t see Rafa as being petulant,whining or whatever,his complaining about the schedule can be hard to understand at times considering how much he (in the past at least) has chosen to play,but something definitely seems…off with him this tournament.His play,his demeanour,everything.While he can never be dismissed at RG,I just don’t feel like he’s going to win (throw egg at me on Sunday probably then! 😛 ) And Novak is definitely handling things well,also his refusal to answer questions about Mladic early in the week was wise.I mostly don’t mind Nole himself,it’s just his family that clouds my judgement of him!

  9. dari says :

    Lovely half-point wrap!
    I am keeping quiet about many things, let’s just say that 😉

  10. A_Gallivant says :

    First, Feddy looks fantastic in that video. His hair has a wonderful sheen to it and I simply want to touch it. HAIR GOD, right there!

    Second, I have saved all of Fed’s matches this week and I agree with Deborah that they have been such a joy to watch and I’m taking it one match at a time and savoring every one. If he makes it to Sunday, great. If not, he’s kept himself in the conversation for us as fans.

    Third, I’m definitely not the most understanding of persons when it comes to Rafa but in this instance I can imagine that losing certainly takes the shine of things a bit. I think he said some time this week that when you are winning the conditions are fine, but when you are losing, they are less so in response to some questions about the conditions on court. The same can be said about being atop of any field. The weight of it all can be overwhelming and maybe he needs to readjust his thinking and his approach. But then again, I believe that Rafa is a masochist and that he needs intensity to fuel him.

    Fourth, I have always appreciated Fed’s long view and now more than ever. I saw it when I worked in entertainment, some actors would just grab at every part, feeling as if they will lose their place in the scheme of things. But then there are actors who take the long view and are more discriminating with the parts they play and the people with whom they work. I think that has been the key to Fed’s success and his levelheadedness is paying dividends for him and for us as his fans. He’s being dismissed at #3 and yet he’s playing dazzling tennis and feeling healthy. What a treat!

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