Top 4 Matters So Long as …
Staying in the Top 4 matters so long as the other 3 members of tennis’ big 4 remain in their top 4 slots. It is a bit like the Prisoner’s Dilema in which each player benefits from the other three banking ranking points. However, if one of the big 4 drops it takes away the ability to be penciled into the semifinal round as Rafael Nadal’s one-sided win over Federer in the Indian Wells quarterfinal proved. Wimbledon may send an even more forceful reminder of this reality.
What is Roger to Do?
Despite Nadal missing the 2012 US Open and 2013 Australian Open and Andy Murray missing the 2013 French Open, Roger Federer is the member of the big 4 who most needs to moderate his schedule. He is going to be 32 in August, and recovering from long matches is not something Federer is going to improve upon as his career pushes forward. Also, consider the three most recent Grand Slam events. Roger Federer lost to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinal round of the 2012 US Open, he went 5 sets with Jo-Wilfried in the quarterfinal round of the Australian Open and lost in straight sets to Tsonga at the French Open in the quarterfinal round. If one adds in Federer’s losses to Juan Martin del Potro at the 2012 editions of Basel and the World Tour Finals, we see a player who is going to have tough matches against at least the big hitting portion of players ranked 6-10. The thirty-plus version of Roger Federer is likely to have to play three tough matches to win a Grand Slam title rather than two. If that is the case, does it make any difference if he plays Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal round or later? Roger may actually find it easier to spring an upset in the round of 8 and perhaps play someone along the lines of David Ferrer before needing to spring another upset in the championship round.
I am sure Roger Federer loved winning Halle and gaining his 77th career title. Now that he owns the most total weeks at #1 and most consecutive weeks at #1, I don’t think Roger cares as much about the computer. He wants to position himself as best he can to contend for major titles. Roger would likely prefer to enter a slam ranked #6 in the world but be rested and healthy to entering a slam ranked 3rd but feeling chipped around the edges. I would say that Basel and the World Tour Finals would be exempt from Roger’s less concerned posture, but since both fall after the year’s majors are completed he has time to rest for Melbourne.
All of this speculation may be moot. For all of Roger’s odd results in 2013, he is still #5 in terms of points earned since January 1, 2013. He is likely to have pretty decent results at Wimbledon, during the North American hard court swing, and the indoor season. It is entirely plausible to expect Roger to be ranked 3rd or 4th at the end of the 2013 season given where the 2013 points stand at present. If he does slip to somewhere between 5-8, I don’t think he will panic. Pete Sampras won the 2002 US Open seeded 17th.
I understand Federer’s desire to limit his schedule. I also freely admit that I know vastly less about tennis than Paul Annacone and the rest of Team Federer. I do feel Federer has played better when he competes in a larger number of 500 and 250 point events. I think Federer’s “tough” 2008 was helped by his wins at Estoril, Halle and Basel. Of course, the 2008 US Open title and Olympic gold in doubles with Stanislas Wawrinka were his centerpiece accomplishments, but the other wins did not hurt his confidence. Similarly, Federer’s success to end 2011 included winning a 250 point event in Stockholm and Basel as well as winning Paris and the World Tour Finals. Those victories helped to load up enough points that he could make a successful run at the top ranking in 2012. Still, I think the Masters 1000 events likely take a toll on Roger so skipping the ever slower Miami as well as Masters 1000 Emeritus Monte Carlo did not hurt him. I think Roger may want to play as many events along the lines as Halle as his body will allow to keep his confidence up while conserving energy for the Grand Slams.