Roger Federer has added Stefan Edberg to his coaching team. He has also been practicing with a larger racquet. These moves seem to suggest Roger has not given up on his tennis career due to his ranking dropping to #6 in the world.
Edberg Makes Sense
I don’t think Federer will be emulating Stefan Edberg’s relentless attack on the net. The game has changed, and Edberg even said something about this in 1996 when he retired. Neither man is a fool. However, Federer is 32 years old and needs to play tennis in a manner that preserves energy. Federer is going to try to win in his thirties, but he is not going to be grinding a la Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi or Lleyton Hewitt in their thirties. Federer in his prime was a great offensive player who could fall back on tremendous defense. Federer at 32 is not going to win by playing his B game from his prime. He needs to play offensive-minded tennis. Federer needs to hit good serves, hold serve, play aggressive tennis, and let his opponent feel his game in the words of Gilbert/Agassi at key points in a given set or match.
Edberg is a great player for Federer to work with in this case. Edberg worked on improving his strengths as a player rather than shoring up his weaknesses. At 32, Roger needs to have confidence in his strengths and go with them. It is too late to reinvent his game, but not too late to win at some level with a sharpened version of his strengths. Edberg played tennis on his terms. If he won, he was successfully serving and volleying/chipping and charging. If he lost, he was forcing his opponent to successfully counter serving and volleying/chipping and charging. Win or lose, Roger needs to make all of his opponents play a match on Roger’s terms.
Edberg was a forerunner to Federer
Beyond Edberg forcing his opponents to react to his game, Edberg more than any other player moved in a similar manner to Federer. As a kid, Federer idolized Boris Becker more than Edberg, but in terms of demeanor, game and movement, Federer combines a lot of both Becker and Edberg’s games. Federer’s movement is an area that least resembles Becker. Edberg, Sampras and Federer’s movement and athleticism are similar and an outgrowth of great athleticism. I think Federer will trust what Edberg says to him in large part because Edberg has an insight into what Federer can do on the court that few people could possibly posses. This trust factor will help their relationship a great deal.
The New Racquet: Take Two
Federer tried to play with a larger more powerful frame in two small clay court events in 2013. That experiment flopped. However, Roger needs to hold serve as easily as possible. If a new racquet allows for him to serve bigger, it is likely a good move in the long run. In the near term, any second guessing or lack of total confidence in his equipment could cost Federer a few points, some even at key junctures, throughout a match.
Since the short-term risk of switching racquets is very real, Roger changing his stick along with adding a new voice to his team makes me think he is committed to playing tennis for multiple years into the future. Whether he tours the world in a goodwill, world number one emeritus fashion or as a true contender for the biggest prizes will be decided in the coming year(s). For Federer to be a contender, I think he has to dictate play and a more powerful racquet and coaching influence committed to attacking tennis is a solid place to start.