Rafael Nadal’s biography had a line about being able to weather a storm and grind Federer down in their matches. This has been a reality in their rivalry at every stage minus maybe the stretch from Wimbledon 2006 through the World Tour Finals of 2007 in which Roger 5 of 7 matches versus his nemesis. For most of Roger’s career few players have been able to grind Federer down other than Rafa.
Lleyton Hewitt’s recent win over Federer along with Tommy Robredo posting an unexpected win over Federer at the 2013 US Open speak to the fact that Federer’s more recent form is not simply the result of getting older. Hewitt and Robredo are also over 30 and both men play committed, hustling, consistent tennis. Therefore, consistency rather than young legs may be the key factor in beating Roger Federer these days.
Coach Edberg’s Patient Attacking
I recently wrote that Stefan Edberg should help Federer by getting his charge to win and lose matches on his terms, i.e. a largely offensive brand of tennis. Still, my analysis lacked one other thing Edberg can offer. It is true that Edberg played his game against virtually everyone he faced, but Edberg on points when he could not attack the net did not make many unforced errors. Edberg was not a slapper trying to hit winners on every shot when he was pinned to the baseline. Edberg attacked as often as possible, but when the opportunity was not there he patiently waited.
That is a hard balancing act for Federer to achieve. Federer does not want to be bludgeoned from the baseline by Nole or Rafa. He is not going to chip and charge and serve and volley anywhere near as often as Edberg did either. Rather, Roger has to know when it is a good time to attack from the baseline and take the initiative in a point and when he does not have that opportunity. Differentiating between good and bad moments to attack from the baseline while avoiding becoming too passive or too error prone is perhaps an unsolvable problem in this polyester string era. Winning 3 matches and picking up 150 ranking points was a good start to 2014 for Roger Federer. Losing to a man he once dominated raises questions about how Roger will fare against the consistent baseline players on tour. Edberg and the rest of Team Federer have a puzzle in front of them.