Monday, November 7, 2011
The Definitive Guide to Whether Or Not Roger Federer Will Win Another Slam, Part 1
So how has turning 30 been for Roger Federer? Well, if his level of play is any indication, his fifth career Basel title yesterday proves that he's feeling quite alright, thank you. And, in a period when the rest of the "Big Four" (Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) are suffering from some sort of tennis-related ailments, the senior "Big Four" member has been busy proving that tennis isn't just a game for the under 30 set of late.
The redundantly discussed "genius" of Federer was available for all to see last week in Basel, and for Federer, who clearly relishes the opportunity to give his countrymen something to remember, this was more than just the luck of the draw: it was proof that The Swiss Maestro is still a remarkably gifted player who is practically a freak of nature when it comes to two all-important necessities in tennis: a: balance and quickness (the man is lightning fast for his age) and b: his ability to remain fatigue/ injury free.
These virtues will always give Federer a shot when it comes to Slams, because his high-octane forehand and serve are basically built for triumph. More than anything, the thing that Federer needs to work on is getting his backhand at its optimal level for the last three rounds of a Slam. Is it possible? I think so.
In the end, even if Federer never truly overcomes the disadvantage of being a one-hand backhand hitter in a two-man backhand hitters world, he still has a relatively good chance of winning that elusive 17th Slam next year -- especially if Djokovic or Nadal (or both?) are dealing with injuries that limit their effectiveness.
For Federer to capture his 17th Slam, he may have to finish that Slam as the last-man-standing, so to speak. With Djokovic and Nadal exhibiting so much physical vulnerability on the tail ends of sustained periods of domination, Federer is in a position to benefit from his meticulously maintained fitness and uncanny ability to remain injury-free, if one or both should be hampered by injuries.
Of course, Federer willl need his shotmaking too. And he'll need the booming serve that he was able to produce with such regularity in Basel. That's need with a capital "N." Make no mistake about it, Federer's serve will be the key to any future Grand Slam runs that he makes.
Fortunately for Federer these things -- the world class shotmaking and serve -- are staples of the Federer arsenal. A year ago, when a friend asked me to write this guide -- The Definitive Guide to Whether or Not the Maestro Can Do It! -- I must admit, I didn't see it happening. Now, after Federer's effort vs. Djokovic in the French and at the US Open, I am convinced that he has a good chance to win another Slam.
Federer may be aging, but if there is any indication of it, it is only evidenced by the fact that he isn't as consistently good as he once was. But in the Slams Federer is proving that he can will himself to inspired tennis. Federer is is a player who has seemingly nothing left to prove and yet he still appears motivated to prove something. Next year shouldn't be any different.
The same things that irk some people about Federer -- his perceived arrogance, his habit of crying at inopportune moments, his bitter resentment of losing and the snide comments he can make after losses -- are the things that are driving him, pushing him further, enabling him to display his "regal" and physically charismatic method of ball-striking: one that can only be described as an art, or, as David Foster Wallace so famously wrote, a "Religious Experience."
With Djokovic and Nadal both so much younger than Roger, it's hard not to feel for Federer. He's seen the game evolve during his career, and the current state of string and racquet technology have conspired to make his elegant one-handed backhand look like an outdated shot at times. He's had his reign at the top of tennis cut short by a new breed of super athletes (namely, Nadal and Djokovic) that are playing modern tennis the way it was meant to be played, and it hasn't always been easy for Federer to accept it and stay positive inspite of it.
Federer is fighting an uphill battle now, and it has been 7 Slams since his count stalled at16. 20, a number that some glibly threw around back in late '09 and early '10, isn't in the picture any more, but 17 still is.
17 is still a number that even the skeptical can grasp. One more shining symphony from the Beethoven of tennis? One for the doubters and faithful alike? Ah, it'd be one for the ages, for sure.
Regardless of what the future holds, the beauty lies in Federer's quest.
The key is that Federer is still fighting. He's still looking for ways to stem the tide, and turn it back in his favor. He's No. 4 in the world right now, and in the short term, he has nowhere to go but up.
I say, why not? If that's not definitive enough, stay tuned for Part 2.
Posted by Chris Oddo at 1:20 PM