Tennis Freaks

“1821: Nadal, I’ve noticed, has a problem with his shorts, in that they keep on getting stuck up his jacksie and he has to pull them out before every point. Not sure why he doesn’t just get a size up, he’s probably loaded.”

Archive for slump

Fed Express flying solo, and in need of repair

Matthew Cronin / Special to FOXSports.com

Roger Federer is experiencing his first notable slump since 2003 — he just won’t admit it.

 

But all signs point to a man who is doubting himself. Last weekend, he fired his coach — the well respected Australian Tony Roche — and said he will go it alone at the French Open and Wimbledon. Federer has now gone four consecutive tournaments without winning a crown, his longest drought in nearly four years.

“I know what it takes and I don’t want anybody interfering with my preparation and with my tournaments,” Federer said at the Hamburg Masters Series, where he will face Juan Monaco in his opening match on Wednesday. “There was a lack of communication and it was never like that at the start. Maybe after 2½ years, you think this relationship needs more, and then it’s too late to change it.”

Clay has not been kind to Roger Federer, but can he turn his luck around without a coach? (Clive Brunskill/Staff / Getty Images)

Federer, a ten-time Grand Slam champion, was defiant in defending his canning of Roche, saying that the relationship had run its course. But it’s clear that something was amiss, as Federer chose to pull off the move right after he took his most shocking loss in nearly four years when he was beaten in straight sets by journeyman Filippo Volandri in Rome.

“I’ve been waiting for some kind of letdown for the past couple of years,” The Tennis Channel’s Jimmy Arias said, “because mentally, it’s so hard to maintain the same level of motivation for as long as Federer has. No one has ever had that type of a sustained run.”

There are rumors afloat that Federer is interested in eventually hiring Darren Cahill, the former coach of Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, but that talk is very premature.

And it is unlikely that Federer would bring in even a part-time coach now, with two Grand Slams in the near future. He already has a very good idea how to play 95 percent of the players on the planet and what has worked for him mentally and physically in the past. He is, however, searching for answers, and neither he nor his girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec (a former player who sometimes scouts for him), has come up with an answer for how to beat two tireless and talented clay courters. Two-time French Open champ Rafael Nadal and gritty Argentine Guillermo Canas bother Federer a great deal on dirt, because it takes a century to hit through them.

“Those are the types of players who have the styles to bother him,” Arias said. “They keep running down his balls and he can get frustrated.”

 

In his 6-2, 6-4 third-round defeat to Volandri in Rome, Federer couldn’t get around on his forehand quickly enough and sprayed backhands that are normally routine for him. That defeat could have been considered an off-day on his least favorite surface, if it didn’t follow another thumping at the hands of the more confident and steadier Nadal in the Monte Carlo final and two major belches to Canas at Miami and Indian Wells on hardcourts.

“In Monaco, I reached the finals,” Federer said. “I’m very happy the way I played there from the quarters on. Last week (against Volandri) was obviously disappointing, and I wasn’t happy with my performance there. But it’s basically one tournament, because at Indian Wells I had a bit of a blister and then in Miami I think I played well but ended up losing. So nothing really happened in my point of view.”

That’s a sweeping rationalization — and a contradictory one at that. If nothing really occurred, why get rid of Roche, who not only led his prior pupils Ivan Lendl and Pat Rafter to Slam crowns, but helped the top-ranked Federer to six of his 10 Grand Slam titles?

Maybe because despite what Roche said about how to attack the likes of Nadal and Canas (‘come in on the right balls, Roger!’), Federer stopped listening and thought that regardless of what his coach said, he could design winning strategies on his own. In January, after Federer waltzed to the Australian Open crown, Roche said, “He hasn’t even started to use his game.”

He’ll need to do so now.

Federer is a proud guy, especially of his intellect and how he manages his life. Like most great champions, he doesn’t want to be told that he can’t win when playing a particular way and that he has to make significant changes to his game if he hopes to win Grand Slams on every surface.

In the last two years, he’s primarily become an aggressive baseliner. Yes, he’s a solid volleyer who can close out points at the net, but he prefers not to live up there, especially against players like Nadal and Canas, who like nothing better than to launch passing shots.

Both those men can be attacked, but to do so they either have to be drawn way out of position (which in Nadal’s case, is almost impossible on clay, given his quick recovery time), or a player has to fool them by sneaking in.

Prior to March, when he got a bad case of the hiccups, Federer was so adeptly controlling the center of the court that he wasn’t concerned about throwing in change-ups. From the 2006 Wimbledon through the 2007 Dubai Open, where he won his 47th title, he lost all of one match. His three-pitch rotation of fastball-curveball-slider was working perfectly.

Rafael Nadal has owned Roger Federer on clay courts, even half-grass clay courts. (Jaime Reina/Stringer / Getty Images)

But against Nadal, who has beaten Federer all five times they’ve played on clay, very little seems to function. Arias says that Federer’s favorite play — slicing his backhand low crosscourt and either baiting his foe to the net and passing him, or catching him in no-man’s land after a mediocre reply when he retreats to the back court — doesn’t work against the Spaniard. The lefty Nadal’s racket moves at warp speed and he hits with such heavy topspin that he eats the short chip alive and quickly gains control of the point with his forehand.

“Roger is going to have to change that play against Nadal and maybe go down the line more to his backhand, because it’s not working against his forehand,” Arias said. “He also needs to attack Nadal’s second serve more and maybe try to come to (the) net more. But really, none of this may matter on clay because Nadal looks pretty unbeatable on the surface now.”

Federer doesn’t want to absorb that thought. If he wins the French Open, Federer would give himself a chance to become only the third man after Don Budge and Rod Laver to win the calendar year Grand Slam.

But if he plans to even sniff a win against Nadal this week in Hamburg or in three weeks at the French Open final, he has a lot of work to do on court and off. Arias believes the savvy yet stubborn Swiss can turn things around, but he’s going to have to become a committed student and research his rivalries.

“If I were Roger, I get films of my matches against Nadal and break things down,” Arias said. “He might be able to find something in there that he hasn’t thought about before.”

Maybe Federer’s first step has to be admitting that something really is happening.

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FOX Sports – TENNIS – Nadal tries to bust out of his slump

Nadal tries to bust out of his slump

Matthew Cronin / tennisreporters.net

Rafael Nadal is mired in the first significant slump of his career and he isn’t looking anything like the player who bullied top ranked Roger Federer four times earlier this year.

He is unsure of himself, hitting too short and failing to adjust to fast hard-court and slick indoor surfaces.

He’s not, as was commonly thought early this summer, a guy who is ready to go toe to toe with Federer on a weekly basis, despite his excellent record against him. In fact, even though Nadal is ranked No. 2, he is so far behind Federer in the rankings now that it would take a long term collapse by the red-hot Swiss for the Spaniard to be able to catch him by next spring.

Nadal hasn’t won a title since winning his second consecutive French Open in June. He hasn’t even looked like a prime-time title contender since he nearly shocked the world to become the first modern clay-courter to win Wimbledon, when he fell to Federer in four sets in the final.

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Rafael Nadal has a long ways to go to catch Roger Federer at the top of the rankings. (Javier Soriano / Getty Images)

With his bulging biceps and tree trunk legs, the 20-year-old Nadal is the sport’s most imposing physical specimen, but he sure isn’t feeling like it these days.

“I had a lot of matches in the first half of the season and my muscles were very tired,” Nadal said. “Mentally, too … it was a big effort. (But) I am playing better now.”

That thought hasn’t showed up on the scoreboard yet. Since Wimbledon, the Spaniard hasn’t even managed to reach another semifinal. All that loud talk about how he might challenge Federer for the year-end No. 1 spot has been reduced to a whisper.

The way it looks today, Federer will break Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of consecutive weeks at No. 1 streak on February 26, 2007. After winning the Tennis Masters Series Madrid last week, Federer clocked in his 143rd straight week at No. 1.

For Nadal to stop him, Federer would essentially have to lose in the first round of every tournament he plays until February and Nadal would have to win every tournament he enters.

That’s not going to happen.

For all his positives — foot speed, standout defense, a big forehand and consistent backhand — the left-handed Nadal has yet to become a standout player on hard courts or indoor because he is lacking in some crucial areas that the surface demands.

“He still thinks that because he’s bigger and stronger than the other guys that he should be able to wear down his opponents over the long haul, which is fine on clay, but doesn’t always work on other surfaces,” said FOX Sports and Tennis Channel analyst Leif Shiras. “He needs to find a better balance to his game, where he can go more effectively from defense to offense. He’ll have to do that before he can take the ultimate step.”

On clay, Nadal can play way behind the baseline and wail groundstrokes, but on faster surfaces, it’s not as easy to catch up to the ball. In winning five titles from February through mid-June, including his second French Open title, Nadal was able to chase down nearly every shot thrown at him and roar it back. That hasn’t been the case since Wimbledon, when he’s been forced to cut down on his wind-up, something he’s not that comfortable with.

“It’s a lot harder to win points from 20 feet behind the baseline on faster surfaces,” Shiras said. “A lot of guys he’s playing have first-strike capability and can close at the net. He’s trying to flatten out his strokes, but on clay, he can get a bigger wind-up and that’s what he’s comfortable with.”

Last week, Nadal failed to defend his Madrid title and got into a nasty spat with Czech Tomas Berdych after a straight set loss. The tall and powerful Berdych has beaten him three times and despite a heavily partisan crowd screaming in his favor, Nadal couldn’t dig himself into enough points.

Plus, he lost his cool later saying that the 10th-ranked Berdych was a bad person who was making faces at him during the match. He thrashed Berdych for putting his finger to his lips after the victory, which Berdych said was his way of telling the crowd that there are more tennis players in the world than just Nadal.

“When he say to you that you are very bad, for me it’s nice that a very bad player can beat him three times,” Berdych said.

It’s young guys like Berdych who aren’t afraid of Nadal, who know that they can attack his second serve and are willing to hammer his forehand until they can get a crack at his weaker backhand side. The Spaniard may bellow “Vamos,” leap into the air and pump his fists to the sky, but other talented players who can figure out the Xs and Os are aware that Nadal’s heavy topspin isn’t going to do him as much good on courts where the ball stays lower.

When Nadal is landing his forehand on the service line on hardcourts, it’s sometimes a sitter. Players like Berdych, Mikhail Youzhny (who beat Nadal at the U.S. Open), James Blake (who has beaten him twice) and Federer know how to crack a short ball and close at the net.

“You can hit through him,” Shiras said. “He’s not serving effectively enough, and guys can get rips at his second serve. Players like Berdych aren’t intimated by him.”

However, this is no career crisis for Nadal. He’s still young and is a driven, hard worker. He has been trying to develop a more effective all-around game and while his results have been disappointing since June, he has won four hardcourt titles in his career, which shows that when he’s confident and is willing to take more risks, he could become a consistent major threat off clay.

The results may not come until next year, but he does own a 6-2 lifetime record against Federer and if anyone loves to tango with the Swiss, it’s Nadal.

“I think I am training hard and with enthusiasm for a long time,” Nadal said. “Right now I’m trying to become a more comprehensive player, with a better serve. I’m at a very good stage of my career. For me, that’s very, very important, and I’ve worked hard to be here. I feel much better now than a couple of months ago. I am playing much better.”