I semi-sarcastically posed this question last night, and I’ll ask it again: Is Roger Federer’s worst surface now grass? I bring this up because many of us, myself included, presume that Federer plays his best tennis on grass. He’s won countless Wimbledons, nearly as many Halle titles and of course he beat the great Pete Sampras on the green stuff.
But those accomplishments came years ago.
In recent times, Federer’s struggled on the lawn. Since turn of the decade in 2010 and including today’s stunning loss to Tommy Haas at Halle, Federer is 0-4 in grass tournaments, losing twice in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and twice in the Halle finals.
I know it’s a very small sample size – just four events with Wimbledon 2012 and Olympics to com – but Federer’s still winning on other surfaces and he’s good on grass, right? And what’s striking to me is Federer’s performance at Wimbledon. In 2010 he nearly lost first round at Wimbledon to Alejandro Falla – where else in recent memory was Federer so close to losing that early at a Slam? Wimbledon would be the last place I’d imagine such a shocker.
And then back-to-back quarterfinal exits. He lost to Tomas Berdych in 2010, then last year blew a two-set lead to JW Tsonga. Yet at the Australian, US Open and French Opens Federer continues to avoid pre-semifinal losses, but at Wimbledon he cannot? Since the start of 2005 Federer’s lost three times before the semifinals at a Slam. French is understandable but twice at Wimbledon??? Who would have believed that? Strange.
And the losses in Halle are odd, as well. Lleyton Hewitt? Now Haas? Perhaps as older generation players and rivals they see a weakness in Federer on grass and know how to exploit it? I don’t know.
So is grass now Federer’s weak spot? It could be. Grass demands big power and if you don’t have that, then speed and quickness (balls just don’t bounce up on grass like they do on other surfaces, hence the need for speed among other assets). Federer doesn’t have that easy power like Sampras, Andy Roddick, Richard Krajicek or Goran Ivanisevic had. Instead he had that speed, that timing, those electric reflexes that allowed him to track down shots and return first services that almost no one else could, ever. Amazing stuff really.
But now as he approaches 31 it’s only reasonable that Father Time has taken some of those reflexes and foot speed away. The net result is he’s no longer able to reach or return as many balls as he use to on the grass and of course in tennis if you can’t get to said ball then you can’t win the point. Simple.
Federer though has experience and as we’ve seen this weekend with Roger, Haas and David Nalbandian reaching finals that goes a long way, especially on a foreign surface like grass. So Roger is still going to be a factor at Wimbledon, and he may yet win it again, but maybe now it’s the other tournaments that offer Fed greener pastures.
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