Roger Federer: Getting Back to No. 1 is Very Real and Very Possible
by Tom Gainey | May 10th, 2011, 2:54 pm

Speaking to the press today at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Tennis Masters 1000 in Rome, Roger Federer sounded intent and confident of a return to the No. 1 ranking. The 16-time Slam winner says that with the ATP Finals already in his pocket, adding a Grand Slam title could push him right back to the top.

Federer is still one week from Pete Sampras’s record 286 weeks at No. 1.

He also acknowledged that rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are playing much better than he is. But he says that he’s been right in the mix week-in and week-out when you consider all the semifinals he’s reached the last 10 months.

“It’s important for me to get to back to being No. 1,” Federer said in Rome. “I said this at Wimbledon and it is still very real and very possible. I still have the World Tour Finals in my pocket and I don’t have any Grand Slams yet. If I maybe got one of those, things will change drastically all over the place. Right now these guys are playing better than me and better than the other players and that’s a fact. Novak is winning all the big tournaments with Rafa this year and that makes it difficult to get to the big tournaments, but I am in the position I want to be in and I am close to winning tournaments as well. I am feeling very good physically and it is definitely an interesting time right now that Novak has not lost all season long.

“It’s a very different situation but it has not changed very much other than I might be in the semi-final with Rafa. It’s not really much different to when I was No. 1 or No. 2 because then it was Murray or Novak, and Nadal of course was also in my section once or twice. There have been really tough draws in the last years because everyone has been playing so consistently. I don’t think that Murray can’t play on clay or Rafa can’t play on grass or Novak struggles indoors. I think that everyone can play on all of the surfaces and this makes it extremely hard to win all of these big tournaments.”

Federer will begin his Rome campaign tomorrow against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman beat Federer two summers ago but Roger leads 3-1 in their meetings including a straight-set win this season in Doha.

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48 Comments for Roger Federer: Getting Back to No. 1 is Very Real and Very Possible

RZ Says:

I’d love for Fed to get 2 more weeks at #1 and break the record, but I really think it’ll come down to how healthy Rafa and Nole can remain.

Jazzcomedian Says:

The difference between Djokovic’s success on clay against Nadal as opposed to Federer as I see it, comes down purely to his absolutely superlative two hand backhand. That’s where he has the edge on Federer against Nadal. It’s rock solid, and Nadal can’t break it down as he can Federer’s. In the many Nadal forehand to Djokovic backhand duels, Djokovic often wins. In addition Djokovic is every bit as good a defender as Nadal. He too is now impenetrable. Federer though superb, is not fast enough to be in their class as defenders. I don’t think Murray and Monfils are in their class as defenders either.

Plus Djokovic and Nadal make far less errors than Federer in long baseline rallies–perhaps owing to Federer’s more aggressive style of play. And he can’t hit the enough winners against them to compensate for the disparity in errors.

Speaking from experience as a 4.5 player for over 35 years, a change to a racquet with a larger hitting surface to match that of Nadal and Djokovic would help Federer rectify that, and lower his error count. I predict he’ll be playing with a bigger racquet in the next few years just like Agassi did. It’s inevitable, unless he’s not as rational as he seems.

I like how Federer gives the other players full credit for their current superiority, and doesn’t makes excuses. He’s my guy, but I don’t think he can get to number one again if Djokovic, and Nadal stay healthy.

Fritz Says:

Everyone is allowed to believe, especially Roger, he has earned that right more than anyone. I also think that Roger won’t finish the year at No. 3 ranking.

However, unlike him, I believe he’ll finis the year at #4 behind Murray, assuming of cource no one gets injured in the meantime.

stu Says:

Oh no, what’s up Andy?

skeezerweezer Says:

Well, what do you want the guy to say? “I’m finished!” Kudos to him to keep believin in himself and his chances, hope he gets there, and hope he works extremely hard off the court, cause he needs to.

Eric Says:

Fritz, you think Roger will finish no. 4 behind Murray based on what, exactly? Andy’s inability to win more than one match in a row?

I don’t think it’s realistic for Federer to think too hard about getting back to no. 1, but he’s certainly right that if he does very, very well at the FO and Wimbledon he might not be that far away, to put it mildly. The question is whether he can really get to and past the SF round at both of those tournaments, and I’m not that sure. It will really just depend on whether commanding Fed or limp rag Fed shows up. Lately it’s been a bit of both. He should have beaten Rafa in Madrid based on their actual level of play. It’s all just mental against him now. As for Fed vs. Djoko, I’d still have to give the edge to Fed on clay and grass. So maybe he can do it. Who knows.

Eric Says:

Also, Roger is behind Ferrer (of all people) in the points race this year, but he’s still done better than 2010 at almost tournament – except, of course, the AO (a rather big exception, I know…). Djoko has overtaken him purely through his own astounding play, but if you crunch the numbers and assume that Fed can get further than him at the French and Wimby, Roger will top him in the rankings again. Of course, it’s all empty speculation. But it’s definitely possible. Everything hinges on the French and Wimbledon for Roger’s #1 hopes.

madmax Says:

I love it when Federer talks like this, for a number of reasons. We have seen in many interviews a very conciliatory, cordial federer (too often in my view). The last 3 interviews, fed has staked his claim loud and clear. He wants to be No.1. He will work hard to get there. I believe him. The more he loses, the hungrier he gets to reclaiming what he feels is his – the number 1 position and I love that about federer. If he wasn’t saying these type of things, I would be worried. I’m not.

There is every possibility that Federer will win more tournaments this year. Every time someone writes him off, Federer gets better. He’s up to a consistent SF position, for 99% of his tournaments this year. That’s brilliant. Next time, it has to be a final and a win. He has to start walking the walk now.

Here is a link to Federer’s targets plus a statement from Del po on twitter. (Twitter first).

Meanwhile, Juan Martin del Potro is a doubt for the French Open, starting on 22 May, after revealing he has a torn hip muscle.

The former US Open winner pulled out of last week’s Madrid Masters and has undergone tests on his injury.

“The results of my tests showed a tear in the hip,” the Argentine wrote on his Twitter page.

“I have already started rehabilitation and I will do all I can to be in Paris.”

Del Potro, who reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros two years ago, has been beset by injury in recent times and missed most of last year with a wrist complaint.

Here’s the link for fed – he just loves kids doesn’t he?


Federer though superb, is not fast enough to be in their class as defenders.

Fed doesn’t need to get into long baseline rallies – he is able to dropshot and shorten the points. This is what he has incorporated into his game so that he doesn’t have to get himself into long rallies. There is no one who can drop shot like him – he’s magical. And I would respectfully disagree with you. Federer is fast. He gets zero credit for the amount of training he does prior to a tournament – these things he keeps close to his heart, you never hear about what he does in terms of working during the off season. He just gets on with it.

Lots more tennis to come from Federer. I feel he plays better when he is tested early. Doesn’t take things for granted anymore.

C’mon Fed!

Eric Says:

madmax, I have no doubt that Federer does a lot of training for tournaments, but I think he could stand to do a bit more. Sometimes it seems like his problem is running low on energy even in the third set of a match — I guess this could just be appearances, not reality, but if it’s true then winning 5 set slogs against the boys at the French isn’t really in the cards.

Anyway, I agree that Federer doesn’t need to get into long baseline rallies, but the sad fact is that he often gets drawn into them and mucks it up. Like Murray, he needs to rediscover his sense for when its time to go on the offensive.

Ben Pronin Says:

I don’t think Federer can get the top spot this year. Possibly next year, assuming he continues he high level of play consistently and Djokovic gets beaten once or twice before May, haha. But he won’t sustain it long whenever he gets it. At this point, though, the number 1 ranking doesn’t belong to Federer in any way. His reign is over. He’s going to stay as one of the top guys for a few more years, I’m sure, but not as the top guy.

Skeezerweezer Says:

The way things are starting to look, will there be A top guy, or a rotating top 3 or 4?

Ben Pronin Says:

I’d definitely lean towards the rotating top 3 or 4. Hell it might even be more than 4 in the next few years. It’s extremely possible that Murray’s game comes together in similar fashion to the way Djokovic’s has. Plus younger players coming up and Del Potro hopefully sorting out all of his injuries. Exciting times ahead.

Eric Says:

Ben, I agree that Federer getting back to no. 1 is a really long shot. But the fact is, even with Djokovic’s flawless season, this is the year he’d be able to do it.

I respectfully suggest that you actually crunch some numbers before opining on the ranking possibilities. Djokovic is 1,765 points ahead of Federer going into Rome.

Let’s look at the next four tournaments: Rome, RG, Halle/Queens, and Wimbledon. That’s 5250 total points possible (of which Rafa currently owns about 5020 or 5090 or whatever).

Djokovic currently has 1280 points total from this group of events (180 for his QF at Rome last year, 360 for his RG QF, 720 for his Wimby SF, and 20 for his Queens performance) whereas Fed has like 740 or something (360 each for his QFs at the slams, and like 20 for his 2nd round at Rome last year. His final appearance at Halle was 150, but isnt’ counted in his point total, so I guess he can’t pick up points there this year either until something else on his schedule drops.. I can never 100% remember how it all works).

Anyway, the point is – let’s assume Djokovic wins all of those points back, plus another 360 for getting to the SF in Paris, and another 360 for making it to the Rome final (this is all just hypothetical scenario-positing, obviously). That gives him 2,485 points above Roger.

Basically: if Djokovic makes it to the Rome final and loses, and loses in the SF round at the two slams, Roger has to win his match against Tsonga tomorrow and then make it to the final at RG and Wimbledon, and then he will pass Djokovic in the rankings again.

(Plus, maybe a bit more depending on how the Queens/Halle points work out, which again is a bit weird.)

And if Federer can win even one of those two slams while still making it to the final in the other, he would probably be no. 1, although the complications get pretty intense here since you have to decide who makes it to which SF and without knowing the draw it’s a waste of time.

The bottom line is that, sure, we can sit here and say “Federer’s reign is over” and no one is going to disagree. That’s been obvious since mid-2008, and especially since this time last year, and even more obvious since January. But he does have a very realistic chance of getting past Djokovic in the rankings, and even getting the no. 1 back, if he can pick up a F and a W at the next two slams. After that, it becomes more complicated again since he could pick up a lot of points at the USO if he can get past the SF stage, but he also did very well at the US hardcourt season (Cincy, Canada) and could lose points there too.

It’s just a matter of faith: does Federer have the ability to start beating Djokovic, and even Rafa, again at the slams? If he can, then the numbers are there for a feasible no. 1 drive (greatly facilitated by doing well in Rome, too, btw). If not, then it’s a stupid question anyway because if you can’t beat the top 2 players you’re not going to be ranked above them.

Eric Says:

Of course, if Djokovic makes it to the final at RG or Wimbledon, then he’ll gain another 480 points on top of what I described. Which would mean Federer has to win one of the slams to pass him in the rankings (and if Rafa loses at the SF stage at one of the slams, he’ll lose 1280 points, putting him below them…in this scenario…).

Eric Says:

To sum up and irritatingly spam the board, the rating sitch over the next two slams is very fluid.

I have to say the most likely scenario is probably Djokovic vs. Rafa in the two finals, with Fed losing in the semis, which would probably mean the ratings after Wimby would be:
1. Djokovic
2. Nadal
3. Federer

But even in slams upsets and surprises abound, and Federer might get lucky. Who knows. :)

Lulu Iberica Says:

I don’t think Roger can get back to #1, unless Nadal and/or Djoker get injured. At this point, I think Roger is still the favorite against Nole at Wimbledon, but will not beat Rafa or Nole at any other slam. Maybe he’ll surprise me, though!

A good deal would have to change for Murray and Delpo to be #1 contenders.

Eric Says:

Everyone on this site loves Delpo and acts like he’s the incarnation of tennis mastery. Actually, he’s just tall and has a good forehand. He’ll never be a serious #1 because:
(a) he is injury-prone, as we’ve seen since USO 2009
(b) smart players will be able to adapt to and handle his power, and
(c) he’s just not as good at tennis as any of the current top four.

I’m not saying he won’t win a lot, but he definitely won’t be anything like the kind of #1 that Fed, Rafa, and soon Djokovic are. Which means he’ll never be #1, at least not for long.

As for Murray, it’s the same story it’s been for years – he needs to unleash some kind of inner mental flood of confidence. Everyone knows he has the game to beat anyone, but he so rarely does it anymore… also, I don’t think he’s good enough on clay to be a #1 for long, but I could be wrong.

skeezerweezer Says:


Thanks for takin the time to research that out. Great read :)

jane Says:

Yeah, I don’t think it is unreal or not possible, certainly, for Fed of all people to have this goal, why not?! Even if it doesn’t happen this year. Imagine all these points Nole will have to defend next year! And what if Rafa does get injured or something, if Fed is still right up there, as he is now, number 1 could definitely change hands. Maybe a number of times, as some have suggested. Maybe it won’t be so “entrenched” if more guys start winning the slams (hellooooo Murray :))

But I do hope Nole gets a chance to be there, at number 1, if only for a little while. Things have clicked for him now and he has worked hard. He turns 24 on May 22nd, so he has a few good peak years in which to shoot for his own goals.He said in a recent interview that his “ambition” is to one day reach number 1, but his “dream” is to win Wimbledon, which he holds in the highest of esteem. I hope he gets both at some point. I don’t care if he wins lots and lots of slams. He has two already. It would be awesome, imo, to retire with a handful of majors.

steve-o Says:

Federer is a far more versatile player than Nadal or Djokovic, as madmax said. He doesn’t have to spend all his time running on the baseline; he can construct points by drawing his opponents into the net, or approach the net himself. Plus he can vary his baseline play more than other players can.

Hence he can still potentially dominate the game even in his later career.

Some have suggested that Federer could only return to the top if Nadal or Djokovic got injured. I think that’s looking at it at the wrong way around.

It’s not that injury is an unfortunate coincidence that befalls those players; it’s that injuries are a result of the tremendous physical effort needed to duplicate Federer’s results.

The apparent ease with which Federer dominated in 2004-07 fooled people into thinking it would be just as easy for other players to imitate his feat.

But he’s a very special case; his game is so versatile and efficient and low-impact that he can maintain a high level of play on all surfaces, year round, for many seasons.

Other players are going to burn out or get injured trying to imitate his feats, because they spend more energy and put more stress on their body.

Djokovic’s game is more efficient than Nadal’s, but he still spends a lot of energy running. It’ll be hard for him to keep this torrid pace up the whole year. Already he had to drop out of Monte Carlo to rest up.

Daniel Says:

If everything goes according to plan, Nadal wins RG, and Nadal or Federer win Wimbledon. This 2 won the last 8 editions of Wimby. They just rule, if Nadal loses before final, Fed is the favorite, and even if they meet in the final, The one who serves better will prevail.

So, if by the end of Wimby, we have 3 different Slams champion, with Fed holding Wimby and WTF, Nadal Rg and MC, and Djoko AO and 3 masters, the race will get tigh. The n.1 will probably be the one who holds a slam and a runner up.

Anything can happens, but first, Djoko has to lose a match, than we can talk!:)

jane Says:

“He doesn’t have to spend all his time running on the baseline; he can construct points by drawing his opponents into the net, or approach the net himself.” – steve-o

But it does seem that this is precisely what Fed often gets into versus many of the other top-tenners, doesn’t it, these baseline contests? More often than finishing at the net, I should think? Perhaps that he’s now a step slower (according to some anyhow) means that he’s not been able to win the majority of those baseline battles either. During the fast indoor season, we saw him finishing points aggressively. We saw flashes of that in matches at IW versus Nole or even in Madrid versus Rafa, but not consistently carried through from start to finish. Maybe it’s a transformation in process? What do you think?

“If everything goes according to plan, Nadal wins RG, and Nadal or Federer win Wimbledon.”

Whose plan Daniel? ;)

Dan Martin Says:

Federer has a chance sure. If he gets to the semis in Paris and wins Halle and Wimbledon his points would jump a lot. I don’t think it is overly likely, but it is not as unlikely as anyone other than the top 2 and maybe Murray reaching #1 anytime soon. Plausible and possible, but not likely.

Eric Says:

Dan, not only is it “not as unlikely,” it’s much more likely. Pray tell how exactly Murray, of all people, has a credible shot? He’s 3000 points behind Roger and over _6400_ points behind Nadal. That means he could overtake Nadal…if Rafa drops out of RG and Wimbledon (or loses in the first round) and Murray wins one of them. Which I’ll believe he can do when I see it. The only reason Soderling hasn’t passed him to no. 4 again is that he’s been having a rough couple of months too. And Ferrer is closing in on the both of them…

Murray says clay is his favorite surface but he doesn’t have any results to show it – one Madrid title vs four or five hardcourt masters titles and three hardcourt slam finals. He’s barely top 10 on clay, let alone a FO contender.

Also, I think Fed will get to the SF and then some at both slams. I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t be able to beat Novak on clay or grass – lack of confidence aside, perhaps – and he’s already shown that he’s not in poor form this year like he was last year when he lost to Soda and Berdy. I’m not saying it’s a lock, but I’d still have to give Federer an edge on Nole off hardcourts.

Until he proves me wrong, which wouldn’t surprise me too much, anyway. :)

Lulu Iberica Says:

Ok, Fed’s a more versatile player. Why isn’t he beating Djoker and Nadal on anything other than super fast courts, and why should we expect this to change? Of course if he magically starts playing like 2006 again, he’ll be number one. Maybe I lack imagination, but I don’t see it happening.

Gannu Says:

hmm.. the first step in achieving a goal is having a belief and +ve attitude.. i always thought this is like some denial that feddy bear is living in.. but i seriously like his attitude and he isnt losing hope now…lets see how well he does… i would love to see him back to No 1

Sean Randall Says:

Half the battle is the belief. Roger certainly has that.

The other is actually beating the Rafa and Novak. And therein lies the problem.

If Rafa and Novak can stay healthy with Roger nearing 30 I just don’t see him returning to No. 1.

Eric Says:

I think if Roger can win another slam and get that week or two at no. 1, he can probably retire happy… that’s all I really want for him. I’m honestly perfectly happy watching the other 25 really, really amazing guys on tour, now that Roger doesn’t really produce any superlatively special magic anymore. But it would still be nice to see him get back on a trophy stand a few more times.

killerc Says:

Federer needs to serve better (maybe go for more – ala SAMPRAS).. Fed also should change up his tactics, hit different patterns and play better first strike tennis. That’s the most noticeable thing I’ve seen that would improve his game..

Let those young sprites battle it out at the baseline with their defensive tennis– Show em offense – DARTH FED TENNIS!

Djoko is playing hella clean tennis at the moment.. I still believe he can be mentally broken, but johnny mac types aren’t out there nowadays– don’t see anyone pushing his buttons to make em lose it. Your gonna have to beat him, when he’s having an off day. Nadal might lose #1 by wimby.

Murray on the other hand should talk to someone like Ivan Lendl ask him how he got that competitive edge to keep fighting for that illusive first slam. Not to give up hope.

DelPo.. on the other hand.. He’s a big dude, clay is very taxing (that’s why you see the ass muscle tear) He should heal it and focus on the us open, not even bother with Wimby until healed. He’s still top 5 potential.

Dory Says:

Well the secret Roger as you may be knowing is cutting down on your unforced errors and shanks. Minimize them and you will start winning. I don’t remember RF making so many UEs and shanks in his prime years.

steve-o Says:

jane: on the indoor hard courts Federer can play super-aggressively and make the first strike. Because of his exquisite timing and ability to take the ball early, he can impose himself before his opponents have a chance to respond.

On slow hard courts and clay it is different. His opponents have more time to defend and to attack, and has to change his game plan and be more patient.

In Madrid he seemed to be experimenting, trying to work the baseline rallies a little differently and with more variation to create space for him to hit winners, or opportunities to come forward and make a volley. Plus he used slices and drop shots to move Nadal in and change the pace.

It didn’t quite come off this time, but he will surely analyze it, see what worked and what didn’t, and improve for next time.

Lulu: because change takes time. Federer’s complex style took a very long time to develop. He was on the tour for nearly five years before winning his first major title. Now that he is making significant adjustments (for the first time in six or seven years) it’ll take time before he can again be back to winning form.

Then again, if he beats Nadal it will inevitably be ascribed to exhaustion or injury on Nadal’s part, and Federer will receive zero credit for raising his game and making tactical adjustments. So there’s always that danger.

If you can’t imagine it, Federer will simply have to do it and show you what it looks like. :)

Huh Says:

I also think No.1 ranking for Fed’s “gettable”. Even a short streak of significant wins can fetch him the top slot. And to be honest, if Fed plays even close to his best, then nobody can beat him, thou such level he, I dont expect to sustain for a larger part of the
season anymor, at this point, as he just is not as determined n focussed to beat the guys as before, but Fed’s occasional flash of brillianc in good tournaments here n there can giv him titles n keep him in the hunt for No.1. In fact, it more depends imo on Fed’s level instead of injury or catastrophe to other guys.

sheila Says:

i love the fact that roger still has the belief he can be #1 again. now all he has 2do is stay consistent & win beyond qtrs & semis. he certainly has the game, but he seems 2 not have the consistency he once had. hoping he can @ least win wimbledon.

Huh Says:

I’d give a treat to sheila if fed wins wimby. u agree sheila? ;)

Lulu Iberica Says:

Steve-o, I promise that unless Rafa is in visible death throes on the court, I will give Roger full credit for any victory over Nadal. The way they both played today, it wouldn’t be a shock for Fed to win, if Rafa can get that far. I am hoping he seriously raises his game, though maybe he could benefit from time off before RG.

madmax Says:

Lulu Iberica Says:
I don’t think Roger can get back to #1, unless Nadal and/or Djoker get injured.


I find what you’ve said really disrespectful. So Novak as well can only beat rafa if rafa is injured. What a pile of crap. So roger can only beat rafa if rafa is injured? Clearly you don’t see what federer can do. He should have won that SF against rafa in madrid. Lost momentum in the third set, but it’s the best I’ve seen federer play rafa since the WTF when he smashed him. He was full of belief and played fantastic tennis. And let’s not forget that federer played day in, day out in November against murray, novak, soderling, rafa – he beat them all. Blew them all away.

And federer can only beat them when rafa or novak is injured? Absolute rubbish.

Actually, come to think of it, I think the only reason why rafa won barcelona is because Novak wasn’t playing. There’s an asterisk by that one.

Why is it that people want to say fed is over, when he is really playing some great tennis this year. And still is hungry for more.

No one can believe the crazy season that novak is having. Last year, if you read reporters and their predictions for this year, not one of them gave novak a chance as they were basing their musings on the fact that novak always seemed to be out of breath, or never fully focussed, or wasn’t fit enough. Read them. Less than 7 months ago. Now? Novak is the best (and he really is the best right now).

Media change their minds like the wind changes direction.

Federer is going nowhere, except working his way back up the rankings and it’s not that far to go.

Anything can happen in tennis.

Novak will tell you that.

People forget so easily and so quickly.

Nina Says:

Fed has a chance, it would be silly to discount him. But he first has to remember how to beat Rafa and Nole because they will the wall he goes against. Now if any of the two loses fuel or gets injured, he has a clear chance. Incredible that with everything that Nole has won this season -everything in fact- he still could lose the n#2 ranking to Federer if he falters in the next slams. Has this happened ever before?

JungleCat Says:

I’d love Roger to get back to #1 again for the 2 more weeks (or longer, even better) to surpass Pete. Roger is a tennis icon, to me he will always be #1 Yes, Rafa and Nole are both great players, but my loyalty is with Roger for now and as long as he continuss to show signs of regaining #1. Go Roger, Go!!!

Bizzy Says:

Well, good luck to him. As things stand now, Djokovic could be taking over #1 soon – and I think we can say Nole’s the Hard Court King to Rafa’s Clay King; so he just might clean up even more points when the tour returns to the US Hard court swing. Will Fed win Wimbledon? Or will we not see him winning lots of points until the Fall and the Asian swing?

jane Says:

madmax “Media change their minds like the wind changes direction.
{…} Anything can happen in tennis. Novak will tell you that.”

Very true madmax.

Dc Says:

Nole & Nadal will exhaust each other and Fed can grab a few titles including a slam or two. Nadal already seems exhausted and is isn’t firing on all cylinders.Nole will soon join him- the only reason he isn’t as tired as Nadal is because hes been executing extremely efficient & quick wins – but these clay tournaments & the summer sun will take its toll on Nole.

Feds been out of form for few months now and his game should be picking up any time soon.In the coming weeks, Feds return to form combined with exhaustion of Nole & Nadal will provide Fed another superb opportunity, which im sure he will maximize

steve-o Says:

Duly noted, Lulu. Thanks.

Jazzcomedian Says:

Hey Madmax:

Like you Federer is my favorite player. In fact he is my favorite player of all time, and I’ve seen them all since Laver. I also have quite an extensive library of matches on DVD from 1969 until now.

I agree with you that Federer is fast, and doesn’t get enough credit for the type of work he does to get in shape. He is in fantastic shape, and that is rarely mentioned. I have never seen him breathing hard after a rally no matter how long it is. But though Federer is fast he is not as fast as Nadal, Djokovic, Monfils, and Murray in terms of pure speed, and as a result they can get to more shots than he can, and hit more agressively from defensive positions than Federer can. That’s the only reason that I say he is not the defender they are, though by all standards he is a great defender.

Federer though a great volleyer, is by nature a baseliner. I have the 2001 Wimbledon match between Sampras and Federer on DVD which Federer won in five set, when ironically Sampras was himself 29 years old. The best serve and volley match I’ve ever seen. Federer, 19 at the time served and volleyed for five full sets, and was every bit the equal of Sampras who is one of tennis’s all-time great volleyers. And he returned better than Sampras. But he has never chosen to serve and volley with such frequency again–prefering to win primarily from the baseline.

Even in the recent exhibitions with Sampras he stayed back on his serve, while Sampras served and volleyed on his–because that is Sampras’s nature, but not Federer’s. Federer prefers to be an agressive baseliner with a masterful transition game.

As I see it, the exceptional defensive qualities of Djokovic and Nadal, make it very difficult for Federer to hit the amount of winners against them that he needs to compensate for the fact that he will always make more errors than them. Nadal and Djokovic are both willing to get into 20-30 shot rallies, and in rallies that long against them, Federer is usually the first to make an error–since he plays more agressively than them. They both play also much more error free than Federer. And tennis is still a game which is decided more by errors than winners.

In London, Federer for the first time in a long time, played almost error free tennis, and that’s why he was able to storm through that very strong field. I’ve got those matches on DVD, and he is magnificent. But he rarely plays with such few errors customarily. Even in his matches from 2004-2007 he made a lot more errors than most people remember. I know, because I have many of them on DVD, and in watching them recently I was amazed at how many errors he made that I hadn’t remembered because he was winning. Even in that great 2005 Australian Open semi-final Safin, Patrick McEnroe actually said, “Boy Federer sure is shanking a lot of shots.

That said, there is nothing I’d like to see more than Federer once again become number one, but if Djoko and Nada stay healthy given their relative youth advantage, and paucity of errors, I think that’s a long shot at best. Apart from Djokovic and Nadal, it’s clearly evident that Federer is still a class above the rest of the players on tour, and is still so far having a year that most players on tour would dream of.

Kevin Says:

What a great article and set of comments! Has someone weeded out the usual batch of dufuses? :-)

What are the chances that Fed will actually move to a larger frame? He *has* to know the difference it could make. . .

James Says:

I just wanted to stop by and congratulate everyone on the courtesy with which they’ve handled the comments page. It’s a relief after being used to the ESPN et al. crowds.

Pera Says:

Fat chance! No way Fed gets back to #1. To win a Grand Slam, he will hve to beat both Rafa and Nole in the same tournament to get there. When was the last time he has done that?

Colin Says:

Pera, that’s true, but he also needs to be able to beat other players like – who shall we say? – Gasquet!
Not so long ago, whenever Federer lost in a “minor” tournament, we’d be told that he didn’t play 100% except in the Slams. That excuse seems to have been abandoned lately;I wonder why. Can it be reality is at last creeping into some people’s thinking?

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