Federer Dominates Tsonga, Wins First Paris Title

by Sean Randall | November 13th, 2011, 1:03 pm

Roger Federer ended the 2011 regular season on the highest of notes today beating JW Tsonga 6-1, 7-6(3) to capture his first Paris Indoors Masters title.

“I’m just really ecstatic to have played so well this week from start to finish,” said Federer. “Basically from first ball struck against Mannarino all the way until the very end here. I couldn’t be more happy. I have had many attempts trying to win Paris Bercy, and for some reason, I wasn’t able to win it earlier. But this one obviously feels great and it’s a special victory.”

Behind solid serving and strong play off the ground, Federer was ultra sharp early on against the streaky Frenchman racing out to a 5-0 lead behind two service breaks. Tsonga, though, eventually settled in toward the end of the first set and continued to fight well in the second.

As Federer’s serve began to dip he had to save multiple break points. But the 30-year-old regrouped and then blew away Tsonga at the finish line winning 16 of the final 24 points.

“Jo was always with the back against the wall, so I was really able to put him under pressure and play aggressive with myself,” said Federer. “Couple of hiccups maybe midway through the second. I didn’t serve so well anymore, but I saved the best for last. I played a good tie-breaker and got the win here, which is very nice.”

Tsonga had beaten Federer twice over the summer, memorably at Wimbledon and again at Canada. But the Swiss has now won five straight sets over him.

“If I had played better at the start it would have changed things. The key of the match was there,” said Tsonga. “Every time we play each other it’s similar. If I am able to fight back at the start, then I play well. But if I lose the first set like I did today, then it becomes more difficult for me.”

Federer now has won 12 straight matches and his title in Paris, which came without the loss of a set, was his 69th of his career and 18th in Masters events putting him one behind leader Rafael Nadal.

With his confidence and game on top, Federer appears to be in prime form for the upcoming ATP Finals in London which begin a week from today.

“I have played well for a few months now,” Federer said. “Maybe I didn’t win the US Open, but we all know I was one point away from making the finals and then who know? But Novak was able to come back in that great match against me at the Open. And before that I think I had some really good moments, where I actually did play very well, such as Wimbledon and the French Open where I think more was possible, too.

“I have had some really tough losses this year, but I kept believing that still the year wasn’t over, I can still finish this year on a high, which that proves to be the case. Now I still have a massive highlight coming up in a week’s time.”

The win also puts him back into the No. 1 discussion. If he can walk away with the London title he’ll be within striking distance of Nadal for the No. 2 spot in Australia.

With Novak Djokovic’s shoulder an issue, Nadal perhaps more concerned with the Davis Cup finale and Andy Murray under the British microscope, Federer may very well be the tournament favorite to win London. Who’s playing better than him?

It’s worth repeating, how quickly things change in tennis.

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106 Comments for Federer Dominates Tsonga, Wins First Paris Title

RZ Says:

Amazing that he’d never even been to the final there before. (However, after seeing that hideous trophy, I’m not sure that was such a bad thing for him).

dari Says:

i think you’ve summed it up well, Nacho

congrats to roger, still completing goals and making firsts after 30 years and 16 slams!

trufan Says:

I think Federer is GOAT…

However, to be honest, you have to keep in mind that he got some help from Berdych having played 3+ hours the day before, and then Tsonga playing 3 hours the previous day as well…. Both Berdych and Tsonga were not as sharp in the beginning, but all credit to Fed for taking full advantage of it.

Colleen Says:

Yes Tsonga had a long match but his quarter final was a walkover.

madmax Says:

So Tsonga had more rest than any of the other players. A day’s rest. You can’t beat that.

Anon Says:

I am getting tired of people placing an asterisk every time Fed wins anything these days. In most Master’s on ATP tournaments, you are expected to play five matches in 6 days. This has been the format for as long as tennis has been played. Which means, even Federer has had to show up several times the next day after a hard-fought win.

I never hear people making excuses for other players, but with Federer it always comes down to the other guys having played a tight match the day before. Get over it. Federer is 30 years old, Tsonga is 21 or 22. If Federer can come back and play the next day, so can Tsonga.

Federer beat both Berdych and Tsonga fair and square. He was by far the better player and he deserved it win, no ifs or buts. Stop making excuses, please.

V Blacklabel Says:

Nice win for Federer indeed; here’s where I think he stands now.

V Blacklabel Says:

Nice win for Federer indeed; here’s where I think he stands now. http://www.blacklabeltennis.com/2011/11/still-best-of-rest.html

trufan Says:

Tsonga is almost 26… not 21 or 22.

lets see who shows up how in one week. I still think its Fed or Murray who wins it, most probably Fed. Would be nice to get 6 WTF, something nobody else has, to go with his record slam haul….

Anon Says:

Trufan, I stand corrected regarding Tsonga’s age. Federer has played 800+ matches. I don’t know how many matches Tsonga has played, but in any case, Tsonga having played a tough 3-setter should not be in the discussion at all.

Excuses do not in any way diminish Federer’s greatness, but they do diminish the objectivity of the person who makes them.

Colleen Says:

Rog has played almost 1000 matches, he has over 800 wins. I agree with you that players having a long match is not an excuse. Not that long ago, the players would have to play best of five sets in the masters finals, so best of three is not too taxing.

andrea Says:

yay roger! was a little worried with your serving in the second set, but you defended your second serves really well…tsonga was trying to rip everything out of frustration so you got some help there.

amazing. for some reason in canada they did not show the ceremony which was lame, but i hope it was a good one!

london should be interesting.

trufan Says:


What do you have to say about Federer’s poor record against Nadal? Lets hear the excuses…

sheila Says:

i am thrilled federer won paris. he is the only tennis player i ever root 4. however, imho, i just dont think there is a goat. there r just 2many gr8 players 2 say 1 player is the goat. what federer is 2 me, is the most naturally gifted player of all time, he is the most graceful player of all time, & he has the most variety of shots in his game. murray is, imo, a similar player 2 federer. but goat. his one of the goat along w/sampras, agassi, nadal, laver, borg, lendl & many more i havent named. djokovic seems 2b heading in that direction as well. only time will tell who ranks among the gr8 players of all time. federer & nadal r already there and djokovic is getting there. good luck roger in london

Tennislover Says:

Excuses or no excuses, one shouldn’t read too much into the Bercy result. The fact is that the part of the season where it really counts, -a great like Federer isn’t competing for tiny little Doha- Federer had the worst results in a decade or so. No major win and just one major final. Not even one Masters final until the depleted Bercy came along. I thought he was the favorite for wimby given his good FO run but got upset for the second year in a row. These things just didn’t use to happen and that should not be ignored if a realistic assessment is to be made.

Even if he wins WTF, which is a pretty big event, it won’t mean anything for his major prospects next year except giving him some confidence. Until he tests himself in a best of five against the very best and prevails, these results don’t count for much. The probabilities just keep diminishing by the day.

tfouto Says:

Well excuses or not excuses Federer is the most sucessuful player in the world of Tennis, ever. Period. Even if some dont regard it as the GOAT, while others do, he’s the most sucessuful player ever. Everything he keeps winning from now on, even if only from time to time and not slams its just a bonus. With or without excuses…

alison hodge Says:

sheila its nice to read posts like yours,when someone gives credit to all players and not just there favourites,i agree the goat discussion is beyond tedious,by all means have your favourite,but theres no need to belittle anybody elses achievements however large or small,im a rafa fan,but roger is amazing so congrats on todays result,and good luck to roger in london.

trufan Says:

Agree with you Tennislover…

Though one has to be fair to Federer due to his age. Given that he is 30+, he is playing unbelievable! He is still top 4, still a threat at majors, still winning titles. Still giving the top players a run for their money, on all surfaces.

By the time Sampras was his age (think end of 2001), he was not even top 10, and hadn’t won a single title in 18 months, was washed out at the majors (not even a semi).

Looks like Nadal and Djoke may not last that long either.

Would be weird if 3 years from now, Nadal and Djoke are done but Federer is still playing??

grendel Says:

I agree, Tennislover, about the WTF. After all, winning it last year didn’t do much for him in subsequent months. Incidentally, there’s a curious parallel here with Murray. When you write “Until he tests himself in a best of five against the very best and prevails, these results don’t count for much”, this could just as well have been written about Murray. They both have it all to prove – that is a measure of the CURRENT dominance of Nadal and Djokovic.

On another thread, you wrote:”The loss of half a step is a huge factor imho. His game is about tiny margins and his best game is all about absolute precision in timing. A tiny little thing goes off and things threaten to unravel”. I agree absolutely (especially about the tiny margins) but with this caveat: how do you know he has lost half a step? Clearly something has changed – the results prove that. But what? Personally, I have no idea if he has lost half a step or not, how can you tell? Do you think even the players (who surely would be the first to know) think he has lost half a step? Nobody has mentioned it, as far as I know. Berdych apparently thinks everything is hunkydory in the Federer game. That’s not conclusive, a player’s memory can be at fault just like anyone’s, especially over something so fine in detail – even so, I am sceptical of claims that Federer has lost half a step even though it may in fact be true. What I mean by that is, the half-step loss seems a good explanation for the different results, but my suspicion is that that explanation is theoretical only, and is not based on actual observation.

“With fatherhood, things have changed drastically for Federer. Focus has got to be his biggest issue now. More than any physical thing, the absolute prime I alluded to requires an absolutely focused approach. It just isn’t possible to have the same hunger when you have won everything as compared to when you were aiming for the first few big titles.”

Again, this is theoretical. You can’t tell whether fatherhood has aided or obstructed Federer in his tennis goals – either is perfectly possible. And the last sentence – the NATURE of the hunger must certainly be different in his twilight years. But in fact, the hunger might, all things considered, be even bigger, and not smaller. No way of knowing, although I daresay Mirka has a fairly informed opinion.

The question of focus is clearly crucial, I agree here, and the evidence does seem to point to its gradual diminution. Nevertheless, I am a little more hopeful than I was about Federer’s chances in the slams. I think if Nadal and Djokovic play at their very best next year, then Federer cannot expect to win. But Nadal and Djokovic are not automotons, they only need to slip a bit, and if Federer can sustain the form he has had for most of this year, he can sneak in and grab a prize. The case for Murray is a bit different. I think right now, he is good enough to beat both Nadal and Djokovic however well they are playing. But there is the question of those gremlins…

tfouto Says:

As a big Federer fan i just stopped raising expectations on Federer winning or not more big titles. He just won already what no other player won, so i just enjoy and be happy with Federer small victories and just enjoy watching his brilliance while he’s still around.

Anon Says:

“What do you have to say about Federer’s poor record against Nadal? Lets hear the excuses…”

If you are looking for excuses, sorry, I don’t play that game. Nadal fans, on the other hand, look for excuses whenever he loses. Almost instinctively, you can expect a comment or two in mainstream media about Nadal being injured or having played a tough match the previous day.

What I like about Federer more than anything else is that he is perhaps the only purist left in the game. No delaying tactics between serves, no coaching from the sidelines, no trainer ever on court during a match, no forfeiting ever of a match midway even if he was injured…he is one true champion who plays by the rules every time.

jane Says:

” But in fact, the hunger might, all things considered, be even bigger, and not smaller” – grendel I am made to think of “rage, rage against the dying of the light!” That or the classic midlife crisis that engenders a flurry of activity including the buying of red convertibles and/or short skirts.

Also, your point about Rafa and Nole slipping and Fed capitalizing certainly holds. Look at 2009. Rafa disappeared due to his knees, parent’s divorce, etc, and Nole’s serve had deserted him. Guess who won two slams and took over number 1. It just goes to show that if he stays within striking distances, then certainly Fed could win another slam or two.

And Murray will win one soon. ;) She says willfully.

alison hodge Says:

anon please dont tar all us rafa fans with the same brush,dont get me wrong there are fans who do make excuses for his losses,just like there are fans of other players that make excuses,but to say we are all the same is unfair,i except the losses with the same dignity as the defeats.

Fot Says:

I’m happy that Roger won this title – a tournament he had never even been to the final before. Roger is a great indoor tennis player. (I think on the ATP site, they had him listed as #1 indoor tennis player). But the key to Roger’s ‘late season’ success is that he manages his schedule great. While other players are trying to get over minor injuries resulting from the long season – Roger seems to be stronger for these last few tournaments (as well as Year in – since he’s won that – what – 5 times before)…but he KNOWS how to manage his schedule.

He doesn’t ‘over-play’ a lot and I think this is what Djokovic, Nadal, and to some extent Murray needs to learn how to do as well. You can’t try to play every tournament in the world during the early part of the season; or during the clay season; or during the Asian tour and expect your body to hold up when it comes to this time of the year. So if the younger group can learn nothing else from Roger – they need to learn how to manage their schedule during the year so they can play all year.

But enough about them – I’m happy for Roger’s win today!!!!

Kimberly Says:

Congrats to Roger and his fans, nice performance.

Kimmi Says:

Fot – murray, djokovic and roger have played the same number of tournaments this year (17 tournaments i believe) I agree that roger has been managing his schedule well but he is not a good example comparing him with the other guys. roger is just lucky, he does not get injured as much as other players.

From ATP site. (I have added matches from this week)

Djokovic has played 73 matches, Murray 68, roger 72, rafa 79.

You can see the amount of matches the top 4 have played this season is not that different

Kimmi Says:

I think I might have mis-counted murray matches. i think it is 69.

Nina Says:

Yeah Kimmi, that’s true, they have played on average the same nymber of matches, but for me the difference are the victories Nole ans Rafa have put together. You can play 72 matches and lose on average 10, but if you win them all or most of them like Nole did this season, well that takes its toll on you. It’s not the same thing playing a few more tournaments like Murray did, than playing consecutive tournaments and winning them like Nole and Rafa did.

Brando Says:

I agree with jane re federer. He can go beat one of nadal or djokovic in a slam but both would be too much I feel. And if one or both were to dip due to form or injury, maybe even some off court issues, then yes roger can no doubt. Andy, in his case I feel he is ready to take on rafa, nole or roger with his game. It’s more than good enough to win a slam. His kryptonite is not one of them, but his fragile mind. The sooner he deals with that, the sooner he shall win a sla
I feel.

Fot Says:

I think it has to do with him scheduling the tournaments throughout the year. You can play 17 tournaments, but I but if you play something like 15 in a row, verse 4 here, 3 here, 2 here, etc. to equal 17…that helps your body. We know Nadal will play just about all the clay tournaments and those comes one right after the other. It just seems like Roger can take a month off here and there…and then come back stronger for the tournaments after those breaks. Vs…a player having the have a month off because of an injury.

tfouto Says:

Kimmi, i dont this is just lucky. Federer style is more soft to his body. Nadal and Djokovic hit the ball harder and play with more physical intensity. The single-backhand its just one example of that…

tfouto Says:

*think instead of this

jane Says:

That’s right Nina. Nole and Rafa may be hurting now, and I surely hope it won’t carry into next year, but Nole has three slams and five masters, and Rafa has a slam, numerous finals, plus a couple more masters titles to show for it.

Comparing their year to Fed’s 05-06 might be more apt, as Fed was their age, won as much, and remained relatively fit (although he was injured end 05 wasn’t it?) on top of that.

Some of it is just down to genetics and some of it to style. And one more element may be scheduling.

But Nole really followed Fed-like scheduling this season, not pplaying Monte Carlo, Queens or Asia. So I don’t think it was his schedule (though he should NOT have played that last DC match).

If anything it was wear and tera due to his tearing up the tour, and also his serve technique (perchance) contributing.

mat4 Says:


Basically, I agree with your last post, and I would like to add just a few words.

First, when you compare the matches Federer-Djokovic at the AO, FO and USO, you can see that Roger is working to improve his game, and to avoid his own weaknesses. In the course of this year, he improved the speed of his serve, put a lot of work in his backhand, adjusted his game strategy (he is a bit less aggressive now), and reassessed his game plan against Novak. Technically, I think he has improved, and the work he had to put in this improvement is probably huge, and shows his motivation.

I don’t think that he is slower – high profile athletes don’t slow down at thirty, but at thirty four or thirty five. The argument about players over thirty no winning grand slams, in my humble opinion, is a false one: the evolution of the tennis game and the equipment provoked a paradigm shift in tennis, and older players were unable to adapt.

There was a shift in 1982/3, with new, lighter and bigger racquets. But just before that, Connors won three slams after the magical age barrier. Without the advent of luxilon strings, I am certain Sampras would have won a few slams more. Agassi managed to adapt – his game was tailored for the new technology – and he won three slams afterward.

The questions of motivation, injuries and new, talented generations moving beyond the acknowledged limits are also huge.

Roger’s problem, today, is that Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, have all started with an objective – an objective that was hard to achieve (the wanderings of Novak and Andy are a proof of that, and the years Rafa spent in Roger’s shadow too), Roger’s level of play. They finally managed to reach that goal, and now, with the question of good/bad match-up, a ball here, a point there, and your season is exceptional or catastrophic.

2009 was exceptional for Roger, 2011 catastrophic. But he is still here. Just ask Novak.

dari Says:

Yeah, Jane that’s an interesting catch, novak and fed schedule being so similar. Not only joined at the hip in the draws, but taking off at the same time, too
Roger played Monte Carlo though

On another note, I’m missing a little bit of the bustle of London this year
Rafa is laying low, novak is beat up, roger is too busy smiling at having finally won Paris, and his post match interview sounds like he ended his season today
Murray is the only one who has been speaking about explicit goals there- because of that, I hope he gets it!

mat4 Says:

I collected just a few stats (I counted it myself, so a mistake or two is possible).

Number of matches against top 20:
Nole: 31,
Rafa: 30,
AM: 23,
Fed: 23

Number of matches against top 10:
Nole: 22
Rafa: 24
AM: 13
Fed: 12

Number of matches against top 5:
Nole: 17
Rafa: 15
AM: 10 (3)
Fed: 9

It just isn’t the same quality of matches, although the numbers are close.

jane Says:

Oh wow mat4: that’s enlightening. Thanks for doing the adding. :)

dari, I know what you mean re: WTF. Although you never know with Rafa; he could be planning an assault. ;) But Murray should definitely aim for the stars there.

Wog boy Says:

@Nina : you hit nail on the head

@mat4 : you too

P.S. Didn’t I say Federer in two, Tsonga is not top 5 player, never was, never will be.

Wog boy Says:

You THE nail on the head…. it should say.

Tennislover Says:

Grendel- your skepticism about any conclusive proof is perfectly valid and I agree it is difficult to measure such a thing. It is also true that some days he appears to move much better than some other days. My feeling about the slight deterioration in his movement is indeed based on my own observation over the years as also some comments by Federer and his trainer. Theoretically, one can dismiss this as some illusion and the argument will end there. One can quite justifiably put it down to a natural and inevitable process of decline and move on. I’d still try to put forth my two cents though.

I have always found Federer’s capacity to handle power without getting rushed quite extraordinary. He had the slight problem covering his fh side but generally he still didn’t look too rushed. His record against the power hitters in his prime was unbelievable. This has, to me, clearly changed. He looks rushed more than ever before. He is being frequently out-powered by the same players. Since he derives his power primarily from sweet timing, any loss of movement leads to less than optimal court positioning and timing which leads to either weak shots or the sort of shanks that we increasingly have got accustomed to. His timing just goes if he doesn’t move well enough to get into good positions to hit his shots. It is important for any player but especially so in the case of Fed. The gradual increase in his racket-head size points to it. His sweet spot has been described to be the size of a pea. Exaggeration of course but you know what I mean. Federer himself said after his amazing 2010 AO that he felt he got some of his movement back. I myself could sense it especially in the final. Unfortunately, Federer had that infection after that which led him to miss some practice sessions and he hasn’t appeared as fluid ever since. I read some interviews of Pierre Pagnini where he touched on this issue especially in the context of his mono and how it changed a few things. They are aware of it and do specific movement drills but somehow it hasn’t gotten back to where they want it to be. By the way, why did Berd say that it was the Fed of a few years ago? Surely the insinuation was that the Fed of the past had been missing in their recent encounters.

As for fatherhood affecting him, I go by what a lot of people say about it changing your perspective. Tennis may not be everything for you anymore. You may feel like spending time with your kids -and there are two of them- rather than doing training/practice. You may not get adequate sleep as Federer has himself said occasionally. There haven’t been many tennis players who have had much success after becoming a father. Expressing hunger doesn’t mean much. It is what you do to satisfy that hunger i.e. is he doing everything the way he used to do before and maybe even more considering the formidable challenge? I can recall at least one time last year when he didn’t go to Dubai and stayed back in Switzerland. Earlier, Federer’s entire schedule revolved around peaking several times for the biggest events of the year. As I said, it is unlikely he’d be as hungry as in his youth since the satiation levels are already pretty high. As much as he loves the game, everything has a limit. The body may feel a bit more sore than before and may require more time to recover especially after tough matches. He has an incredibly high number of top-flight tennis matches in his body. I am just talking about realistic probability.

I think Federer was the only player who could remain focused for an entire season leave alone points/games/sets/matches/tournaments and different stretches of the season. These days you just don’t know what is coming next sometimes even at the majors where he still appears more focused than at other events. The concentration lapses are becoming much more frequent. One thing that was quite striking about his prime was his impeccable shot-selection which frequently turned unfavorable situations around. It must have required intense focus. The intensity and fire of the FO sf this year was a bit of a one-off.

Wog boy Says:

Third time lucky: you hit the nail on the head :)

mat4 Says:


It is always difficult to weigh, gauge the elements that affects the results of a player, and you could be quite right.

But let’s not forget that the last few years players are using the element of height of rebound on every surface much more than they did before (Roger among others), a phenomenon restricted to clay before. That causes real troubles to Roger on the backhand, so he feels pressure to excel with his forehand, to play it even more frequently. He therefore had to change not only his shot selection and patterns of play, but his movement too.

mat4 Says:


About the change of schedule: it could be caused by the competition. He has to peak for the slams, because Rafa, Novak, Murray all peak for the slams.

roy Says:

he’s playing well as he always does indoors. but let’s be real. nadal and djoker out.
played two guys weary after epic matches.
very fortunate.

mat4 Says:

Basically, to put Roger’s results on his slow decline wouldn’t be fair for Nadal, Djokovic or Murray.

Tennislover Says:

Grendel: “Nevertheless, I am a little more hopeful than I was about Federer’s chances in the slams.”

Just one or two days back, it appeared as if you considered it virtually impossible. I couldn’t watch the sf or the final. I am curious as to what transpired therein to raise your hopes again.

One point about hunger and slam prospects. Who, between Murray and Fed, do you think is more likely to win more majors in the next three to four years?

By the way, I wrote something about Murray’s talent on the ‘Djokovic withdrawal’ thread. I presume you didn’t agree to that assessment. Not that you need to reply to every tidbit. I value your take and that is why I was curious about it.

Tennislover Says:

mat4- I am not even trying to discredit anybody. If that were the case, you’d be justified in saying that Nadal, Djokovic and Murray were not in their absolute prime when Federer was winning.

As for the peaking bit, you misunderstood me. I meant to say that he may not be as focused on doing that as he used to be.

Of course, the game is constantly evolving and you have to adapt. Training methods, R&R, injury management etc improve but we will see if it helps players win majors well into their 30s in the future. Agassi went off the radar in the mid-90s and it was the sort of break which elongated his career later on. He could have just left the game much earlier if he had continued playing throughout. If I am not mistaken, Connors is the only exception in terms of winning more than one slam as a father but there are always exceptions to the rule:)

mat4 Says:


I really didn’t mean to imply that you tried to discredit anybody, I hope you’ll excuse me but it was probably a misunderstanding. I also agree about the problem of focus, although I am not certain about the factors having influence on it.

I just wanted to add a few observations, nothing more.

About longevity: in my previous post above I wrote a few words about it (but it was a long post, and usually nobody reads long posts) so you’ll see that I do not agree with you about Agassi, nor do I agree about physical decline at thirty. I believe Roger will be a slam contender two or three years more.

grendel Says:

Tennislover – aaargh! don’t quote me against myself. Didn’t you know that I think one thing on Mondays, a quite different thing on Tuesdays whilst Wednesdays I toss a coin to see whether to go for the Monday or the Tuesday version, or even whether to give Wednesday a version all of its own. All in all, given the basic incomprehensibility of everything in general and tennis in particular, I find this quite a satisfactory arrangement, and about as likely to hit on the truth as anything else….

However, let us light our pipes (this is a two pipe problem, wouldn’t you say?) and attempt to be serious for a minute. You make a very good argument about slowing down being the cause of Federer’s declining record against the power hitters. There was a time on this site when people would sneer that Federer was getting an easy ride again, just Berdych or Blake or del Potro or some other such wanker whom everyone knew Federer could beat with his eyes closed. Those days are long gone. However, your argument really proceeds through inference rather than observation. I still don’t get how you can actually spot the missing half-step. To me, Federer looks more or less the same as he has always looked as he glides majestically about the court.

There’s a real problem here. The shanks you refer to, for example – they were more evident a couple of years or so ago than they are now. How does that square with the being rushed thesis? And also progressive decline? Then again, Berdych beat Federer at the Oympics in 2004 – I didn’t actually see that match, but perhaps Federer was outpowered? And yet only the other day, Federer handled Berdych beautifully. Here are Berdych’s comments:”I would say, and I’m pretty confident to say, that that’s the old Roger..You know, the years that he was really winning everything. We can count the unforced errors that he hit, like maybe, on the fingers on one hand, which is incredible. He started every set really great and just didn’t give me any chance at all.” Even allowing for Berdych being a bit tired, it’s a remarkable tribute. And I suppose, incidentally, that Berdych is more formidable now than he was in 2004. Again, for a while, Roddick tested Federer. Not the other day, in Basle, he didn’t.

Federer really is the Cheshire cat. Now you see him, now you don’t. It’s incredibly difficult to make consistent arguments respecting his tennis. And Murray is a bit like that, too. I agree with your other post, Murray hasn’t done himself justice. As to who is more likely to win slams over the next few years, certainly Murray simply on account of age. If Murray wins one, he is likely to win several. But then again – he may never make that mental breakthrough, whilst Federer may manage another 1 or 2. The gallic shrug of the shoulders I think is appropriate here.

I didn’t know Federer had been skimping on his Dubai training schedules. Naughty Roger. You may be correct in attributing that to the demands of fatherhood. But maybe there is some quite other reason. And although your comments on the hunger thing are sensible, my whole suspicion about Federer is that he tends to elude the obvious explanations. Who knows, perhaps the advent of children are a source of inspiration to him.

On one thing, we are certainly agreed upon, and that is he doesn’t concentrate as well as he used to. So when mat4 says:”Basically, to put Roger’s results on his slow decline wouldn’t be fair for Nadal, Djokovic or Murray.”, I think he is partly justified. But I think you have to make some allowance for some sort of decline as the years roll by. That is the generally agreed way of Nature, on Mondays, Tuesdays and even Wednesdays – and even Federer, the master of shadows, can’t escape that iron necessity….

mat4 Says:

@Grendel, Tennislover:

You are both very inspired today. I really enjoyed your posts. Just for the sake of such posts, I would like to see Roger won a few MS more.

mat4 Says:

But I’d enjoy more bragging with Jane or Nina if Nole or Andy wins a slam… ;)

mat4 Says:

But sometimes, for the sake of Novak (sorry, jane), I hope Andy will never win a slam. He could become the Tokugawa of a new tennis order if he could manage to make that last step in his ascent (is it the right word?).

andrea Says:


your hope may come true! andy winning grand slams is like oil and water combining. i’m not a huge murray fan, but i don’t mind watching him if only for his outbursts and yabbering to himself at the back of the court – it’s quite entertaining.

jane Says:

lol, mat4: no apologies necessary. Fandom is a complicated thing.

mat4 Says:

Come on, jane. “I” enjoyed so little time at the number 1 position since 1982 that a few years – 2,3, maybe 5 – would be a welcome change.

jane Says:

Since 1982 eh? So who was that? Weren’t you an Agassi fan?

Michael Says:

Congratulations Federer !! He has proven to his critics that he is not yet finished and counting. Next is the Barclays World Tour Finals and there Federer has something to prove. If he wins his sixth title, he will be setting a record of sorts. No player has done that and what a fitting tribute that will be for Federer. I still believe that Federer has more chances in three set tournaments than five setters especially due to the age factor. His best chances of winning a major are at Wimbledon and US Open. He can surely sail through if he has a lucky draw and ie. not meeting Djokovic, Nadal or Murray on consecutive lines. 2011 was by far his worst year in his career considering the high standards he has set for himself and now by virtue of this victory he has made it some what respectable. I am hoping that Federer has a more successful 2012

mat4 Says:


I was a Connors fan first. He spoiled me a bit.

mat4 Says:

After that, Wilander was a deception. I had hopes in Mecir, alas! Worst of all, at the end of the millenium I worked abroad and didn’t watch a lot of tennis, so I missed 1999, Agassi’s best year. After that, I believed (!!) Safin could become the next big thing.

A comedy of errors… what can I say.

jane Says:

mat4, yeah, Connors spoiled you. :) But Agassi and Wilander had their winning days, esp Andre, off and on again, like a resurrection even. I too was transfixed by Marat Safin, partly, admittedly, for aesthetic reasons (I’m not referring to tennis ;)).

mat4 Says:

jane, aesthetics are everything. You just made me remember Chris Evert beautiful backhand… We just made a loop to the original dilemma: grammar or poetry?

jane Says:

Poetry! :)

margot Says:

Gr8 discussions here again, thankx :) Love the idea of Andy as a Cheshire cat. He certainly is, not just between tournaments, between matches between games often. A case in point v. Berdych. Andy, snoozing on the baseline, wakes up, stretches, gives a tiny grin and wins 13 of 17 points. Promptly curls up again and loses. Remember in one match, Andy, playing rather well, gives a little Cheshire cat smirk at his own brilliance. Whereupon the commentator said, “When Murray’s pleased with his play, his opponents better look out,” and so it proved to be the case.
Agree re Fed, extraordinary for his age and I can’t see the other 3 being so successful at 30. I also agree with someone who said how good he is at managing his schedule. Clearly he has his eyes on WTF, therefore he plays Bercy and Paris, rather than Asia. Perhaps Andy should take note. Do hope he didn’t peak too early.

Nims Says:

I believe there were few comments above on what Roger had lost compared to his formative years..Since it’s only a perception, I believe he looks to have lost his speed on the Reflex rather than the foot speed. The way he use to react in anticipation of the opponents shots seems to have slowed down a bit. Also though his foot speed may not have reduced much, but the way he use to bounce during the points in his peak years is not happening any more. Either he is trying to save more energy as his getting older or he lost that natural instinct of anticipation in the last few years.

Brian Gordon Says:

Enjoyed all the comments above but just hope Murray was watching Rog play Tsonga just to understand “controlled aggression”, as he just needs to up his pace enough to control rallies rather than react during rallies.

margot Says:

Brian Gordon: all us Andy watchers would totally agree and the really annoying thing is, he’s got such good all court sense, that he can take the ball very early and dictate play, just like Fed also did against Big Bird. Grr, I’ve seen him do it, but usually only against Rog’nRaf.
I blame all those formative years in Spain learning his craft on defensive clay, myself!

Brando Says:


I agree with you that Andy can no doubt play in that manner, but i disagree that it was his formative years in spain that led to his chosen style of play.

I think andy is an extremely talented, and more uniquely, intelligent player, who plays in this manner out of choice as opposed to it by being a byproduct of his upbringing in tennis.

I think andy is the kind of player who likes to toy with his opponents, play with with strengths, outlast them and ultimately triumph.

I have read elsewhere that he is great boxing fan, who actually studies the sport and feels that it carries great similarities to tennis.

Well i think andy likes to use the ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy against his fellow tennis players. It probably brings a satisfaction of its own that he really enjoys.

And when you consider that his favourite boxer is a defensive counterpuncher (mayweather) and favourite current player is a man known for his love of long rallies and ability to outlast opponents (rafa nadal), then its no wonder he chooses this style of play. It may not be the best thing for him at times, but it’s what he enjoys the most, i feel.

margot Says:

Brando, that remark was a bit tongue in cheek, but not without some truth, I feel. Perhaps patterns already there were re-inforced in Spain, perhaps he deliberately copied Rafa, who knows. Someone, not me, wrote that when Andy goes on court you can almost hear him thinking, “So you think you can beat me, let’s see you try.”…then off he goes with his spider’s web of intrigue. However, I don’t think you win slams playing like that. Even the gr8 Rafa had to change his game off clay.
BTW I hope this style is a free choice and not a fall back that’s always going to happen, because free choice makes it so much more pro-active.
Yes, he is a gr8 boxing fan, which I find quite surprising. However, there are similarities with tennis, which I can appreciate, even though I loathe boxing and love tennis….

Brando Says:

@margot: I completely agree with you re “let’s see you try beating me” point. I think the difference between andy and rafa is that rafa always had the heart, fight, strength of mind to win at the non- clay slams, but for a while he just did not have the game. Andy, like nole, has the game to do so- moreso than rafa on a HC atleast- but he lacks the mind I feel. He just needs that “mental click” that nole experienced be it on court success at WTF or outside the court in his private life- something happens that just places his mind in a really good place. Either way, I think he s fine with the competition and the ball is firmly in his court- it’s just he needs to decide what his next move is.

madmax Says:

roy Says:
he’s playing well as he always does indoors. but let’s be real. nadal and djoker out.
played two guys weary after epic matches.
very fortunate.

November 13th, 2011 at 7:41 pm


How do you account for the fantastic day of rest that Tsonga had prior to his match with fed? Fortunate?

He still couldn’t beat Fed and he was the most rested. Those lovely limbs were in peak condition and I for one, having watched the match again, thought Tsonga played extremely well.

Second set was a storm.

I don’t think you can say fed was lucky. Ooohhh, that word! He played well, hard and fast and once again proved people like your good self, wrong.


Your analytical posts are great to read.

Margot, you if are here tonight, please email Jane or Sar.

racquet Says:

Margot, did you see the Murray interview in the Daily Mail today? I don’t think I’ve ever seen Andy be as frank or read a more revealing interview of him – lots of insights. I can’t believe the Mail (a paper I avoid if I can help it) did this good a job.


Tennislover Says:

grendel: “However, your argument really proceeds through inference rather than observation”

Since it is a matter of perception and extremely difficult to measure or prove, I have to use inference to support my observation and the comments from Fed himself and his trainer are extremely significant. Read his post-2010 AO final interview. Of course, it is entirely possible that they are/were under some illusion and so am I.

Regarding your third para, its true that the shanks were a bigger issue in the wake of mono, which incidentally triggered the problem and had a bearing on his movement/footwork, and continued for a while but I definitely think the shanks are still an issue compared to his peak years.

“And also progressive decline?”

This, of course, can best be described as much greater inconsistency these days because he can still produce the occasional mesmerizing performance. I don’t want to bring the fatigue of Berd and Tsonga but even otherwise, Federer has been overpowered far too often in recent times and not only by the power hitters. Berd beat him in their first match and, maybe, Fed didn’t know what hit him. First time can be pretty tricky since you don’t know much about the opponent and don’t have a plan beforehand. As I said, if Berd thinks it is the Roger of old, the insinuation is that, of late, Roger has not been that good for whatever reason. He picked out the low UE count and I daresay that many of them come from shanks these days. ;) I will reserve judgement about a “turnaround” till I see him play consistently well against quality players for some time.

“Federer really is the Cheshire cat. Now you see him, now you don’t.”

This is truer now than ever before regarding Fed and we see the cat much less these days than we used to. There must be a reason for this greater inconsistency and I expressed what I felt. I’d really like to know what your views are, unless you think its a puzzle, because I know you have watched him very closely over the years.

“Who knows, perhaps the advent of children are a source of inspiration to him.”

That could well be the case but I just read that his daughter woke him up very early in the morning and, therefore, he didn’t have much sleep before the final. Apparently this happens pretty frequently. In this case he took it as a good omen of sorts since he won but still….. I also read that he felt very tired which was a bit of a shock because he won Bercy without dropping a set and Basel wasn’t draining either. Gets tough as you get older I suppose or, maybe, he was sore after holding that hideously heavy steel trophy.

“But I think you have to make some allowance for some sort of decline”

And how does one explain this decline if the obvious explanations are excluded? You agreed about the concentration bit but that also is difficult to prove. Watson wonders why this aspect hasn’t been considered part of the two pipe problem by Mr.Holmes :)

Kimmi Says:

racquaet – Thanks very much. what a great interview. i enjoyed it very much. Never know this side of murray. reading about how he felt after losing the final in australia…

I really hope he wins a grand slam one day, soon. Good luck murray. He has a good chance of finishing ranked 3 at the end of the year too. I think if he reach the semi he has it. roger has to win everything, and that wont be easy.

Brando Says:


thanks for that, good read indeed. Andy will win a slam. He’s british, if he wins just the 1 slam then he shall go down as a sporting legend. Anything after that would just be a bonus.

He just needs to bide his time. He’s federers junior by 6 years, and the gap between him rafa/nole is closing. The plus side for him is that hsi fitness is generally better than the other 2, and on most occassions when he plays them, the expectation is always on them to win.

margot Says:

racquet @8.01. Thanks so much. Like you I avoid the Daily Mail but that was such a brilliant, in-depth article where the reporter actually let Andy speak for himself.
Have to admit, weirdly, I dreampt about Andy last night…..so I must now rush off and find a friendly, neighbourhood shrink, but, but of course it might be an OMEN, yikes ;)

dari Says:

Think of it as a good sign, margot. I had dream of novak at the beginning of th year and he went on the great things. I am better than jamies psychic

Really enjoyed the article, thx for link racquet. Besides stirring up my feelings for andy and hoping even more he gets that major soon, I am also now having strong feelings for a Scotland secession!

alison hodge Says:

dari if jamies psychic is to be believed(tongue said firmly in cheek),then you will be delighted as next year will be a repeat of this one,with nole and rafa again cleaning up at the slams,however dissapiontment it your a fed fan as hes done apparently,this is his words not mine whether or not you choose to believe it is entirely up to you.

margot Says:

Andy, Nole, Big Bird, Ferrer. Not bad.

racquet Says:

Glad you guys enjoyed the article as well. I always admired his tennis brain but this shows how astute and articulate he can be off the court too. Here’s to great things in 2012.

grendel Says:

Only just seen your post, Tennislover. I don’t really have any answers. Perhaps, after all, this is a 3 pipe problem. I think Nims’ post at 5.31 bears pondering. One of the troubles with this kind of speculation is that one relies so much on memory – a notoriously unreliable organ especially, I suspect, for the visual. There’s a poster on this site called FoT who claims to have taped every Federer match. One could do with access to her library.

So far as concentration is concerned, whilst proof is not possible you can certainly make reasonable inferences, this time on the basis of observation (whereas I claim you cannot detect loss of half a step). However, any deductions one draws are then based upon memory, and as I say, you can fool yourself quite easily in this respect. It’s worth testing, if you have time – the results can be quite sobering

One final point: there are always, as they say, 2 sides to a dispute. Federer’s unrushed ability to handle power has clearly declined and the reasons are either mental (inability to maintain focus), physical or some combination of the two (as in Nims’ scenario). But there is another possibility, not necessarily alternative, but additional. The other guys are getting wise to him. Why shouldn’t Berdych, Tsonga, delPo, have learnt from their experiences and now have good ideas as to what is needed to beat him? Doesn’t mean they can always carry them out. But it means they go into the match with hope and not resignation. That would count for a lot.

MMT Says:

RZ – that this is the ugliest trophy in tennis. I don’t even know what it is – bronzed antlers? Yikes!

Sheila – I think McEnroe was the most naturally gifted player of all time, but I would put Federer at #2. He works a lot harder than McEnroe ever did, but McEnroe did things with a racquet I never saw before or since.

Trufan – Sampras did turn 30 in 2001, but he had won Wimbledon less than 12 months earlier, and reached a US Open final in 2000 and again in 2001. Not what he was, but not bad.

Jane, you’re correct – Federer had a bum ankle at the end of 2005, and almost pulled out of Shanghai, but played anyway, and lost an epic final to Nalbandian after being up 2 sets to love. But I think Djokovic pulled out of the Asian tour this year because he was injured, not by choice.

Mat4, in the last 100 years there haven’t been many +30 major winners (by my count only 8 – Tilden, Jaroslav Drobny, Laver, Rosewall, Newcombe, Connors, Sampras and Agassi) – and only Drobny won more after 30 than before it.

And to Tennislover and Grendel – isn’t talk of a decline in Federer’s game ignoring the vast improvements, and ascensions of Nadal and Djokovic? Both of them are far better players than in the years that they couldn’t compete with Federer’s results, and I think that explains their superiority. When Federer starts losing in the early rounds to players who aren’t improving, I’ll start to wonder, but at this point, I think his game is as good as it was – just not good enough to be at the top of tennis.

grendel Says:

MMT – matt4 made that point, and I agreed it was partly justified. Partly because it is not credible that Federer’s game has stayed the same and that age has not affected him.

Tennislover Says:

MMT: I thought that the improvements of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray went without saying. Nadal has always troubled him and Murray has been very good against him in the shorter format. This is not new or due to any improvements as such. You could say that Djokovic improved this year but he has also beaten Federer several times before. However, I really don’t see what area Berd or Tsonga have improved in. Of course they already were at a very good level to begin with.

In any case, it is not about any particular player or even the results. It is about the sheer inconsistency in just about every area of his game. Federer’s bh has actually improved but I can’t agree that his serve is as consistent as it used to be. Ditto about his fh. He has so much tennis in his body. That will surely take its physical/mental/emotional toll. If you think every aspect of Federer and his game has remained the same and, despite that, he is just not good enough to compete with the current generation of players, I am afraid I beg to differ with you. I’d like to ask a question since you know so much about the history of the game. Why is it tough to win a slam as you grow older especially after 28 or 29 years of age or after fatherhood? You talked about that select group of 30+ players. Why is it so rare? ONLY due to better younger players? I’d like to believe that a slight decline -it is almost inevitable- does take place irrespective of what the newer generation is doing and that is a simple enough explanation. We can agree or disagree on the constituents of such a decline.

I was just trying to point out certain aspects/reasons behind Federer’s decline. Grendel obviously didn’t agree with my view of the constituents of such a decline even though he also suspects some difficult-to-pinpoint age-related issue. Your threshold for a decline appears very different to mine but we are discussing a player who is considered by some to be the best ever and amongst the most talented and gifted to have played the game. Just because he can still somehow produce the occasional brilliant performance, one can’t conclude that everything is alright.

MMT Says:

Tennislover: It is true that Nadal has always troubled him, but this includes long before he won a major and rose to #2 and eventually #1. His game is better now than it was. His serve is better, his volleys are some of the best in the game, and his backhand is flatter and penetrates more. Tactically he attacks Federer more often, taking the one element of the game where comparatively he was at a disadvantage to Federer. There was a period where Federer won 5 of 7 matches against Nadal, including a victory on clay, but Nadal’s game has improved since then, and it shows in his ranking and results.

As for Djokovic, it’s true that he had beaten Federer in the past, but if you look at his forehand, serve and net game it is far superior now to when he first beat Federer. And if you look at his game tactically there is no comparison – he doesn’t panic and scramble defensively, he stays on top of the baseline, and his comes to net more, winning points and matches more efficiently and keeping himself fresher for the latter stages of tournaments (especially majors). All of these elements have helped him consistently beat all his contemporaries (including Federer) and rise to #1. I doubt he would have beaten Nadal in the final at the US Open, for example, had he struggled early on like he usually did in the past – for sure he would have run out of gas or been injured.

Murray’s game has improved vastly since he first beat Federer, but ironically he has not improved his record against Federer so much, after winning 6 of the first 8 he has since lost 4 of the next 6 – granted they haven’t played in a year, but it’s ironic nonetheless. In any case, I don’t put him in the same category as Nadal and Djokovic – he lacks their consistency.

Finally since Berdych got his groove back against Federer, he has also finished top 8 two years in a row – he is more consistent. His serve is better, and his forehand is more potent (if that were possible – because I think technically it’s one of the best in the world). I also see improvements in his movement – he had a reputation of not being so nimble initially, but these days, you’d hardly guess he stands 6’4″ tall with how well he moves.

Tsonga’s game has also improved – he is far more consistent, as evidenced by his ranking, and he is more judicious with his power. He doesn’t appear to me to go for as many stupid shots as he used to – like Almagro, for example – and he has returned to a net game that gave him his breakthrough in 2008, a net game he somewhat reduced in exchange for shot-making. But mostly, it’s his better use of power – not stupid power, but targeted. This is how he beat Federer at Wimbledon and Montreal.

I don’t think Federer’s game has gotten worse – he still wins in the high 80’s % of his serve games, while his return games have dipped to just under 25%, but historically this has been more than enough to be #1 – Djokovic on the other hand is at about 85% serve games and 41% return games – that level is far beyond anything we’ve seen in the last 10 years, and explains some of why he’s so much better than the rest of the field.

Technically Federer’s serve is still quite good and effective as well as his forehand – it’s true he makes more errors on that side than perhaps in the past, but that has a lot to do with his opponents and the need to take more risks with it. He has mitigated this with going with more slice on the backhand, and that has cost him against players with more power, so that he is less able to transition to attack with the forehand. Indoors the slice works very well because it stays low and cuts through the still air, but earlier in the year it was a sitting duck for the power brokers.

I’m not saying he’s relatively as good as he was – he clearly isn’t – but technically his game is better than it was when he was #1 in my opinion, but it’s just not enough when compared to the improvements made by his contemporaries.

jane Says:

MMT, “Houston, we have a problem” :) Very much enjoyed your write up on the identity crises (WTF?) of the ‘World Tour Finals.’ I especially like your points about a consistent location and an increase in rankings. The “6 million dollar man” is interesting too. But that is a lot of cash. The prize (if the event is similar to a slam in 5 set final and rankings), should be similar to slams perhaps. A hefty 2 million or even 3 should do no?

Enjoyed your post above too. Agree re: Tsonga. It was strange how he stayed back after his romp and roll through the 2008 AO draw all the way to the finals via, largely, the net. Although he had a serve and power to spare too. But his touch and net play truly set him apart there and then. Be nice to see him return to that. I thought the match between Tsonga and Nole at Wimbledon featured some brilliant net play, and what an entertaining match it was. (Tsonga and Dimitrov was too).

grendel Says:

“I don’t think Federer’s game has gotten worse”. His nerve has got worse and, almost certainly, his ability to focus for long periods. Both Wimbledon and the US Open rubbed this in. It is unrealistic to leave out the mental side, when it is a quite overwhelming factor. Not for nothing does Nadal say the mind is his strongest weapon. Whatever the technical improvements, Federer was certainly a stronger player a few years ago – and not just relatively.

carlo Says:

Federer’s game is in slow decline and his main competitors are in their peak years. Who would deny Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray won’t be in some similar state of decline at age 30?

Until Basel and Paris, Federer’s lonely title in 2011 was making the year look more like his 2001 than resembling any other of his years on profile. Federer’s peak years were from 2004-2007 when he held no. 1 continuously and didn’t win less than 8 titles in a lean year, at least 2 of which being Grand Slam titles.

I wonder if the question of Federer being in decline or not would even be asked had he not won Basel and more particularly, Paris. His ability to outlast the competition late in the season has come to the rescue, imo. The 5-6 year age difference has to be taken into account. The man, the athlete, does not have the powers of recovery that he did in his early to mid-twenties, though he has a more economical style and experience at his age, tennis rewards those who recover quickly when 7 matches, potentially 5 setters, are on required to get the title.

grendel Says:

And carlo, this might account for why Federer has, to the surprise of some (including Tennislover)declared himself to be very tired following his Basle/Paris triumphs – despite some rather easy rides.

Tennislover Says:

MMT: It appears I have a problem conveying my points across. Nadal’s game now is unrecognizable from the one-dimensional game he began with. However, the dynamic of his matches with Federer remains, more or less, the same. Federer actually beat him last year at the WTF because the court has low bounce. He will remain the underdog against Nadal on high-bouncing surfaces and I don’t think Nadal’s improvements make him a bigger favorite against Federer than he used to be in the past if Federer is still as good as you think he is.

Djokovic is ironically the player who Federer has a good record against. Despite his improvements, he was threatened more by Federer this year than anybody else. Stats are useful but only up to a point. His ROS, especially the offensive one, is undoubtedly brilliant but it was of no help at RG and for most of the 5th set at the USO because it also depends on how well Federer serves. If he serves consistently well, that 41% number is not all that relevant. Of course, that number is very relevant for Djokovic being generally dominant and consistent. As you noted, Federer’s ROS is a big issue now. It is quite funny you talked about the first Djokovic win over Federer. I remember that match quite well and I thought for a long time that it was probably the best match Djokovic played against Federer. Yes, his fh has more variety and he definitely has improved physically and mentally but all this hasn’t necessarily improved his chances against Federer by a whole lot if Federer remains focused enough. Of course it has helped him against Nadal in particular. Federer and Murray are so talented that they are both capable of humiliating each other(maybe depending on who has more lapses of concentration).

What I am surprised about is how differently we perceive Berd and Tsonga. If ranking is a criterion, Nico’s “stupid shots” have led him to an all-time high. Tsonga was ranked 6th in 2008 too and 7th in 2009 for some time. I’d much rather have him in slam finals than be “consistent” and win 250 level events. I think his demolition of Nadal at AO was more impressive than his wimby win over Federer. I actually think Berd’s serve as well as his groundies were slightly better in the past.

My point is, as I told mat4, not to undermine the improvements made by his opponents. Clearly, Djokovic and Nadal are far more consistent than Federer and that will generally mean better results and rankings. It is the sheer lack of consistency in Federer’s game. The ROS has been bad for some time but the serve can go from the sublime to the ridiculous not only on a match-to-match basis but even within the same match/set……

In any case, the hands can not be separated from the mind and the legs when we discuss a player’s game and any decline thereof. Johnny Mac still has a lot of skill……..We clearly see things differently and I guess there is no point taking it beyond a point so to say.

By the way, I notice you haven’t responded to the question I really was interested in. I presume you think it is ONLY due to better younger players.

Tennislover Says:

Carlo: “Federer’s game is in slow decline and his main competitors are in their peak years. Who would deny Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray won’t be in some similar state of decline at age 30?”

Well, the perceptions regarding concepts like “decline”, “peak” and “prime” clearly differ as you can see.

“I wonder if the question of Federer being in decline or not would even be asked had he not won Basel and more particularly, Paris”

I could be wrong but I’d like to think that these results are irrelevant but memories are short and since it is Federer and not some run-of-the mill bloke, hope springs eternal. Nothing wrong with that though.

Your points regarding the age difference and powers of recovery are eminently sensible but, apparently, Federer is expected to be an exception.

Tennislover Says:

grendel: I was indeed shocked by that comment from Federer because it suggested a problem that was much worse than anything I had imagined. I mentioned this in my post to highlight one of the physical aspects of his decline.

skeezerweezer Says:

“I’m not saying he’s relatively as good as he was – he clearly isn’t – but technically his game is better than it was when he was #1 in my opinion, but it’s just not enough when compared to the improvements made by his contemporaries.”

Agree technically his game is better than it ever was, but…as grendel pointed out his nerves and focus is not. Imo blame it on the natural aging process. But how come our best Passenger airline Pilots are over 50? Go figger….

His contemporaries? IF Fed never came into the picture how good would Rafa or Nole or Murray be now? Mmmmmm

MMT Says:

grendel: I don’t really see his nerve as the problem – full disclosure, I believe psychology is vastly overrated in tennis. It plays a part, for sure, but only a small part. At the end of the day, you either have technical solutions or you don’t.

All of his losses this year have been down to his opponents outplaying him, in my opinion. Everyone he lost to played well, and more importantly, better than him on the day technically. He didn’t lose because his head wasn’t in it.

Tennislover: I think I understood your point – that although his opponents have improved, his “decline” is mainly down to his own game and/or mental state. But you make my point with the Djokovic example – as good as Djokovic was this year, if his opponent raised their game (e.g. Federer at RG), he can be beaten. At the US Open Djokovic played relatively poorly the first two sets – he cut his unforced errors in half in the 3rd and 4th sets and promptly ran rough-shot over Federer.

The same principle applies to Federer’s game overall in the last couple of years – he can be a better player than he was, but if his opponents are better than he is now, he won’t dominate. No matter how one-sided the quality appears to be, you’re always only as good as your opponents allow you to be.

And I didn’t mean to neglect your question about +30 major winners. I think it’s a combination of 2 things: first, it’s harder to recover and string together 7 good performances in a row. Second, most players get set in their ways by the time they win a major, and just make tweaks as they get older – they fall prey to the fallacy that they still have the game to win, but most of the time they don’t.

Look at Lleyton Hewitt – his game hasn’t changed in 10 years, but his results against everyone have gotten a lot worse. Safin was the same way before he retired – no significant improvements since he won the US Open in 2000 – he just hit harder – problem was, so did everyone else, and defensive skills improved due to ball and surface changes.

Agassi is a good example of a guy who DID change – where his game was a lot of flash in the his pre-30 days, it was all business post 30. His fitness was vastly improved, and he made significant equipment changes that kept him relevent – but even he only won 2 majors past 30.

Bill Tilden won half his majors post 30 – but he was a real student of technique and tactics. To this day, “The Art of Lawn Tennis” (which he wrote) is a great study therein – and he lists “psychology” as the last thing a player needs to be successful. All other factors (of which there are 8) involve technique and tactics.

I’m a big believer in the idea that there are no shortcuts – psychological or otherwise. If you have a coach telling you that you have the tools, but you keep losing, you should fire them immediately (as did Li Na), because they’re not earning their keep.

For me, it’s all about technique and tactics, including for older players who can’t seem to get the job done anymore.

MMT Says:

jane: Glad you liked the post – it was inspired by the chatter here at tennis-x. I don’t think $2M or $3M will do the trick to blow the lid off of non-tennis interest in the year-end championships. I think it’s got to be a relatively huge sum of money. I understand it would be hard to find someone to spend that money if they’re not a title sponsor, but of all the problems in tennis, I don’t think not enough money in the game is one of them.

But the other elements are important as well – venue is key, and I think the O2 would do the trick if it stays there. If they sell it to the highest bidder in Dubai or Turkey (a la the WTA), it will feel like just another tournament, rather than something historical. That’s what the majors have that the year-end championships don’t.

In fact, the YEC have the advantage of not having the dead weight 120+ players that only tennis fans know. They should use that to their advantage. But I also think best of 5 set finals distinguish the majors, because it’s hard to get hot for 5 sets, even in a final. Eventually a “pretender” comes back down to earth.

Oh, and Tennislover: your point is well taken about Almagro – he is the absolute king of stupid shots – Henri Leconte would be proud/jealous. He has improved his fitness (a year ago, in Brazil, they were chanting his unflattering nickname – Gordo), but he has also benefited from scheduling tricks – he’s gamed the system by getting great results on clay and being very ordinary everywhere else. I also agree that Tsonga’s AO demolition of Nadal in 2008 was the best performance of his career – by a long way. I’m quite curious to see how they match up in London, but Nadal is a bit of his bette-noir. Since he beat him there, Nadal has oblitterated him every time they’ve played since (with the exception of Queens this year).

carlo Says:

Here is Safin v Federer TMC Houston 2004. To me it is quite evident that Federer has lost at least the suppleness of movement he had at his peak and this is subjective but a half-step also. He had more snap on his shots as well, imo.


As far as Federer stating that he is tired, Grendel and Tennislover, I am glad to hear him admitting it. He went more matches than I expected without the bad day – getting through Basel and well into Paris. When he did have his worst day, it was against Monaco, luckily. And yet, versus a tired Tsonga, Federer was able to come out strong and prevail in straight sets in the tie-break. Had the match gone to a decider, imo, it would have favored Tsonga.

His competition in London will be rested and of the highest caliber. I wish the Maestro well. Hope springs eternal, Tennislover but there is unfortunately no fountain of youth.

carlo Says:

And posting this YT link despite the music. I like this one because it shows Federer in 2 relatively recent wins over Nadal and Djokovic – a year ago WTF and FO. For the hopeful Federer fans, Tennislover:


carlo Says:

And last one of my indulgence – Federer US Open 2005 before there was a shred of doubt about his powers of recovery.


grendel Says:

I disagree absolutely, MMT. Tennis is a mental game, most players are agreed. So, oddly, is boxing. You can be as technically proficient as you like, but if your mind is not strong and quick, you’re done. And most certainly Federer lost US Open and Wimbledon partly because “his head wasn’t in it”. I’ve already given my opinion, formed on the spot, about the first match point at the US – failure of nerve as well as brilliant Djokovic shot. But Federer just went away after being broken, demoralised. At Wimbie, he just couldn’t keep it up – he clearly deteriorated. That’s not to take anything from Tsonga who was magnificent and deserved his win. And so on and so on. The mind is huge, and again and again has accounted for failings by Murray, for instance, and plenty of others – Safin and Verdasco, to name a couple.

But essentially, it is not either/or. You could put it like this. However strong mentally (and that includes borderline mental/physical like reflexes), without technical proficiency, you won’t make it. And however technically adept, without a focused mind, you’re nowhere. That’s just a fact, and true not just in tennis and not just in sport. It’s fundamental human nature, about as fundamental as you can get.

grendel Says:

A more considered thought. I think there can be misunderstanding on this business of “the psychological” – in tennis or anywhere. It is not an option, after all. Everything we do, without exception, the way we blow our noses for instance, has its psychological and physical components. Even more confusing, it’s not as if you can strictly separate the mental and the physical. Philosophers have long known that any thoroughgoing attempt to do so leads to absurd contradictions. But a moment’s thought is enough to convince anyone who wishes to investigate. You don’t need unintelligible philosophy manuals.

In a way, you can’t even say that “the psychological” is a heavy influence on a player’s tennis. Everything the tennis player does, including how he exercises technique, is a reflection of his psychological make up.

And this brings up the question of “the technical”. If you think about it, there is something pretty bizarre about questioning the technique of a multiple grand slam winner or just a player in the top 10. Does anyone seriously imagine that even a club coach (never mind a technical ignoramus such as myself)could possibly raise matters of technique which had not long ago been considered by the player in question? I mean, come on!

Nor is it remotely a simple matter to declare what constitutes good technique. I don’t mean by someone like myself or other bloggers, most of us (not MTT and certain other valued posters, agreed) don’t begin to have the knowledge. I mean in principle, and you don’t need knowledge for that. You often hear commentators – highly knowledgeable ex-players like Petchey or Fleming say – make these sort of remarks in the course of commentary:”you would never recommend such and such way of doing such and such a stroke as a coach” – and it is said with a wry smile. Because of course a good coach is not bound by rigidities and is perfectly well aware that there are players who are good enough to break all the “rules” regarding a specific stroke – and to profit by it. Some are even creative enough to invent their own strokes. Where in the manuals will you find them? Let me answer this. Time travel 20 years into the future and have a look at the manuals around then. The point is, technique is not something laid down in the laws of nature – or if it is, such laws are way beyond human understanding – they are laboriously discovered by people experimenting, players i.e, going all the way back to Henry the 8th and maybe beyond. Then, what seems a good wheeze eventually becomes incorporated into a tradition and, if taken too seriosuly, can ossify. But there are always pioneers to introduce new wheezes, scoffed at for a while no doubt until they in turn become part of the tennis legacy. And this tumbling naked into the future is the case with any worthwhile activity. Mediocre pianists are bound by rule, really excellent pianists have absorbed the rules and (to a degree) make up their own. These things are not, of course, imitable, or at least not immediately.

If a player like Federer plays badly, it is by and large implausible, to say the least, to account for this on technical grounds alone. So when he “raises his game” as when he beats Djokovic in RG, he suddenly recovers his technique? The danger here is of straying into tautology. He played badly because he played badly. This can be averted by the application of simple common sense. It is well known that Federer was highly motivated for his semi with Djokovic. Well, this was a slam, what do you expect you might want to say. Yes, but there can certainly be levels or degrees of commitment to individual tournaments on particular occasions by players. On this occasion – for whatever reason or series of reasons – Federer was absolutely determined. And this determination informed his play. If he played better than is usually the case these days – if, if you must, he was more “technically correct” – the reason of course is psychological. That is absolutely basic. And nor, of course, is such an attitude reproduceable on demand. Life would be simple in a crude and tedious way if it were. But the price for lack of simplicity in this field is frustration and even bewilderment. You see it all the time on the faces of the players, even the great players, particularly the great players in fact.

But especially, you see this frustration in the faces of great players who are just past their best. The margins are so thin, what once sheer daring made possible is now just out of reach. It’s hard.

carlo Says:

Interesting posts, grendel – in particular my experience watching tennis players, this:

“But especially, you see this frustration in the faces of great players who are just past their best. The margins are so thin, what once sheer daring made possible is now just out of reach. It’s hard.”

Amongst the fans, there are at least a couple of camps who absolutely are in denial about his age. 1) Federer fan die-hards 2) others who want in varying degrees of urgency to think that their favorite is winning over Federer in his prime. It is still an achievement to win over Federer but increasingly, it is not. OTOH There is no denying Nadal improved on surfaces other than clay and played, nearly won Wimbledon in 2007, against Federer in his prime. I think for some fans it will take their own favorite losing at age 27, 28, 29, 30 for them to grasp the idea fully. In tennis the prime age is not shifting, prime age remains early to mid-twenties. Of course there are aberrations and exceptions but in general, beyond age 30 the chance of winning a GS is still not so much. At age 27, Federer had enough in him to make a comeback, win US Open 2008. He went on to capitalize at FO and Wimbledon when Nadal was out injured. But as we saw at AO in 2009 and US Open 2009, Federer couldn’t pull off the win versus a younger, stronger player. And it is both – Federer’s slow decline and the improvements of an immense talent as Nadal; and the power and vigor of del Potro in 2009. 2010 del Potro sat out injured and we don’t yet know if will ever play like he did. 2011 saw Djokovic reach his peak. We will never know for sure how a 24 year old Federer would have fared against 24 year old Djokovic. 30 year old Federer got 1 win, which is better than Nadal fared. (1 contest more in the year is left)

AO 2010, I feel Andy Murray lost the final more than Federer won it. But as they say, a win is a win. Murray had another disaster of a final in 2011 versus Djokovic. Murray gave a glimmer of hope winning Tokyo over Nadal. Hope springing eternal, as Tennislover mentioned.

carlo Says:

Another thing I found watching Youtube videos of Djokovic was a video of him as a youngster who appeared to have a maturity beyond his years. It seems Djokovic had all the essentials for being # 1 in tennis from an early age and took it dead seriously. He won a GS when only 20 and yes, it took him 3 more years to be the top dog. My point is that Djokovic always had the potential to be #1 and win more GS titles. But it wasn’t clear with Nadal dominating and Federer still competing at the top whether Djokovic would get his chance. I believe in 2010, Djokovic beating Federer in the US Open semifinal was part of the turning point having to do with (psychologically) Djokovic realizing it was his time. Of course there are the other stated turning points as winning Davis Cup, gluten-free diet, recovering his old, good serve – but conquering Federer at the US Open semi-final was key. Djokovic himself had mentioned being born at the wrong time, in reference to Nadal and Federer. But the wrong time can become the right time for someone with the gifts Djokovic has. Nadal started so young that he has more mileage than Federer at age 25, using a car analogy. I’d put Nadal at more like 27 or 28 in tennis years than 25. All of this bodes well for Novak Djokovic – if he remains healthy.

grendel, I’ve read your guessing that Djokovic could have had a one-off year in 2011. My guess is that might be true but only if his shoulder/back trouble isn’t manageable. His tennis matches better against Nadal than Federer’s ever did. I’d wager Djokovic having another top 1 or 2 year in 2012 if Murray and del Potro or some other younger guns don’t make their move in 2012. cheers!

margot Says:

And MMT, Johnny Mac could do those extraordinary things with an old fashioned wooden tennis racquet! Respect.

grendel Says:

Carlo, I know what you mean about Djokovic. The first time I ever saw him was after he had just retired against Nadal at RG. He was perhaps 19 or something like that. I didn’t actually see him play, just saw him sounding off following his injury enforced withdrawal. That particular little effusion has been characterised as puerile bragging, but whilst there was definitely that element (though not in an unpleasant way, I found the gawky teenager rather endearing) what really struck me was the boy’s confidence. He’d said he had been in control of the match, something along those lines, and he clearly believed it. That instinctive confidence, comical though it seemed at the time, made me sit up and put him down in my mental notebook as someone to watch in future.

Then, a few years ago (2007), he lost in straight sets to Federer at the AO, 4th round. I have posted here before my impression that he was a handful for Federer in one set, provoking exclamations of incredulity from some quarters. But that was my impression. It may be I read it all wrong, but personally, I found that set very tense, and I sensed the match might, just might, go Djokovic’s way. I was mistaken, and in the end Federer won comfortably, but I was convinced that this was a player who would make waves in time. So I agree with you, Djokovic has really always had future champion written all over him. I don’t think you can say that of any of the youngsters playing now, although obviously one or more of them eventually will be – unless somebody suddenly springs from nowhere.

So of course Djokovic may have more years of domination, he is certainly good enough. It’s just this proneness of his to injury which induces doubt. Hard to see why that should change, except in the sense of getting worse. But – who knows?

MMT Says:

grendel: I think you may be presuming your conclusion by saying there can be no technical solution to improving a great player’s results that they haven’t already considered.

I give you the example of Nadal’s serve:


You have got to watch this entire video to see how a great player, who didn’t have too many problems holding serve as he ascended to #1 in 2008, makes a committment to improving technically. It was not just a question of “going for more” on his serve; he made technical improvements and his serve improved tremendously.

Nadal and his coach Tony, after taking this fellow on JUST to improve Rafa’s serve, are initially hesitant to accept his theories. You would think that if they hired him to improve Rafa’s serve, they would be open to the idea that there are things they haven’t thought of, but they are not. They assume, almost out of habit, that they’re right, and he’s wrong.

But the man is persistent, and eventually we’ve all seen the results.

A lot of people before were saying that Nadal didn’t go for more on his serve because he didn’t want or need to – a conscious decision he made to take fewer chances. But in fact it wasn’t a mental choice at all – he had technical limitations with his serve which, after playing tennis for 25+ years, reaching #1, winning Wimbledon, the Australian and the French 4 times, this man decided to improve technically.

In your words, “Does anyone seriously imagine that even a club coach (never mind a technical ignoramus such as myself)could possibly raise matters of technique which had not long ago been considered by the player in question?”

The answer in this video is clearly, yes.

I’ve never said that the mental side to tennis isn’t important – it is important. It’s just not as important as it is made out to be. And it can be a dangerous distraction from what may help a player, any player, improve – doing the hard yards and improving their technique or tactics.
And if you do that, the belief and mental strength will follow.

grendel Says:

Well, that’s very interesting, MMT, thankyou for giving us the opportunity to watch this video. But of course, there are a number of questions. First, can we be sure that Nadal’s improvement of serve really is due to coach Oscar Borras? Borras is now, according to your clip, suing the Nadals for not ackonwledging his role in improving the serve. It is alleged that Toni Nadal is reluctant to have his own coaching credentials questioned. That may be true, but it may not – we are not in a position to judge.

But if this coaching was so good, why the return to the poor serve? Bad habits, it is said. Of course, bad habits are terribly difficult to expunge – but if he’s done it once, surely there is every incentive to try again. Maybe it was the newly fashioned serve which was responsible for the shoulder trouble? If so, then the coaching was, at best, a temporary expedient – which admittedly led to a grand slam. One thing occurs to me – maybe Nadal knew the US Open was always going to be problematic for him, and he was willing to risk injury, therefore, on a short term basis, simply to get this elusive prize – and then go bact to the safe, but mediocre serve. In any case, seeing a great player dramatically improve his serve like that is certainly of very great interest, and maybe this coach really was onto something.

Another thing. It does seem to me the serve is a special case among the tennis strokes. Quite a lot of distinguished tennis players have had trouble on the serve – Dementieva, Sharapova, Djokovic, there must be others. All of them have had extra coaching on this, with what success, I wouldn’t like to say. But, so far as I am aware, you don’t hear it with other strokes – maybe it just wouldn’t be feasible.

I take your point that:”the belief and mental strength will follow” hard practice. I’m sure that is true, though I’m sure it is also true that some people just are mentally stronger than others, just as some just do have better backhands etc. But in the case of Federer, I was talking about something a little different – the effects on the mind of ageing.

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