By Jane Voigt
Tennis is weird. It’s more about the loser than the winner. More about Roger Federer than Tommy Robredo. Yet in this instance, weird fits.
The two 30-somethings had played 10 times prior to last night; Roger won them all. Of those matches, he had won 24 of 27 sets. The odds were stacked against Robredo, if rear vision was the GPS of projecting the winner.
But Robredo played better on the fan-crazy-loud, crowded, drippy-humid Louis Armstrong court. He was steady, consistent, and continually gained confidence as the errors mounted on the Federer side.
Federer’s year has been nothing to write home about. The stats are dismal; his mind must be a mess of calculations now. Bigger racquet? Get in better shape? Have LASIK surgery so he can see the ball better? Perhaps there are too many questions.
Last night, Roger admitted in his press conference that he ‘self-destructed.’ He had opportunities, like 26 break point chances, and converted 2. TWO!
He was stubborn, performing like a rank and file player. “He never changed his strategy,” Zoltan Bundics, a certified tennis teaching pro, pointed out. “He went for winners and rushed. He never rallied, even when Robredo was most vulnerable toward the end of sets and the match.”
From afar Federer seemed caught in another world, too, which was firmly planted inside his head. Should I please fans and play all-out, the way they want me to. That’s my style; this is a fast court; I should take the ball on the rise and keep the points short. If I can’t please the fans and lose, I’ll never hear the end of it. Why isn’t this working?
The more he tried, the more he lost ground. As Bundics concisely put it, “Win fast. Lose slow.”
Federer had not played on Armstrong since 2003. The back- and side-courts are small compared to Ashe. Fans were close, appearing like draped tree branches. The humidity levels were as high as they have been in years. Players’ clothes dripped. Puddles of sweat lay at the baseline. And the balls fluffed up and slowed play. Federer seemed unconscious about this critical facet of the match.
Federer’s loss to Robredo was not on the U. S. Open radar screen, either. He had not lost a set in the first three rounds. Many thought he looked his best, if but a touch slow.
Down The Tee wanted to know what its readers thought about Federer’s loss, and the current state of his career. Here are some comments from its informal survey.
John D. — “Tommy Robredo gets all the credit for playing a complete match. It still shows you have to go out and win, not just show up. I want to be sad for Roger, but what can you expect after the summer he had of poor playing due to bad back, new racket, etc. I hope he takes the rest of the year off and gets his lower back better and restarts in 2014.”
Dr. G. — “It is my opinion that Roger has lost confidence, which has affected his consistency. Opponents can sense that his aura has diminished and, as a result, feel that he is beatable.”
LN — “In a way I am glad that it was another 30+ player who defeated Roger. This fact should take age out of the discussion. Robredo was flying around the court yesterday. Roger had no spark, but then spark hasn’t really been his style. He just calmly dials in and lifts his game. He can’t turn back the clock, but can make changes to his game (Nadal most famously) or their diets (Novak Djokovic), or their strategy (the Bryan brothers switched sides to compete with a team that was giving them trouble) in order to achieve on-court goals. Roger has been such a constant in the slams that he has not had a real need or an opportunity to change things up. I recognize that he has been trying for years to adapt his game to compete with his rivals. Yet he always looks like the same player out there, albeit a less confident version of himself.”
Bob — Roger did not play well and seemed out of sorts. Going to a larger and a bit more powerful racquet is a “must” as his strength has declined a bit given his age. Roger is experiencing what eventually happens to all athletes. We begin to see a bit of deterioration in our body, so we need to adjust. I believe Roger will figure it out (with help from Paul Annacone) and will be back on the winning track in 2014.”
Deb — “When I listened to Roger’s post-game interview on Saturday, he was relaxed and had a guarded optimism about the prospect of meeting Rafa in the quarterfinals. After watching the breakdown of his game last night and seeing him post-match, he appeared to be in both shock and denial. He spoke of ‘the next time’ and re-grouping and, frankly, I just don’t see it happening.”
Richie — “Poor Roger. Age has taken its toll, and it’s just about time to retire. I enjoyed the rain delays when they showed tiebreakers. With Borg’s Donnay club it looked like he merely put the ball in play with his first serve. Keep your eye on the ball and bend your knees … ouch!”
Thanks to everyone who returned the survey. Leaving comments at the end of posts is always available to readers. Wonder what Roger would say, after reading these comments? Surely he has gotten an earful from his trusted team.