Is Federer in a slump?
I had hoped to talk about a new rivalry today. I didn’t expect Novak Djokovic to beat Rafael Nadal in Rome but I thought he could give him a good match. Djokovic played much better in the second set than the first and he showed promise, but he still lost their quarterfinal match, 6-2, 6-3. Instead of talking about that rivalry, let’s go back and revisit Federer’s latest loss.
Is Federer in a slump? This year he has two titles in six tournaments and lost in Rome to wild card Filippo Volandri, a very unFederer-like state of affairs.
Our reader Maria thinks he’s in a state of denial and unwilling to admit that he has a problem. My co-writer Pat thinks Federer has the existential problem of having himself as his biggest challenger because there are so few other challengers out there. A tough situation if you think about it. If his challenger is inside, if it’s his inner self, is that enough to propel him to his two remaining goals: a calendar grand slam and fifteen slam wins (one more than Pete Sampras’ record)?
Federer has two problems at the moment. On hard court he doesn’t have a credible challenger which makes it hard to maintain a high level of emotional drive for winning. On clay his challenger is a fierce competitor who favors eccentric attire and tied the record for consecutive wins on a single surface today with his victory over Novak Djokovic. Nadal tied John McEnroe’s record of 75 consecutive wins on indoor carpet.
Federer hired Tony Roche and improved his game in order to beat Nadal on clay court but so far he has failed. This year he is regressing instead of progressing. Federer’s two challengers appear to have ganged up on him and left him reeling a bit.
Nadal has improved his clay court game while Federer has not and Federer’s inner self is suffering a lack of drive. That’s a pretty big one-two punch. Add one more goal that Federer may be pursuing: greatest of all time. He will not be the greatest of all time as long as Nadal is supreme on clay and that could be eating at Federer’s inner self too.
You can see why Federer befriended Tiger Woods. On two occasions Woods changed his stroke to improve his game and on both occasions he went into a slump while he remade himself only to emerge and return to dominating the PGA tour. Woods is trying to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of eighteen major wins, he currently has twelve. Federer currently has ten slam titles.
Maybe Federer’s competition with Woods to see who can reach their goal first will prop up Federer’s inner self. And maybe Woods can help Federer figure out how to muck his way through a slump and return to domination.
I don’t think it will be enough to help Federer win a French Open as long as Nadal is healthy, but anything can happen, and I’d bet a whole lot on Federer breaking Pete Sampras’ record.