Watching Dominik Hrbaty play Nikolay Davydenko in the fourth round of the Australian Open gave me yet another level of appreciation for Roger Federer.
Hrbaty is in excellent physical condition, he’s considering entering the New York Marathon, and he has compact, consistent form on his ground strokes. He also knows how to rise to the occasion. He almost singlehandedly beat Croatia in the Davis Cup finals in a heroic effort.
Hrbaty is a baseline player who seldom attacks the net. You are at a distinct disadvantage if you get into a baseline battle with him, but there is a disadvantage for Hrbaty also. By the time he finished his fourth round match with Davydenko, a five set loss, he had spent close to 14 hours on the court. His first three matches were five round affairs totaling 11 hours.
Roger Federer has been on the court for 4 hours and 25 minutes through his first three rounds.
If Federer is to reach Pete Sampras’ record of 14 grand slams, the less time he spends on the court the better. Sampras used to accept a huge appearance fee to play in Dubai, turn up the day before the tournament, lose in the first round then move on to Australia to prepare for the Australian Open. He focused on the slams and it paid off. While Federer is an efficient player on the court, he plays Dubai until the end and usually wins it. He plays a lot more tournaments and, since he usually gets to the final, a lot more matches than most players.
The ATP broke the schedule into tiers – slams, Masters Series, and International Series – so that players could play fewer matches by concentrating only on the important tournaments. But the Masters Series are often two week affairs and the season is longer. If you play in the season ending championship, you have maybe two or three weeks off before it is time to start training for the new season.
It will be interesting to see if Federer’s efficiency on the court will offset the number of tournaments he plays. If his body can survive the long tennis season, his chances are good.