Prepping for the French – Roger Federer Answers a Few Questions

Roger Federer answered some tough questions after he lost the French Open final to Rafael Nadal last year. Let’s take a look at his answers.

This will be a short post because I’m off to New Mexico tomorrow and I have to get ready. I’m going to The Lightning Field and The Very Large Array just south of Albuquerque.

The Lightning Field is a “Land Art” installation comprised of 400 stainless steel poles arranged in a grid that measures one mile by one kilometer. Apparently the best time to experience it is at sunrise so I’ll have to drag my butt out of bed at an ungodly hour once I arrive. The Very Large Array is also a grid. It consists of 27 dishes that each measure 82 feet in diameter arranged in a Y shaped grid. Each arm of the Y is 13 miles long.

The Very Large Array is used to detect evidence of extra-terrestrial life, among other things, and you probably saw it in Jodie Foster’s 1997 film Contact. If I don’t get fried by lighting or carted away by extra-terrestrials, I’ll be back for the early rounds of the French Open next week.

I thought about doing a boring French Open preview but luckily I’m prevented from doing that because the draw doesn’t go up until Friday. While I was rooting around the French Open website, I happened upon Roger Federer’s post match media session after he was walloped by Rafael Nadal in last year’s final, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, and I was very impressed with the tough questions journalists threw at him. Here’s a short example:

Q. Has he improved since this day one year ago, and have you gone off?

ROGER FEDERER: …When you really cannot play your game and he can play exactly what he wants from the baseline, well, you end up with scores like this sometimes.

Which begs the question: Roger, why don’t you attack more at the net against Rafa? Because, Roger might say, the French Open is not the Madrid Masters where the air is thin and the clay is fast. There I had an advantage. In Paris I might get passed all day long.

Q. Rafa’s offensive skills are obviously improving, but do you believe that still on this surface great defense beats great offense?

ROGER FEDERER: Look, I don’t know if it’s got that much to do with great offense or great defense, it’s just his movement on clay. It’s just better than the rest.

I’ve always said it three years ago already: He plays like two forehands from the baseline because he has an open stance on both sides. I can’t do that, so I lose a meter or two here and there from the baseline. So he’s got a huge advantage in this aspect.

Two interesting points here: offense vs. defense on clay and open stances and the one handed backhand. Clearly defense means a lot more on clay because you can’t overpower your opponent as you can on a faster surface, but Roger correctly restates the question in terms of movement. Movement might be slightly less important on offense but if you’ve ever seen Rafa run around his backhand, scoop up a low ball then hit an inside out forehand that skitters off the court closer to the service line than the baseline, you can see why movement is the relevant skill.

As for Rafa’s open stance backhand, you can see what Roger means here:

There is such a thing as an open stance one-handed backhand but none of the pros do it by choice. It’s usually an emergency stroke. And it’s not just the distance Rafa gains with the open stance backhand, it’s his right hand. Rafa is right handed so when he’s out of position on his backhand, he can muscle the ball back with his right arm. We make a lot of the fact that Rafa’s high bouncing forehand goes in to Roger’s backhand but here’s a place where Rafa’s backhand works to his advantage too.

Roger would dearly love to win this event because it would tie him with Pete Sampras’s 14 slams, but it would also move him past Pete because Pete never won the French Open. It would be very important at the moment but I don’t know how long it would hold up. I’m pretty sure Rafa can win a U.S. Open before he’s done and that would give Rafa a career slam too. And though Rafa might not get to 14 slams, he has a good chance to win a calendar grand slam this year.

Is a calendar slam today worth more than Rod Laver’s calendar slams in the 1960’s? Probably an unanswerable question because it’s so hard to compare different eras. But if Rafa wins a calendar slam and adds a few more slams after that, and even if Federer gets his 14th slam, then Rafa is in the same sentence as Laver, Federer, and Sampras.

Two weeks from now, I have a feeling I might be reading an interview much like the one above.