Monday, May 16, 2011

The Drunken Master

Normal Service: Roger about to let one fly at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia tournament in Rome.
 The second grand slam event of the year will commence in just under a week’s time in the fashion-conscious city of Paris. Roland Garros 2011 will mark the culmination of the clay court swing for the current year as the top players battle it out for the biggest clay crown of them all. As of now, the year has belonged to Novak Djokovic who has played tennis of the highest quality in winning the Australian Open as well as four Masters 1000 titles (he is yet to lose a match!) and is the best player in the world even though he is listed at No. 2 in the rankings. Rafael Nadal is always considered a favourite at any major event because of his mental fortitude and even Andy Murray has started showing signs of improvement since his tepid show in the Australian Open final four months ago...

All eyes, however, will be set on a certain Swiss who attempts to recover his lost mojo and silence his numerous critics for a billionth time. Roger Federer is no longer the force he once was. His uninspired play in crunch situations over the last five months is proof that the single-minded focus that became synonymous with his name has now gone on indefinite vacation. Watching him play is like going for a Shakespearean tragedy – his leonine character and fluid strokes make him loved by all and sundry, but his tragic flaw is his lack of interest which results in matches that are lost inexplicably.

There is a host of advice being thrown at Roger from all corners ranging from making changes in racquet specifications to changing his on-court demeanour. What must Paul Annacone be thinking? He had before him a very tough task and has done admirably well by making the Swiss hit aggressive returns and attack the net more amidst other tactical adjustments. Roger’s results were very good towards the end of 2010, but now that game plan of all-out attack is not bringing in positive results. There may be many theories for his consistent fragility in the face of danger, so here are three of them that hold water.
·         Roger is 29 years old while most of his competitors are much younger and hungrier than the 16-time grand slam champion: After having achieved so much in his already unbelievable career, the drive to win week in week out has certainly dimmed if not altogether disappeared. This problem coupled with the raging aspirations of Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and the rest have made it difficult for him to mount a challenge when necessary. Where there is no will, there most certainly is no way.

·         He is a married man with twin daughters to take care of and has other interests: His marriage and the subsequent birth of his little ones is also another factor as it has changed his life completely. They are also his priority which means that his focus is now divided and that usually spells trouble for anyone in top-flight sport. Unwavering concentration is the key to success, but by his own admission, Roger thinks about lunch, dinner, kids and movies while on court in the middle of a match!
·         His movement is a full step slower than his peers: For someone who was always set and balanced in his heyday, Roger’s magic feet are now a liability in his attempt to achieve even more greatness. Is it because of his age or just because his body is no longer willing to obey his mind? Movement is the foundation on which the game of tennis is built. Hitting serves, forehands, backhands and volleys is only made possible through the proper use of one’s feet.

Of course Roger’s current predicament can be resolved. He will have to if he wants to win more grand slams and regain the No. 1 ranking. It will take a lot of effort though as he needs to reinvent himself once again along with the help of his coach and team. No matter what Roger says, one thing is clear that he really has to change something in his game and that which has to be changed is known to the great man alone. He is like a man who has been drinking too much and can’t recall who he actually is. It’s time for this drunken master to sober up and prove to the world once again why he is the greatest player of all time.