The biggest post-Wimbledon news on the tennis tour hasn't been the pairing of Maria Sharapova and Jimmy Connors or even the unretirement of Martina Hingis. Rather, most of the buzz has been about Roger Federer and his new racket.
That's right. After sticking with his vintage 90-inch Wilson frame for over a decade, the 17-time Grand Slam Champion has moved up to the 98-inch frame club, where he joins Andy Murray. (Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic sport a 100-inch frame.)
Making a racket change is an incredibly big deal, even for a club player. But so far, it's paying off.
Federer is only two matches into his campaign at the German Tennis Championships in Hamburg, but so far, he's 2-0 with his new racket and has looked better every set. In the first round, he took out No. 58 Daniel Brands, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, and in the second round on Thursday, he defeated No. 140 Jan Hajek 6-4, 6-3.
Critics have been chiming for Federer to update his racket technology for years, as a 90-inch frame is bizarrely small for a professional player. So, why did he resist? Simple:
That's right, Federer didn't see the need to change his racket because he was so successful with his old one. Many players have seen their careers derailed completely after switching rackets, and the stakes were simply too high for him to take that risk. After all, he was No. 1 in the world less than a year ago!
But this year has been a constant downhill slide for the Swiss legend after making the semifinals in the Australian Open. After he lost in the second round at Wimbledon and saw his ranking drop to No. 5 in the world, he knew that something had to be done.
He explained the entire process to the ATP website:
I’ve been very close on numerous occasions to change rackets in a bigger way. But then, very often, time was the issue. Maybe also just the records of Grand Slams—I was always keeping on playing quarters and semis—so then it was also a bit more difficult to change it because of the time.
This time around, all of a sudden, I just had the extra 10 days, two weeks I was looking for, and I really was very serious about it. Wilson flew to Switzerland, and we went through the whole process, and I was very happy how things went over there.
Federer started out his match against Daniel Brands in the first round poorly, dropping the first set without putting up much resistance. Federer watchers have lovingly mocked his shanks throughout the years, and with the new racket, they seemed more pronounced.
But as the match marched on, he began to find his range. The changes are subtle, as expected, and there isn't a large sample size to judge from yet, but his serve and forehand both seem to have more pop on them, and he looks to be taking bigger and braver cuts on the return. There is a difference.
Of course, he could beat most of the tour with a frying pan, but these small changes might be just the thing he needs to get him back into contention at the big events.
The most impressive thing about this switch is that it proves he is still willing to put in the work to get back to the top. A guy who is looking at retirement doesn't make such a big change. A guy who's bitter that the game has passed him buy doesn't play catch-up with technology. This change signals that he is committed to continuing his run of greatness.
The jury is still out on how far this change can take him, and it likely will be until at least the U.S. Open, but this is definitely a move in the right direction.
As Federer said on Wednesday, "So far, so good."
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