The renowned tennis coach and guru, Nick Bollettieri, is certainly a fan of Federer, which explains his recent willingness to refute what, it seems, has already been done and dusted over the previous two weeks.
Roger Federer indeed unleashed the dreaded "injury excuse" at a news conference after losing to Tomas Berdych, without being specifically asked by the interviewer (that is in answering the second question of the interview, directly related to his opponent), and without showing the normal signs (to me at least) of a player in some physical discomfort.
Federer's physical issues are not of the extent as to warrant blaming his Wimbledon loss to Berdych on them, as the player himself and some of his fans were doing, among them Bollettieri.
Call me old fashioned, but after years of following this game I always thought a tennis player exhibited certain mannerisms on court that showed injury was a factor: tell-tale signs such as a grimace, a stretch here or there after a demanding rally, or, heaven forbid, the call for the trainer. I can understand the reluctance of the latter for some, so as not to show weakness, but Federer displayed none of the above-mentioned idiosyncrasies of the injured.
In fact, the only deviation from his now trademark calm exterior were several piercing COME ONS, the last of which occurring when Federer hit a scintillating backhand passing shot at 15-all in the final game.
He moved with his usual gazelle-like smoothness, albeit the diminished smoothness of a gazelle who has run from one too many lions in his lifetime. Federer may have been half a step slower that day, but that is due to the competition putting greater pressure on him than ever before—not to an injury-related weakened capacity, as some are claiming.
To go back to the third paragraph, Federer has struggled with some sort of back problem since the beginning of his career, but has also won a record 16 Grand Slams and countless other titles while playing on and off, with it.
Federer's sudden use of this affliction to explain his quarterfinal loss, which was not used by him to explain other major losses, was criticised by many over the world since that sunny Wednesday. And then came Mr. Bollettieri.
The prominent tennis coach, mentor, and founder of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, was right on some points in his comments made to an Indian newspaper while on a visit to New Delhi. He mentioned Federer's back problem, which as earlier noted, has been almost a permanent fixture of this player from the beginning.
However, Bollettieri was wrong in stating that it was hampering him on that fateful day in late June, as it did, for instance, during his match with Andy Murray at the 2008 Masters Cup in Shanghai when Federer actually did call a trainer to have work done on that area.
Bollettieri was also right in noting that it will be tougher now for Federer to win at the majors because "players no longer fear playing him," amply proved by Berdych's fantastic and gutsy performance against the Swiss.
Again, the American coach missed the mark when stating, "Federer doesn't make excuses." Let me see if I can refute that.
Ok, here are a couple of examples: after losing to Novak Djokovic at the Miami Masters event in 2009, Federer blamed the wind for his loss, and after a tough loss to Nadal at Wimbledon two years ago, he said that fading light aided in his defeat, knowing full well that this factor was the same for both players.
I have written before about Federer's lack of shyness when looking to pin his loss on certain factors.
When Federer himself does not lay blame for his loss on a physical issue, sometimes a newspaper or its writer probably influenced by admiration for the player obliges in this regard.
A case in point is the 2009 U.S. Open. In the semifinals, Federer beat the dangerous Novak Djokovic in straight sets, playing an outlandish between-the-legs shot (a tweener to some) for an outright winner. A shot that, for most, is merely a defensive maneuver, but not for RF.
The next day, he came across the towering Argentine, Juan Martin Del Potro, and basically ran into a Sherman Tank. Del Potro was intent on winning that match and his missiles from both wings did not betray.
Federer admitted during the victory ceremony that Del Potro was "the best," and later praised the Argentine's efforts in achieving that monumental win at the post-match news conference.
But alas, soon afterwards a Swiss newspaper felt it necessary to state that a stiff back affected its countryman during the match, even though Federer himself made no mention of any physical struggles during the official news conference.
Aches and pains, especially towards the end of the season, are a normal occurrence among players. But even if this "stiffness" was of such acuity that it affected Federer's performance in that match, like the recent Berdych encounter, the Swiss showed no signs of it, unless his tirade at the umpire in the third set was caused by extreme pain!
Federer is still the same sublime player he was when he burst onto the scene in 2003 with his first Wimbledon win. However, the combination of his age (he will be 29 soon) and the recent ability of some of the younger players to figure out his game, has meant that his powers have somewhat subsided.
His single-handed backhand, beautiful to watch, is becoming a liability against certain players who are now capable of consistently exploiting it with heavy inside-out forehands, and eventually drawing out the error. For lefty Nadal, attacking that wing is as natural for him as a walk in the park, cross-court being the easiest way for him to hit his heavily torqued forehand.
Also, some of the young guns are even able to go mano a mano with Federer off the forehand wing and still fancy their chances, a tactic that used to be akin to attempted suicide!
These players have the strength to really clobber the ball, hitting through the court at a greater pace than their predecessors.
After years on top, it is natural for Federer to begin a slight decline. His fans should not cry "injury" every time he loses a big match, because that would be unfair to the opponent who played well to beat him, and also to the man himself, who I'm sure really wants to enjoy this latter stage of his career.
Federer needs to get back to the drawing board, as it were, and carefully assess his current place in today's game.
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