Can Roger Federer's Game Recover With Paul Annacone's Help?

Greg Del MarContributor IJuly 27, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 30:  Roger Federer of Switzerland speaks during a press conference on Day Nine of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 30, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Lovelock-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

News has come out recently that Roger Federer has employed Paul Annacone as a short-term tennis coach. This is the same Annacone that teamed with Pete Sampras in his heyday. That should be encouraging for Federer's fans (and I am one of them) that he has hired Annacone. There's no shame in hiring a coach to try and get another set of eyes to help you tweak your game.

There are some observations that oodles of people have made already, that are current problems to Federer's game.

1) His serve. Used to have arguably the best serve in the game. Fast serve, hard for opponents to read, great placement. Great variety in using a flat, slice, or topspin serve. I've seen incredible serves from Roger- highlight reel quality. Now, his serve is not quite as precise, not as much pace. He has been passed by dozens of players as far as the pace on his serve. It's not a bad serve, but instead of being the best in the game, it has fallen back a few slots. It's now maybe top 10.

2)His backhand. It was one of the best in the game. Now it's a liability just as often. His slice backhands are landing short more and more often and sitting up for opponents for easy putaways. The big hitters especially are driving Roger back in the court on the backhand side. Then Roger will hit a short slice backhand and he's a sitting duck. Nadal was able to do this when Federer's backhand was still great, due to his superb serve placement and natural lefty crosscourts to Roger's backhand, but now many others can do this to Federer as well.

3). Federer's reduced court coverage. At his peak, he was one of the best at getting to balls in the corners. Plus, he had great anticipation to know where opponents would hit there next shot. Now he's slowed a bit, and balls are getting by him in the corners more.

4) Federer's loss of muscle mass- it's obvious that his frame has gotten thinner, and looking at his arms you can see that they're dramatically thinner. His forehands, which were once the best in tennis, are not blowing people off the court as much anymore. He's gotten into hitting matches, forehand to forehand, with DelPo, Soderling, Berdych, Nadal, and some others and been beaten at his own game. He needs to muscle up a bit if he wants to hold his ground.

It reminds me of a hot fireballing baseball pitcher. He comes into the league with a 100 mile an hour fastball and a curve ball that buckles your knees. The first few years he'll get everyone out with those pitches, but two things happen. The pitcher eventually loses 5-10 mph off his fastball, and the curve doesn't break quite as much. Second, the hitters start figuring the pitcher's tendencies out and don't get fooled as often.

Then the pitcher, if he wants to stay successful, has to add another pitch or two to his repertoire, and also start pitching on the corners and learn the hitters, since he doesn't have the 100mph fastball to blow by them anymore.]

Well, that is Roger Federer right now. He's lost a little off his fastball and the opposition is figuring him out some. He has to adjust. Problem is, he's facing players like Nadal, who still have their 100mph fastball and wicked curve ball, plus a couple other pitches that are so nasty they make your knees turn to jelly, and he brings it every night.

There are a lot of things a Paul Annacone can do, and recommend, just like a pitching coach in baseball can help squeeze a few more years out of a once-fireballing power pitcher. He can help him add a few things, make a couple tweaks that will take the opponents off their game and keep them off balance. That pitcher may never beat you again with pure heat, but may be able to stay near the top through strategy, finesse, and other things.

One thing Annacone did for Sampras is to help him filter out all the distractions from the people in the press who were pronouncing him dead after a few bad matches, and to keep him focused on the goal of competing at the highest level. For Federer, who is newly married with children, and buzzards circling because of his recent title drought, these skills might really help him.

Annacone has said that in sports, there are a few elite athletes for whom the normal rules do not apply, that can transcend what is normally thought possible. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Mario Lemieux, Sampras and Agassi. He mentioned Sampras and Agassi being able to come back, Agassi from being almost out of the sport, and going back to #1 in the world.

He also mentioned Sampras standing out as having the most belief in himself of any other player. Despite what everyone else said, he always believed in himself, and that got him over a lot of bad patches. Federer has had that same quality. He has historically spurned coaching, believing that he knows himself and what it will take him to compete and succeed at the highest level.

Annacone may be able to reinforce that belief in Federer. Help him filter out the distractions and focus. Achieve a better balance that enables him to squeeze that extra 5% more out of his tennis. If it helps him close out more of those close matches he lost this year, and take his self-belief up a notch, it will be time well spent.

This is not to say at all that Federer's needing an assist from Annacone means he is almost washed up, but if it were all about just getting healthy to beat the other top players, Federer wouldn't have needed to bring Annacone in. The injuries play some part in some of Federer's matches, but they are certainly not the main reason why he's losing. It's to Roger's credit that he's trying to improve his game. Heck, Nadal was forced to do it after he got injured. The thing with a Nadal, though, is that he still brings the heat every match, AND he's added new moves to his game. He just needs some extra rest between tournaments.

Federer also needs to add to his game, but with Nadal and others improving, it may not be enough to consistently beat the Nadals of the tour. It may, however, be enough to keep him near the top for an extra two or three years, and every once in a while beat those fireballing young bucks.