"With a few minor adjustments I think I can really beat the best without a problem."
These were Roger Federer's words during an interview in Hong Kong, ahead of the Masters 1000 event in Shanghai, China.
It will be recalled that Federer spoke similar bravado, arrogant words at the beginning of this season, and prompted the first of my long series of articles on this player, calling him on everything from disrespect of his peers to making too many excuses after important losses.
Federer's latest "words of wisdom" fall under the category of the former.
After my latest piece on the Swiss Maestro, praising the humble way with which he handled himself after his loss to Novak Djokovic and the great fighting spirit he showed in that match, I really believed he was starting a new chapter in his career—that of a player who, after having accomplished so much, and broken so many records, is finally coming to terms with his achievements.
I believed Federer would begin this latest stage of his career intent on simply enjoying the fight and the competition, on letting his racquet do the talking, not his mouth cutting down the opposition to boost his confidence.
I was wrong.
With his latest words, Federer has come full circle with regards to the disrespectful bravado displayed at the beginning of the year, and with my current piece, so, it seems, have I.
I asked the question back in January: Why must Federer feel he has to declare himself to the world, most often at the expense of rivals who have done so well to defeat him?
His fans would argue that he is merely trying to bolster his confidence as a major competition draws near. But there are many other ways one can accomplish this, without having to resort to belittling the opposition.
How about looking within oneself to find the answers, to summon the strength and desire to compete at the highest level.
Yes, Federer's comment quoted at the beginning is condescending to say the least. He is implying that his previous losses were due to him not having yet fine-tuned his game. The latter, of course, is obviously untrue, but the nonchalance with which he dispatches such statements is frightening in its audacity.
Federer also mentioned at the interview that when he's at his best he "can beat anyone," he "can even dominate anyone." Again, the addition of those extra words was both unnecessary and disrespectful.
He is talking about dominating his peers, many of whom look up to him, many of whom have beaten him fair and square on the battlefield.
This obsession with "domination" is unbecoming of a sportsman, especially one who has already scaled the dizzying heights of tennis stardom.
Federer was wise to mention that Rafael Nadal is still the man to beat: "Rafa, being the No.1 guy, is a tough guy to beat." No kidding! But he conveniently excluded his name when mentioning beating everyone in sight.
I feel those words by Federer are also geared towards intimidation. He wants to strike fear, or at least uncertainty, in the hearts of would-be combatants—especially those less experienced foes whom he would meet in the early stages of competition.
I have followed this sport of tennis for a good many years, and never recall the use of such tactics. I don't remember the great Pete Sampras, in those sombre days of his decline, needing to bolster himself or his ego in such fashion.
He continued to work hard on his game, and, as a fan and admirer of this soft-spoken giant, I was thrilled when he finally capped his marvellous career by winning his final Grand Slam.
After declaring himself in such bold fashion at the beginning of the year, Federer's achievements did not progress as planned—save for his fantastic victory at the Australian Open in January, of course.
And he is setting himself up for further disappointment with his latest comments. This, I believe, is what triggers his famed "excuses," such as those dished out after his Wimbledon loss.
Federer publicly sets himself such lofty standards, and then has to find explanations when he loses.
He will certainly be among the top favorites to lift the Shanghai crown. His long break since New York should hold him in good stead as he battles young rivals already fighting for valuable ranking points in Asia.
Federer should return to the spirit of that US Open interview, when he seemed to triumph despite that heartbreaking loss.
His incredible, fluid, versatile game, the most efficiently pleasing of all time, is already carved in stone.
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