Tennis in the time of football…
The Federer mystique has dimmed considerably. Rarely see him win in straight sets these days, just about scraping victories 6-4 or 7-6 in the deciding set. I suppose the thing is he wins nevertheless. Still, I miss the magic of the dominant and aggressive Federer. The French open, his run to the Finals was almost completely built on defensive back-to-the wall grit, and an occasionally counter-attacking game. That has its attractions, no doubt, best epitomized by the championship point he saved at 4-5 in the fourth set against Nadal, going on to break Nadal in the game. But the thing is, he lost the match against Nadal, because he refused to be aggressive enough. Not coming in to volley, not going for his forehand winners, missing his first serves more often than not.
Sometimes, as I watched his French open matches, it seemed to me as if Federer wanted to see how far he could go purely on his defensive skills. Just sometimes. Most times though, it seemed like he had suddenly turned tremendously frail, but through sheer grit, and riding his still considerable reputation, was eking out the kind of wins that would please a Brad Gilbert fan.
I thought a return to grass would tell me if his game had indeed deteriorated. I am afraid the signs are it has, if his performance in Halle was anything to go by. He won, yes, but never so unconvincingly. I think, his serve, amongst all his weapons, has deteriorated the most.
I watch Nadal grunt it out, and outmuscle just about everyone from the baseline, and while I enjoy it in a way, it’s not quite the delight I find in seeing a beautiful Federer stretch volley, or a backhand so wickedly sliced that one can hear the oohs in the stands before the ball has crossed the net, or a turn-of-the wrist forehand drive that has less to do with the racquet, and more to do with the skill in his wrists. Not to say, Nadal does not have the touch or the deftness, he is creative too in his own way, but it is in a more regular, expected sort of way.
Wimbledon is a week or so away, and I find myself hoping, that I will see a Federer coming in more often, serving well again, and putting it across opponents in straight sets, dominating them from start to finish. I guess he will find a way to win again, but I only wish it will be the way I hope to see.