http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/tennis/article6036419.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1 From Times Online April 5, 2009 Roger Federer demise earns little sympathy World No 2 is locked in a crisis of confidence that has left him tantamount to powerless against trio of young challengers Barry Flatman “DON’T feel too sorry for Roger because none of us do. He’s spent far too long getting right into our heads, now let’s see if he’s going to be subjected to a little anguish and self-belief problems.” The words were those of Andy Roddick, somebody who has suffered more than most at the hands of Roger Federer. Just a day earlier the Swiss had been subjected to such an emphatic French Open final annihilation by Rafael Nadal that many who witnessed it admitted to a sense of sympathy for a player revered as a legendary champion and potentially the greatest player to pick up a racket. Roddick may claim to be many things but prophetic is not one of them. However, his lunchtime conversation in the players’ restaurant as the first balls of the main grass court season were being struck outside at Queen’s Club in London have a distinct resonance today. Ten months on and Federer is undeniably locked in a crisis of confidence that has left him tantamount to powerless against the trio of young challengers who have thrust repeated daggers into his greatness. To lose one match or two against such stunning talents as Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray is understandable. But to win only one in the last 11, a sequence that stretches back almost a year to the day when Djokovic pulled out midway through the Monte Carlo semi-final complaining of dizziness, seems to serve as irrefutable evidence that a player once regarded as simply imperious is on the downslope of his career. There was a time the numbers stacked so emphatically in Federer’s favour. He held the world No 1 ranking for a record 237 weeks. He appeared in 10 successive Grand Slam finals, winning eight of them. He registered 65 consecutive wins on grass courts and 56 on hard. As Roddick admitted, Federer delighted in giving those who preceded him as world No 1 the most nagging of inferiority complexes. In 18 meetings with his nemesis, Roddick, who was dislodged by Federer from the top spot on February 2, 2004, has won only twice and suffered 11 straight defeats until clawing back one win at Miami last year. Federer was unquestionably an admirable victor but his demeanour in defeat is not quite so becoming. Last year in Dubai he was positively disparaging about the game of Murray after the Scot had beaten him in the opening round. Then of course there were tears many construed of self-pity as he failed to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles at this year’s Australian Open. On Friday the adolescent anger he was thought to have banished certainly returned as he was put into a spin by Djokovic. A racket was left buckled and broken before he refused to shake hands with umpire Fergus Murphy. So what has gone wrong with Federer and where did the demise begin? After all, once majestic and largely unbeatable players do not become ordinary overnight. It is probably overly simplistic to say but when the game is being played at the very highest level, so much of it is actually played in the brain. Managing to collect just four games in that French Open final was a crushing blow to his morale but was minimal to what was to follow a month later as Nadal added the Wimbledon title in that cataclysmic final. Before both matches, there was the bout of glandular fever and a return to action that was undeniably and unnecessarily rushed. More recently there have also been some problems with the back, which is not unusual for a tennis player who has spent the past decade flying around the world and, by virtue of success, playing more matches than most of his peers. Just ask Andre Agassi, who in the end had to resort to a succession of cortisone injections in the spine. A combination of illness, injury and dented confidence is a debilitating handicap for even a legend and while Federer’s basic approach to technique has not radically altered, he is far less inclined to take risks. Many is the observer who implores him to attack the net more with serve and volley and stresses that the most apparent weakness in his game is the backhand played deep in court when he is forced to take the ball high above his shoulder. When he is confronted by a trio of such accomplished baseliners as Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, who all delight in hitting a heavy ball with plenty of top spin, the Federer withdrawn game is found wanting. And he does not have sufficient belief to attack when he knows all three are supremely acquitted to hit the most withering of passing shots. Perhaps the most crucial area is that Federer has opted to play without a permanent coach since dispensing with the services of Peter Lundgren at the end of 2003. His liaison with Tony Roche was largely a long-distance affair and a breakdown in communications finally proved its undoing. Since then he has occasionally sought the advice of the Californian-based Spaniard Jose Higueras, who is now contracted as the United States Tennis Federation director of coaching for elite player development. For the most part, the Swiss Davis Cup captain, Severin Luthi, travels to administer such things as booking practice courts but does not appear to have a say in technique or tactics. A month ago Federer accepted the need to resort to respected guidance and worked in Dubai on a trial basis with Darren Cahill, the Australian who guided Lleyton Hewitt to the top and ensured the autumn of Agassi’s career was fruitful. Just as Tim Henman’s former fitness trainer Johan de Beer did a year or so earlier, Cahill thanked Federer for his offer but decided to take another option and is now working with the adidas Development Squad so he can spend more time at home in Las Vegas with his family. Ironically, family issues will soon also become a factor for Federer with girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec expecting the couple’s first child in the summer. History unquestion-ably proves that fatherhood and winning major titles do not mix. In recent years only Agassi and the 1998 Australian Open champion, Petr Korda, have celebrated a Grand Slam victory by returning to the hotel for a cuddle with their offspring and singing a lullaby. Perhaps a lament might be more appropriate for Federer — just don’t expect any of his rivals to be singing. FEDERER’S STRUGGLES: ROGER AND OUT Related Links * Federer's invincibility lies in pieces * Djokovic lifts Serbian spirits * Djokovic feels Murray closing in on him Roger Federer’s psychological grip over his rivals has crumbled and he even smashed his racket on Friday. He has won only one of his last 11 matches against his three biggest rivals Top four He has been beaten in each of the past six confrontations with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray Murray’s wins Murray has beaten Federer in their past four ATP World Tour meetings since the 2008 US Open final Nadal’s wins Nadal is even more dominant, winning the last five including Grand Slam final wins at the French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open Federer drought Federer’s last title was at his home-town event in Basle last October and he has not won a Masters 1000 Series title since Cincinnati in August 2007 Sampras record At a comparable age, 27 years and eight months, Pete Sampras had won 11 Grand Slams, compared with Federer’s 13. The bad news for the Swiss is that Sampras was never again the world’s most dominant player — he had just lost the No 1 ranking. The good news is that the American did go on to win three more Grand Slam titles.