Interesting article by Bodo for a change :D


I'm no fan of Bodo's writing and there are certain aspects in this article I do not agree with but overall its a good article. I've highlighted the paragraphs I particularly enjoyed reading.

Part 1

The Fork in Federer's Road
Posted 07/28/2009 @ 4 :36 PM

by Pete Bodo

Roger Federer stands at a career crossroads, a babe in each arm (his wife Mirka gave birth to twin girls a few days ago), and one of two forks to take: one path goes downhill on a pleasant hike to retirement as the greatest Grand Slam singles title collector of all time. The other path goes uphill, over some potentially rough terrain, toward a private Valhalla with splendid views all around - and not a neighbor in sight.

Which way will Federer go?

It's an intriguing question, now that Federer has completed what might be the greatest 12-month period in his career - a time of triumph and vindication, pure and simple. But even deeply satisfying feats ought to carry a warning label, as top players often discovered. One Grand Slam champion who didn't read the label was Mats Wilander, who competes these days on the ATP Champions Tour.

In 1988, Wilander won three majors (which Federer is on track to do at the U.S. Open), the piece de resistance was a stunning upset of Ivan Lendl in the U.S. Open final. Wilander's performance was all the more critical because the no. 1 ranking was on the line (as it might be at Flushing Meadow in a few weeks) and Wilander had never held the spot.

Unfortunately, the three-major year, as well as his ascent to the top spot, left Wilander burned out and on the brink of what would be an enormous letdown. As he told David Law of the ATP Champion Tour the other day, “It wasn’t that easy (to recover from the effort) and it didn’t just go away in one day. It was more than a 'beer hangover' so to speak. It was deflation - you pump up the balloon so much and eventually it just exploded.

“I still loved to play tennis afterward, but I did feel like there was something just a little bit different when I was playing. I was hitting shots that didn’t have a purpose and that was very difficult for me to handle because up to the US Open finals in ’88, every ball I hit had a purpose. To then suddenly to start hitting shots for no reason was tough and it ended up being very deflating to my character on the court.”

It's ironic that so many Federer fans are loath to forgive Wilander a few crude remarks he made about their idol a few years ago, because the two men have much in common as players and personalities - starting with their respective reputations as "great guys." One big difference, though,is that Wilander's U.S. Open performance of 1988 was the culmination of a career-long striving, nearly a decade of dancing like a moth around the flame of ultimate success. By contrast, the career Grand Slam and Grand Slam singles title records Federer bagged this year seemed less the product of super-human effort than the inevitable, crowning touches on a flat landscape of nearly unimaginable excellence.

No matter what happens at the U.S. Open, we don't really know the extent to which Federer's already epic 2009 will leave him sated, or drained. But it's unlikely that he'll react the way Wilander did in 1988 (he never won another major, and his ranking slid precipitously over the ensuing months). After all, Federer has spent the past few years bulldozing and leveling the terrain of achievement, and making the heroic or epic appear quotidian. Why should 2009 be any different from any other year?

All of this makes it easy to forget that a year ago, the bulldozer temporarily hit some seriously compacted rock. Suddenly, the question arose, "Is Federer in decline?" The critical error the pundits made was failing to differentiate between decline and crisis; the former is an irreversible natural process; the latter is a temporary state (except for those who thrive on crisis, a class of person from which we can safely exclude The Mighty Federer).

Pundits, including former players and top-notch analysts, were suggesting that Federer hire a full-time coach; that he work on his fitness; that he hire a sports psychologist to help him "figure out" his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, along with a score of other rising stars who were nibbling at the edges of his greatness, and seemingly taking out larger and larger chunks on a nearly daily basis. A year later it's clear that Federer was anything but finished. And it turns out that there was nothing wrong with Federer, beyond the inadvertent "error" he'd made by raising the bar of expectation to unprecedented heights. He set a personal standard that was as unsustainable for him as it was inconceivable for most of his rivals.

That Federer himself didn't feel and experience that period of obvious turmoil as a crisis has nothing to do with it (although I'm not suggesting that he did not); like supreme gladiators or the gunfighters of yore, Federer - rightly - considered himself the most lethal man in town - until he wasn't. That's how it always is with the warriors; they're the last to know.

Apologists for Federer could claim that he suffered lingering effects from his bout with glandular fever, or that his back was out of joint. They can concoct any number of justifications or rationalizations for Federer's loss of form, but that's all just bar-stool talk. What mattered, and the only thing that ever matters is results. And those suggested that Federer suddenly was vulnerable and out of sync - a state that was described most eloquently by Federer himself on that sunny day in Miami when, in the course of absorbing a beating at the hands of Novak Djokovic, he smashed his suddenly disobedient racquet on the court.

Everyone should watch that clip again, just to remind himself of what it was like for Federer until, basically, Roland Garros in June of 2009. And those who were present at his post-match press conference that day in Miami will remember how withdrawn, evasive and introverted Federer appeared; it was like watching a felon mumbling his incantations with his shoulders hunched, hugging his own torso, the duck bill of his trademark RF cap tucked so low that you couldn't see his eyes - and probably would have turned away from them if he hadn't made danged sure you wouldn't see them anyway.

Federer's transformation these past few months has been extraordinary, even if he caught a bit of luck when Nadal was beaten in Paris. But just as the rationalizations of Federer's "slump" are irrelevant, so is any complaint that Federer just got "lucky" when Nadal lost at Roland Garros and withdrew from Wimbledon. I got news for you: one of the main reasons all of these top players are where they are is good luck, and it would take all the fingers and toes in a medium-sized city to tally up the number of players who, presented with good luck, found a way to make nothing of it. As amusing as the subtexts and backstories are to information hungry fans, this is the nub of it: When Federer most had to produce and halt what was clearly a slide, he found a way to do it.

Federer answered the only questions that he could possible reply to - those that were put to him on the court. In the course of the one-month period that matters more than all the rest of the tennis year, he not only won the two majors, his triumphs sealed his legacy. In the span of four weeks, he completed a career Grand Slam and shattered the Grand Slam singles title record. Apart from everything else, those achievements represent the single greatest response to pressure that I've ever seen. And they upped the ante for Nadal, a player whose own ability to rise to the demand of an occasion rivals that of Federer's.

So what's it going to be for Federer, a casual victory lap at the U.S. Open, where he'll be defending his title for a fifth consecutive year? What's it going to be for Federer in the "long term" - if that's the right word for the next two or three years - as the currents carry him toward the rocky beach of retirement?

I think the key lies in that wonderful quote by Rod Laver, a man with neither the temperament nor ability to engage in circuitous speculations and tortured analysis. At Wimbledon, Laver said: "Well, you know, you've got to be in the game and enjoy the sport to be able to do something like this (shatter the Grand Slam record). . . (you can't do it) if you don't respect the game and enjoy it - (If it's not) a thrill for yourself to get out there and play. That's the one thing that Roger has that I think is admirable for tennis."

The comment seems so anodyne. . . so obvious. It's just that nobody I know of ever bothered to make the observation, and the more I think about it (for that quote has stayed with me), the more I appreciate the role that the simple love of playing - win, lose or draw - figures into Federer's success. That kind of love may not save a player from feeling pressure, stress or having mental or emotional meltdowns, but it certainly helps keep those powerful irritants in perspective. Roger Fedrerer must have experienced a lot of stress and pressure in the past 12 months and they may have succeeded in overriding his love for the game, as symbolized by that terribly disfigured racquet in Miami. But over time, the love won out. It returned in the spring, which is the right season for that kind of thing.


Part 2

Federer has always borne pressure with great dignity and grace; it's hard to imagine the events of 2009 effecting a major transformation of the kind Wilander experienced in 1989. At the same time, this happy time in his life, now the life of a young family, which is very different from any other kind of life, will certainly have some impact on the decisions he makes, his degree of focus, and those vital tools of the supreme competitor: the killer instinct, the burning desire to win, the sense that the game is perpetually unfinished business until the day you quit, when it becomes the marginally interesting business of others.

But if Federer could be forgiven for wondering, "How many times do I really have to do this?" during some portions of the last year, he now knows the one, true answer to the question: As often as it please me to do it. . . Oh, he'll learn what it feels like to hit shots that, as Wilander so trenchantly put it, "have no purpose" simply because he'll play more and more matches that can be said to have no, or little, purpose. But that will be a function of the time and place, because for a Roger Federer, there is always a purpose at Grand Slam events; that's in the DNA of a tennis champion.

Federer has often said he enjoys the tennis way of life, but that will change somewhat now that he has a family. My guess is that he'll find a way to play fewer events, or ones that are more convenient to his way of life. But it's hard to imagine that basic love of playing evaporating in Federer's heart; it's been there a long time. More likely, it will just have to make room for other things. And it may have helped him enormously to experience the first and what may be the only serious crisis of his career. He knows what he's made of; he knows when to panic (never) and when to dig in and fight (when the stakes are sufficiently high).

“I think if Federer keeps playing the way he is now he’s going to run away so far that nobody will ever catch him in terms of Grand Slam titles,” Wilander said. "Of course, he has to stay physically healthy but he has introduced a new, stronger mindset to his game. Suddenly it’s more fun to play tennis for him. Roger has taken the sport to a different level. He now shows up on the court thinking he’s going to beat his opponent not only in terms of physical strength but also in the mind. I wish him all the best and I really hope he wins 20 Majors.”(hmmmmmmm..interesting change in tune :wink:)

Nadal and company may have something to say about that. On the other hand, their ambitions just might help keep Federer around a little longer, because the kind of love he knows best isn't easily satisfied.

Enjoy-And remember-No trolling,trash-talking and flamewars please.
If you cannot discuss without exhibiting your hatred for either Fed or Nadal or anyone,dont post here.
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