Good article. On the different quality Fed is facing now and how he must respond. Bottom line is that Fed needs to improve and change his game with the times. Where To Now, O Roger? Perplexed. That is what most people are probably thinking, in the shock after Federer's listless loss to Murray 6-3 4-6 6-1 in the semifinals of Indian Wells. Why? Is this not how the former world number one will operate from now on? That he wont win everything anymore, and that his glory days are over? Well what I have not set out to do today is to suggest that he might ever be as he was in 2004-07. The game has changed, and Federer has to change with it. The problem I think most pundits are finding is that it would probably be hard to attribute GOAT status to a guy who, at one stage in his career (ie. now) was 0-10 against two players combined. That is to say, Federer is now 0-5 against Nadal and 0-5 against Murray, since he last beat them (which seems like an awfully long time ago). This is including, of course, Murray's victory over Fed at Abu Dhabi earlier this year. It was only adding salt to the psychological wounds of Federer, that these two guys should meet in the final, and set themselves definitely, as the world's top two guys at the moment. This, of course, is the message they are sending to the man who proclaimed his intention of regaining the number one ranking at the beginning of the year. More specifically, though, what exactly does Roger find so difficult about these two players? It is worthy to note, of course, that he has, in fact, only actually lost to these two guys in about the last five or so tournaments he has played. What, I suspect, it is is a combination of a mental insufficiency, and a bad matchup. We all know about Nadal, and the latter's ruthless exposure of Roger's backhand at all their career meetings. But Murray, who is right-handed? What Murray does so well against Fed, I think, is to try to convert Nadal's tactics almost exactly, peppering Roger's backhand, and enticing him to challenge his own, likely superior backhand side. The result in Roger's rallies with Murray is that he is neutralised, effectively, on his backhand side. There used to be a time in Roger Federer's domination when his backhand's slight insufficiency seemed invisible, and when it virtually became the "lesser of two evils." The tactics of guys like Roddick or Blake in trying to drive a ball deep and flat into Roger's backhand probably, in those years, played more into Roger's hands—the Swiss enjoying, as it were, balls which he could physically control and master. We have seen countless times Fed's beautiful backhand flick crosscourt. Roger Federer was made to look like, and was able to make himself look like, a genius. Forgive me, of course, if I come across as a sceptic of Roger, as possibly the most "talented" player ever. I still do believe in "Roger Federer Magic", and his uncanny ability to increase the genius intensity at great moments in matches, and his uncanny ability to manouevre a tennis ball into unforeseen places. What I am suggesting here, especially in Roger's matches against Murray and Nadal, is that he has very much lost the confidence to look great, and the confidence and serenity to look like a genius, a master of the sport, a master of the tennis racket. It is simply, almost mathematically ruthless—Nadal and Murray have made Roger play at positions in the court he is not comfortable in, and where he had not been made to play at. What I am talking about in the patterns of his rallies, is simply that Roger, having an almost effete backhand against Nadal and Murray, is forced to try to run around his backhand, and hit great forehands, either down the line, or crosscourt. In doing so, obviously, he is exposing half the court, and playing very high-risk tennis, against guys who are great at making low-percentage tennis winning formulas. Very few people can hit through Murray and Nadal, and it is always very hard, for any aggressive players, to exploit angles, and simply to approach the net. Half the time the genius of the defensive play of Murray and Nadal is that they seem to bait their opponents to the net, and challenge them to beat them there. Their reputations are phenomenal passers, of course, would usually precede them. The difficulty for someone like a Federer, of course, to have to face players like Nadal or Murray, is that he is playing them at a stage in a career where he might firstly, of course, not have the confidence at all to challenge them trading blows from his backhand side. Half the time the numerous errors we see from that side against these two guys is psychological—the most recent example being, of course, at Indian Wells in the third set against Murray. Federer, one gets the feelings, just feels like he is not going to be able to win the majority of points from his backhand side, and more often then not ends up losing confidence almost entirely in that shot, as it has against Nadal and Murray in his last two matches against them. Federer, not having confidence, would not have the dare-devil conviction to go for genius shots with his forehand, to exploit angles and test Murray's or Nadal's defenses, and thus string together a few genius points, or outrageous play, in critical stages of a match. I think for the majority of observers perhaps the greatest example of Federer's stringing together of "genius points" was at the Wimbledon final of 2007, to break Nadal in the fifth set. I believe it is very much, obviously, a tactical issue that Roger faces, but also a psychological one—a lack of belief in a shot. I do not want to sound, in saying what I am going to say, like I know a lot about Federer's game, because, as he has said himself, no one knows his game as well as he does. aAnd I am speaking merely from the perspective of a TV-tennis fan, and obviously from unrealistic camera vantage points, which do not really recreate necessarily for the viewer the spin and pace of the ball that tennis players have to deal with. What I am going to say, besides, has already been mentioned by Jim Courier some time ago at the Australian Open—that Roger should try to be aggressive and step into his backhand more often than he would be comfortable doing. Especially on hard courts or grass, where the bounce is much more predictable, and where Federer has enjoyed his greatest tournament success, Roger should perhaps try to make the backhand on the rise a particular weapon in his arsenal. He should not just be trying it in desperate times, and wowing the crowd at the unexpectedness of such a shot—note the daredevil resolve at match-point down at Wimbledon last year, where he hit a real beauty. He should try to scare guys with it, and really prove to guys like Nadal, Murray, or Djokovic, that he is ready to change with tennis, and make himself a real threat from both wings. What we are seeing against Murray and Nadal is that he is being made to look inferior, with only really his forehand as a truly formidable weapon. If he were to have a great, damaging backhand, difficult as it might be to improve on flattening a one-handed backhand, he might find himself, ultimately, being able to turn the tables on his nemeses. In tennis very often the smallest things can effect great changes. Obviously I write at a watershed in Federer's career; guys no longer fear him, and rightly so, because maybe, as Murray and Nadal have proven, there is nothing terribly scary about him anymore. Maybe all the older guys were living in dreams, or probably, for people like Roddick, nightmares imposed upon them by a guy who has a claim to all-time greatness. But we cannot be irreverent. As tennis fans, and especially as Roger Federer fans, we cannot let these depressing defeats irk us, we cannot let these disrespectful performances by younger guns cloud our images of one who truly possesses all the shots in the game. From now, of course, it will be a very different journey for Roger Federer. It will be arduous, treacherous, and potentially very saddening. It might even become a tragedy. But we must, as fans, and as all who love to watch beauty, and art in sport, go along with it, and wallow in the triumphs, or disasters, of this man, as if they were our own.