Over the next two weeks, the first serve series will be previewing our top male and female players and top returnees as we build up to the first grand slam of the year. We’ll analyze what they’ve got going for them and what they need to do to be successful in 2018.
Now that we’ve previewed the man and woman occupying the pole positions of the ATP and WTA tours, today we’ll turn our attention to those hot on their heels, starting with Roger Federer. There are very few top male players coming into 2018 with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. Fortunately for the tennis world, Roger Federer is one of them. After a few years in the grand slam wilderness, he found new ways to get back to his familiar major capturing ways. For Roger Federer, 2018’s blueprint is a simple one – keep doing the things that worked so well in 2017. Those things form the factors that’ll determine if he has as successful of a season this year or perhaps even better.
Keys to Success:
- Manage the back
- Aggressive mentality
- Be Free
- That backhand
Federer has always been one of the smartest players with regards to planning a solid season-long schedule that still leaves room for last minute changes if things don’t go as planned at a tournament, without taking on more tournaments than his body can handle. In 2017, he played a very reduced schedule – he skipped the entire clay court season – and it allowed him to bring his best to the tournaments that mattered the most to him, and to his fans. Federer played in three grand slams and won two of them – the second, without dropping a set. If 2017 proved anything, it is this. Without the niggles of age on his body, Federer’s best is still unmatched. If he wants to remain in the grand slam conversation in 2018, he’ll have to do more of the same. Whether or not he’ll play the French this year, remains to be seen.
That does bring into perspective, why this scheduling is so important for Federer. A lot has been written over the years about Nadal and his career-long battle with his knees. Federer has also had a perennial nemesis, and though his hasn’t been nearly as severe, it has increasingly caused him problems in the recent past. After all, it was ultimately Federer’s back that forced him to withdraw from his World Tour Finals championship match against Novak Djokovic in 2014. That back would be the final straw that sent him on a six-month sabbatical in 2016, and while he had an inspirational 2017, I believe it was his back that really cost him the World Number One ranking. We’ll never know what would have really happened but the way Federer was playing coming into the U.S Open series, if that form hadn’t dropped in Cincinnati, we just might have been previewing him yesterday. Federer always has a positive outlook on things so he most likely won’t dwell on what his back has cost him in the past, but he has to be aware of the danger. The back must hold up for success to continue. If it doesn’t, the season won’t be so fun-filled as it was last year… not for Federer fans at least.
One thing we’ve always known about Roger Federer is his love for attacking tennis. He has always liked to finish his matches on his own terms, playing at his own speed, and creating his own luck, rather than wait for his opponent to hand him the victory. But Federer has been so good that he has rarely had to go all out to beat many players over the course of his career. He can also play defense – almost casual defense – and still conjure up repeated defensive brilliance that pulls him step by step to victory. However, as age continues to set in, sitting back isn’t much of an option anymore. Going aggressive has become a necessity for him. The journey towards this more aggressive mindset has been punctuated by his last three coaches, Paul Annacone, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Ljubicic. All three astute exponents of the game have helped sharpen an aggressive aspect of Federer’s game and in 2017, the final version was unveiled. Federer’s willingness to step in, to venture to the net and to take the return on a full swing, surprised most of his opponents last year and very few of them had any lasting solutions for it.
That aggressive mentality and being “free” in his mind, won him the Australian Open and started him on this new journey we are all still amazed by. Federer’s game is just as mental as it is physical or talent. He has to saturate himself with belief and positivity for the full extent of his game to come unleashed. In essence, he has to go for it and believe he can make it. If there’s anyone who can do that repeatedly it is Federer. If there’s any shot that exemplified this new mindset last year, it has to be Federer’s backhand. His forehand was its usual murderous self but Federer’s backhand elevated itself to the position of an accomplice assassin. That backhand effectively negated Rafael Nadal’s signature play against Federer and it wreaked havoc on just about every other opponent he faced. With Federer’s backhand firing on all cylinders, his opponents now have no where to go to when playing him.
If he can keep his mind in that zenlike space he did for most of 2017, 2018 just might be another record-setting year for Roger Federer. With Nadal still unsure of his knees, Murray considering surgery for his hips and Djokovic coming back without any clue where his game is at, there aren’t many obstacles in Federer’s way at the start of the season.
Perhaps Grigor Dimitrov? We’ll get to him in the next ATP First Serve series article, out tomorrow. Before that, look out for our preview article on WTA #2, Garbine Muguruza, out later this evening.