Roger Federer’s recent revival, which has been hitting the headlines of the tennis press this season, is down to several top reasons. A new member on the coaching team, a rebooted serve and volley style, recovery from a back injury, and finally being used to his new racket are some of them. And the fact is he is the Roger Federer, may be the most important factor of them all.
Last season, Federer’s decline was getting all the column inches. His first defeat in a slam before the quarters, at Wimbledon no less. His second consecutive one at the U.S Open. A fall down to world no. 8. And not a single Masters 1000 title. Nor an appearance in a Slam final. Federer was done, many said. But not the man himself. His attitude was that of a champion. His attitude was to come back.
The first action taken was to employ Stefan Edberg as a part-time coach. Edberg was Federer’s childhood idol. That is clear when the similarities between the two are considered. Both of them are as cool, calm and famed for gentlemanly manners. Federer has, in fact, won the Stefan Edberg sportsmanship award nine times.
The first action Edberg did, one of several top reasons which Federer’s revival can be put down to, was to get the Swiss star to revert back to serve and volleying. That was the style that made the Swede famous and inspired Federer. The Swiss employed serve and volley frequently when he first came on tour but switched to a pre-dominantly baseline game when the courts were slowed down and his main opponents, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, were masters of the baseline duels.
Going back to serve and volley had instant success for Federer. He made the final in Brisbane, only stopped by old foe Hewitt, and then had a run to revive old memories at the Australian Open. Federer thrashed Tsonga in the last sixteen and then beat Murray in four sets in the quarters, the first two being some of the best seen from the four time former Champion in a while.
The success continued. In Dubai, Federer beat Novak Djokovic for the first time since Cincinnati 2012. Little separated the two in that close match, a three setter won by Roger 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, but two stats stood out. Federer’s first service points won percentage was 76 to Djokovic’s 68. And while both men attacked the net 17 times, Federer was successful 11 of his tries compared to 8 for Djokovic. And on a hard court, those stats can make all the difference. Federer then went to take the title, beating in-form Berdych in the final. It was his biggest victory since the ATP 1000 title in Cincinnati in 2012.
While Edberg can be credited with much of Federer’s recent revival, the Swede did have a better machine to work on that the one that broke down in 2013-the Federer body. The 17 time Grand slam champion has clocked up a lot of miles since his debut in 1998, and his back all but gave up on him in 2013. Federer, though, continued to play injured, one of those times being at last year’s Indian Wells. The Swiss went down tamely in straights to Nadal and later said he regretted playing when not at 100 percent fitness. He repeated his mistake in Hamburg, suffering a shock defeat to 114th ranked Delbonis. The back, though, is healed now, the machine now going strong again aged 32.
Another part of the Federer equipment which has been fixed is his racket. In 2013, he tried out a new one in the summer, a larger one, more like his rivals use, with a surface area ranging from 98-100 square inches. The racket did not suit him, and he switched back to the smaller one he was used to. The switching around was disastrous-Federer went out in the fourth round of the US Open, his earliest exit since 2003. Now, Federer is back to and familiar with using the larger one, gaining in size what he is losing in steps.
But while there are several top reasons to put the Federer revival down to, there is one which stands out, the most important factor: the Federer factor. Federer’s game, his serve, his volleys, his flair, his shot-making, his variety, is one of a kind. His serve and forehand are two of the best of all time in a timeless game said by so many to be the greatest ever. Now revived, tennis fans around the world have a lot to thank-Edberg, Doctors, racket engineers-but most of all they have the man himself to thank for sticking around. That perseverance is paying off, and after today’s win against Dolgopolov, a victory that puts him into the Indian Wells final, watching him compete in another ATP1000 final will be another thing to be grateful for.
Commentary by Christian Deverille