Should Federer hire a new coach?

On October 12, 2013, Roger Federer announced that he had ended his partnership with Paul Annacone who had been his coach for 3 and a half years. The split was amicable, with Federer citing that the decision to end his coaching partnership was mutual. They had achieved their primary objectives of winning a Grand Slam and returning to World No. 1, and they felt that this was the right path for both of them in their respective careers. The official statement can be found on Roger’s official site here.


After the split, Annacone was high in his praise for Federer, saying that there was ‘plenty of greatness’ still left in him. In an interview with USA Today, this was what Annacone had to say on what lay ahead for Federer –

Greatness doesn’t stop. It doesn’t just go away. He’s not all of a sudden now not that good anymore. The problem is that the expectations and the bar are so high. Whenever you start to doubt people like this, you kind of set yourself up to get your own foot stuck in your mouth. They’re atypical. They’re phenoms. As much as Roger still loves to play, the exuberance he still shows in every practice, his desire to continue to enjoy the game — I can’t imagine anything other than success coming his way. For me, it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.

The last two lines cemented what I had always maintained about Federer – it was always a matter of implementing his current strategy consistently, rather than inventing a new style of play. He doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, he just has to fine-tune the one he has right now. He has been at such a high level for such a long time that people are bound to have unrealistic expectations – it is natural. The fact that his ex-coach feels that he’s still got it is a very optimistic sign for us Federer fans.

To answer the question in the title – no, I do not think that Federer needs a new coach. He is too mature and has too much experience playing the game to not know what to do. Alternatively, it can be said that if he doesn’t know what to do, there are very few others who are equipped to tell him what to do. Federer has a very small amount of points to defend in 2014 – a string of good performances will see him rising in the rankings, and with that will come confidence. A confident Federer is a very dangerous opponent, as he can make outrageous shots with immaculate consistency. A coach cannot instill consistency in a player – it is up to the player to practice as hard as he can to get the consistency back. Moreover, I do not see anyone who is an obvious candidate for the post, and there haven’t been any rumours as to who it would be.

We will have to wait and see – the decision is, after all, Federer’s; he alone knows what is best. But if you ask me, no coach is going to influence him greatly.


Roger Federer: What He Needs to Do to be competitive in 2014

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Roger Federer beat two Top-10 players at the World Tour Finals this year, Juan Martin del Potro and Richard Gasquet

Roger Federer had a poor 2013 season, but it culminated in a good string of victories which left his fans optimistic for next year. The advantage that he has over others is that the talent, the greatness is still intact – it is not like he has to drastically change his game, he just has to deliver consistently. However, to really make an impact, certain changes are inevitably needed.

I present four areas in which I feel Roger Federer needs to improve if he is to have a real shot at the ‘five titles’ target he has set for himself for 2014 –

1. Bulk up and use the larger racquet

The cruel fact that Roger and all of his fans is that on the slow outdoor courts that comprise a lot of the Tour, Federer is being hit off the court by Top 10 players – the Djokovics, the Nadals, the del Potros et al. In his prime, the courts were a lot quicker which suited his game and his forehand was so brutally accurate that he dominated all his opponents. However, with the courts being ridiculously slow these days, I think Roger needs to bulk up and get more power into his game; he needs to realize that placement of the ball won’t be as effective if the ball just sits up – and it tends to do that on the slow, slow courts these days.

Even though it did not deliver all that it promised, I think Federer should give the larger (98 sq. cm.) racquet another go in the off-season; he needs more power in his game to adapt to the times, and the times dictate that a game centered around power will have an advantage. On paper, the decision to change his racquet seems like a no-brainer – he gets a larger sweet spot, minimizes his forehand and backhand shanks, gets more power off his groundstrokes – at the cost of lesser feel in his volleys and drop-shots. However, at this late stage in his career, it is more the task of having to adapt to the new racquet that is the main hurdle.

In my opinion, his natural talent is sufficient enough for him to get the requisite feel with any racquet, so his drop shots and volleys will not necessarily suffer – he just needs to practice with it in the off-season. The power advantage that he will get off the new racquet will outweigh any disadvantage – BUT, all this is subject to how he feels with it. If he doesn’t believe in the racquet, it isn’t worth it.

2. Bring the consistency to his forehand that he had in his prime

All great tennis players have a go-to stroke. When Federer was in his prime, his forehand was accurate and devastating; with Nadal these days, it is a two-shot play that he uses at will: out-wide serve, short reply, forehand winner; with Djokovic, it is his backhand that is terribly consistent. Federer needs to practice out of his skin in the off-season so that he gets that consistency back in his serve and his forehand – with a lot more emphasis on the latter. His serve has been fine for much of the season and there aren’t glaring loopholes in his service motion; the inconsistency in his forehand, however, is a different tale all together.

In London, he had so many second serves which just sat up and asked for a return winner – he judged them all to perfection, set himself up perfectly for the forehand, and then MISSED THEM. The same has happened too frequently this year, and his forehand (once his most destructive shot) has let him down way too often. The forehand unforced error count has been way too high in all of his matches this year, and the consistency that was once associated with his play seems to have been shaken. Federer needs to, like I said previously, practice incredibly hard during the off-season to get to a stage where his forehand is a ‘sure’ shot – he can whip it out any time and have the confidence that it will land inside the lines.

3. Use his kick-serve more

Roger never had the fastest serve; but the placement and variety that he got from the exact same service motion made it very hard to read and was one of the reasons behind his success. With age, the pace has certainly gone down and he can’t serve at 210 km/h frequently these days. A consequence of this has been that he is more involved in his own service games – he is not getting free points and is having to work hard to hold. This, in turn, has been affecting his return games – the mental state gets disturbed after a tough hold, or worse, a break and it is hard to bounce back.

His serve is still a very potent weapon however, and I can’t see him magically increasing his serve speed out of nowhere. The improvement that I want to see is in variety, not in speed – he can get ridiculous angles on his kick-serves out wide, and I would like to see him use it at least once every service game. If he delivers two serves – one down the T, and one of these kick serves – he can get two free points every service game. I know its MUCH easier said than done, but this is what I expect from him.

4. Get more depth on his chip returns

We’ve all been saying it for the past year now – Federer needs to be more aggressive on the returns; get over the ball more, don’t just chip it into play etc. The fact still remains that he has employed the chip very usefully on occasions; the fact that he has kept chipping returns for so long must mean that it is difficult for a single-handed backhand player to just hit returns aggressively. He is the greatest player of all time, you know – if he has stayed away from it, there must be a good reason for him to do so.

Against Juan Martin del Potro in London this year, he employed the deep chip return to great effect to neutralize the heavy serve that del Potro has; it is a great way to cancel the advantage that a big server has. Raonic was commentating for a brief period in that match, and he felt that in his prime, Roger was able to get more depth on his chip returns more often which was one of the reasons he had a lot of success against big servers – a deep slice return snatches away the upper hand the server has, as he has to go back and deal with the slice himself. Remember the 2007 Australian Open semi-final he played against Roddick – he commented later that he expected to see 50 aces fly past him, but it did not happen – it was all because he neutralized Roddick’s serve.

Roger Federer knows all this; it is not as if he dominated the game for three years out of sheer luck. This is just a Federer believer outlining some of the areas he needs to focus on for other Federer fans and tennis fans, in general. These are all minor tweaks; it is not as if he is to create a new game plan – he just has to consistently deliver on the one he has right now.

Roger Federer: The Positives from 2013

The 2013 tennis season was a sub-standard one in many ways for Roger Federer. With a 45-17 match record and only one title, it was by far his worst season in many years. Having failed to reach the quarter finals of a Grand Slam for the first time in 37 appearances after losing to Sergei Stakhovsky in the 2nd Round at Wimbledon, Federer then went on to lose in straight sets to Tommy Robredo at the US Open. He finished the year ranked No. 6 in the world, his lowest since 2003.

All that put together makes for extremely sad reading for any Federer fan. But every cloud has a silver lining – I present three positives that Roger Federer can take from this season:

1. His attitude

The first positive thing about Roger Federer this year was that he was very positive – there wasn’t a moment of self-doubt. People were very quick to throw criticism his way – the usual ‘slower reflexes, sluggish movement, slower serve, should retire’ nonsense – but he never doubted himself. He described his losses as bad days at the office – ones in which he was not able to pull out the shots when he wanted them; but he never once doubted that he had lost those shots forever. His forehand is still his best weapon along with his serve, it is just that he wasn’t as consistent as he once was. Federer accepts that, and has said that he will train hard during the off-season to make up for the inevitable effect of age on his body – that is the mark of a true champion, being a student of the game even after achieving everything there is to achieve.

2. His endurance

This season was the first one for Roger in which he had to deal with a persistent injury – his back which had given him real trouble in the period following Wimbledon. His losses to Daniel Brands and Federico Delbonis – not household names, by any stretch of imagination – can be largely credited to his back problems along with the racquet change that he tried in the middle of the season. While it is easy to say in hindsight that his racquet change was ill-timed, many of his fans (including myself) felt like it was the right move at the time – he was in a bad patch of form and needed something drastic. Even after injury problems, his season-ending run was a real testament to his physical fitness – he played many three-setters in three straight weeks and wasn’t fazed at the end of it all. To quote the man himself,

What I learned is that I can play three weeks pretty easily. I played a lot of matches as of late, a lot of three setters, a lot of tennis. From that standpoint, it’s very satisfying knowing that the body can do it, the mind can do it, life allows it to happen.

3. His ‘comeback’

The last three weeks – Basel, Paris and London – would have given Roger a lot of confidence heading into 2014. People had started doubting his ability to the extent that people were not looking past the first round in many of his tournaments. Making finals in Basel and semi-finals in both Paris and London were very important for Federer – anything less wouldn’t have given him the momentum heading into 2014. The two three-set wins against Juan Martin del Potro (in Paris and London) would have given him so much confidence – staging comebacks against a player that is crushing every ground stroke was phenomenal, and was what Federer needed to maintain the positive run heading into 2014. This is what Roger said on his 2014 finish,

I think it was a stronger finish than I thought it was going to be in Basel, Paris and London.I’m more positive now looking ahead than I would have been a few months ago where I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after the US Open. Beating two Top 10 players is a good thing for me after not having beaten any for almost seven or eight months. Considering the back issues I’ve had, I’m pleased that I’m pain free for a long period of time now with a lot of tennis.

Roger has set himself a target of five titles in 2014, but is still unclear on his schedule for 2014. Roger is a very honest individual, and the fact that he has set himself such a target means that he has lost no confidence in his ability. Both mind and body need to come together to win a title in the gruelling physical game that tennis has now become. Federer’s insistence that his mental strength has not wavered, and will not in the coming months is a very good sign – he just needs a little bit of luck so that he can go on a run of victories. He is not playing any exhibition matches in November or December, so that will allow plenty of time for him to ‘reboot’ his mind and body. Here’s wishing Federer success in 2014.

For the full interview, see here.