March 8, 2009 · Print This Article
In need of an answer.
What once was a no brainier in the tennis world, that being Roger Federer winning everything under the sun, is no more. The majestic Swiss has finished number two, one too many times to current world number one Rafael Nadal. Before I continue, I am not going to start talking about how Nadal owns Federer and how Roger’s ego has hampered him in the past two seasons in defeating the Spaniard. Instead of talking about whats wrong, I would rather speak of whats right. Reports have come out today that suggest that the 13-time grand slam champ has been training hard in Dubai with yes you guessed it, former touring pro and former coach of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, Darren Cahill. “Killer” as he was known on tour, who was a one time U.S. Open semi-finalist will in my opinion be of utmost benefit to the Swiss.
Where previous coaches such as Tony Roche and Jose Higueras have faltered, I believe Cahill will succeed. Reasons being that the aforementioned Roche and Higueras, were both “old school” in their ways, and did not bring forth a more radical approach towards what a player needs to compete in today’s game. What Roger desperately is in search of is the confidence that is required in a coach, someone who knows the baseline and can improve on what Roger already does well. Roche who perhaps had one of the best backhand volleys of all time, could not enhance R-Fed’s net game, because simply put Federer does not like to volley. As well the net game is pretty much none existent nowadays because the ball speed as increased tremendously.
Higueras who arguably has one of the most complete claycourt resumes of any coach on the circuit, as he brought many of his charges to Roland Garros triumph, could not help Roger over the hump in France because simply put Roger has been up against the best claycourt player in the history of the sport in the last four years.
What Cahill will bring to the table in the event that the two begin a serious partnership will be a calm and clear execution as to how Federer can regain his once, unbeatable form. Cahill is very much an x’s and o’s type of guy. He has repeatedly said in numerous ESPN telecasts that Roger has gone in with the wrong tactics when playing his chief rival Rafa Nadal. I would suspect that the first thing Cahill would suggest to Roger would be something like, “what do you do to Rafa” and what does Rafa do to you”, and that question is really all it comes down too. Federer’s backhand definitely can not compete with Nadal’s forehand in cross court exchanges, therefore a different approach to combating this poor match up would be slicing more backhands in to Rafa’s backhand and attacking his predictable second serve.
A stat that jumps out at me whenever I reflect on the Federer woes against Rafa is the pairs 2008 French Open final meeting, where Nadal served 100% of the time (and that is not an exaggeration) to Fed’s backhand on first serves. At no time did Roger show any inclination to run around a backhand and give Nadal a different return of serve position to disrupt the thoughtful Mallorcan. Cahill will certainly bring these tactical and mental objectives towards Federer over a nice steak dinner.
The pinnacle of Federer’s frustration over his numerous losses to Nadal boiled over during this years Aussie Open trophy ceremony, where I believe Roger finally figured out (through two minutes of crying in front of a world wide audience) that his current game plan against Rafa can in no way continue. As a result of that revelation, Federer has not been in action since the finals of Oz, as a “maintenance back injury” has allowed Federer to thoroughly decide that a change is in order and hopefully the move towards Cahill’s corner is that change.
I have total confidence in Cahill’s abilities to propel R-Fed back to the top of the men’s game. But Federer must listen, a trait that the clock work Swiss has shown (much like his line call challenges) he is miserable at. When things come easy, as tennis does to Federer, the results and ease in which winning came, can also be taken away quite easily. Appreciation of the sacrifice and determination to regain the glory that one once had will be the true test of character, in the second chapter of the Federer career.
It is yet to be determined whether or not the Federer/Cahill connection is a done deal. But one thing is for certain, Federer needs a change in a big way, because not only is Nadal getting better, but it is certain that Roger can not afford another embarrassing grand slam loss at the hands of the Spaniard. The change to Cahill will be vital, and as many experts and opinionated tennis enthusiasts have stated, in order to be called the greatest player of all time, one can not have an insurmountable poor record against a chief rival, which at the moment Federer has with Nadal as the current world number one leads their head to head 13-6. Therefore there is no time like the present to make a choice for assistance and allow a thoughtful and experienced mentor like a Daren Cahill to come into the picture and guide Federer back to his era of dominance.