Tomic and Raonic learning from Federer
January 20, 2013 · Print This Article
During Roger Federer’s smooth beatdown of upstart Bernard Tomic in Melbourne Friday night, Patrick McEnroe said at one point, “Is Federer even breathing?” He then added, “I mean, heavily?”
He could have stopped at the first question. There has always been a curious otherness about Roger Federer, regardless of rankings or match results. When Federer’s on, he’s a whole other Matrix-level on, where bending a spoon with your mind seems less impressive than what Federer can do on the court.
On the trippy occasions when Federer is struggling, his bewilderment is palpable and infectious. It’s weird to watch him lose because he rarely looks like he’s doing anything wrong and he’s not used to doing anything wrong.
Prior to Federer’s third round match of the year’s opening major tournament, his 20-year-old Australian opponent was confident. Tomic had just won his first ATP title in front of a hometown crowd in Sydney, and he felt he had momentum coming into Melbourne. Tomic said that it was “the perfect time to play him,” in reference to Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Tomic’s confidence proved to be false, however. All that Federer was, is and can be was on full display for the young player, who noted that the adulatory intro the Swiss slam champ got was enough to rattle him.
“You lose belief before you even get to the match,” said Tomic, after the match. “They mentioned all these Grand Slams leading up, Wimbledon champion six times, six time times US Open champion… and then I was just, aw crap, it’s Roger. I try to block out who’s on the other side of the net but I couldn’t quite do it after that announcement.”
Tomic’s facts might be off (Federer won Wimbledon seven times and the US Open five), but the effect is understood. Milos Raonic of Canada will have to keep that in mind while also shaking it free when he takes the court against Federer in Melbourne on Monday night for their fourth round match. Raonic is 22 and tall, known for his serve. He’s got swagger but doesn’t appear as brash as Tomic, who perhaps got a lesson in growth on and off the court from his straight set loss to the 31-year-old star, saying, “I learned a lot…He is the best player and greatest of all time, and I’m gonna continue to work hard and it’s just a matter of time before I get up to the big group of boys in the top ten, I’ve gotta believe.”
Raonic had his own version of big stage growing pains when he lost in straights to Andy Murray at the 2012 US Open. Raonic was a little dazed after that loss. “Not much I could do,” he said. “I tried everything. … When I did get far ahead on criticial moments and on quite a few moments, he just did something I really have no answer for, something I haven’t really experienced.”
Much ado is made over Federer’s age but he has exactly what Tomic and Raonic point out they are still acquiring – belief and experience.
Raonic and Federer have played each other three times but never in a Grand Slam. All three matches have gone three sets (ATP events are best of three) and have been close. Federer’s 4 and 0 result against Tomic was more lop-sided, with Tomic managing just one set in all of their meetings. When Raonic and Federer played back in March of 2012 in Indian Wells, another hard court tournament, Federer won, but lost the first set in a tiebreak. After the match, he described Raonic as someone who will, “install himself very easily and nicely in the top 30, and then make his move up the rankings.” Raonic’s progress has been fast; he’s seeded thirteenth in Australia, and is fifteen in the world.
Federer had similar musings on Tomic, who entered the tournament unseeded, “He knows I guess, I hope he knows, what he needs to do over the few weeks, months, and years ahead because this ain’t just a two months tour…but he seemed like a very good player today to me, so you would definitely expect him to rise in the rankings…get more consistent and confident.”
Federer, the man with the most weeks at number one, is practiced at making difficult things look easy, belief and confidence included. He rattles off lines of insight and analysis the same way he glides a backhand crosscourt winner into the corner. As he said in Indian Wells last year, “I guess my experience helped me to stay calm and just weather the storm. If that’s experience, I guess that’s what it is, you know… My confidence got me through as well… I think that was maybe the difference tonight.”
Raonic will have to hope that something else makes the difference this Monday night in Melbourne instead. Or, if he can, actually believe.
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