So much of these off-court observations are conjecture. If anyone has more accurate information to clarify/correct an observation, by all means, comment. This kind of thing came up when I first started to blog about tennis in the spring and made a point of saying Lendl had, unfortunately for the Brit, left Murray. A reader chimed in saying I didn’t know what I was talking about; in fact, it was a mutual split. If one does a little research, that appears to be the story.
And that’s a bunch of bullshit. Lendl probably wanted more money and Murray didn’t agree to the raise, at the very least. Somehow it wasn’t worth it to Lendl. Why in the world would Murray allow any kind of split from the one guy to keep Murray out of diapers long enough to win a few meaningful matches? So, my initial observation, of throwing Murray under the bus for blowing that relationship was more accurate than not, despite the correction from the crowd. In other words, I am going to make observations despite not knowing for sure if they are correct: but chances are favorable that they are, at least, in the ball park.
Ljubičić is going to help Federer, I believe, with some in-match mental fortitude. How to convert a BP, how to withstand an opponent’s surge, how to just play a little smarter when that is absolutely paramount. Federer’s beauty pageant is over. He needs to start winning ugly, getting the job done, with or with out the stunning pirouette that dazzles the crowd. If he has any hope of continuing to remain relevant and/or win another big tournament, he needs to listen to the big Croat, Ivan the terrible, and come-away with a more sustainable game plan.
Here I want to talk about Federer’s much diminished clay schedule. I am attributing this to Ljubičić. Here is another competitive strategy, a little more macro than the in-match help he’ll give the Maestro.
If you recall, I wrote about the Nadal/Federer H2H. There’s so much myth and misperception regarding this rivalry, I’m a little embarrassed for some supposed knowledgable tennis fans who buy-in. Even some of the sport’s hierarchy fall into this trap.
But Roger hasn’t helped in his case vs. Nadal. If you look at the history of this H2H, one sees the predominance of Nadal’s success on clay. Nadal’s entire legacy is too dependent upon this dirty surface. We know this. What we should know, too, is that confidence plays such an important role in anyone’s success at anything; we see this factor come-up time and again in tennis. Historically, much of Nadal’s confidence and consistency has been attributed to clay.
Rafa has maintained a huge confidence edge with so many players on clay. As the season starts and we get past the AO and IW and Miami, we’re up to our ears in clay until the RG finale, more or less. Rafa has had such massive success on this surface and other than a few spurts of success elsewhere, on other surfaces, Rafa has been bound to this part of the calendar. I am not saying anything new here.
What would have happened if Roger had avoided some of the clay schedule years ago? Two things: A) he would not have suffered as many defeats against the greatest clay courter of all-time. And because of that, this sort of edge that Rafa has had over him would not be as sharp. That’s the argument here. Being “smarter” with his scheduling, not wearing-out on the less favorable clay, against his nemesis, would have benefitted Roger on other surfaces vs. Nadal. This seems so obvious. I am arguing that Roger would’ve been smart to limit his clay tourney schedule. Sure play RG, perhaps the Masters, but why subject yourself to that much misfortune against a guy who is committed to his seasonal peak? This is a discussion of confidence. The tennis season is long. Having more discretion with his clay schedule would have benefitted the rest of his schedule.
The second thing that would happened with Roger if he had avoided some of these clay tournaments earlier in his career: B) he would have been accused of ducking Nadal and other competition. Let’s say he would have entered those clay tournaments and taken a dive in the early rounds (this might be considered a lighter schedule 😉 This still would have avoided the big showdowns, the big heartbreaks.
Federer, we know, never ducked. He played everything and he made nearly every SF or F. This we know.
Nadal, we know, ducked, took dives, got “injured” for extended absences, etc. And this is part of the H2H mythology I’ve written about elsewhere.
What Federer and Ljubičić are doing in 2016, in terms of clay, is an improved strategic approach.
Too bad, for Federer, he didn’t adopt such an approach earlier in his career.
Confidence and intimidation are critical in athletic competition. Rafa has been dependent on clay and physical intimidation. He has successful H2Hs with just about everyone on the tour because of clay and the confidence that he has developed on this surface and like-wise stripped from others. Of course, Djokovic is perched to destroy this H2H reality in 2016 if Rafa can manage to find him in the draw.
Rafa’s no dummie. We know how strategic and clever and manipulative he has been. Don’t think that he hasn’t known of this approach through-out his career. Dominate them early in the season on clay and open the door to more dominance in the future, elsewhere. Granted, this is not to say that Rafa is incapable of having success on other surfaces, but the correlation is too strong.
In Federer’s case, I know this has been an issue. He played Rafa in 3-4 RG finals/SF during that early aughts run. He played him many times in other clay championship events. He got his FO win in 2009, thanks to Soderling, really.
What he’s doing this year with his clay schedule seems to make so much sense, in a way. Roger knows how to play clay. Other than the points he’ll miss not playing any of those smaller clay tournaments in April or May, nor the 3 masters 1000s (Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome), he’ll attempt to maintain some spring in his aging body and focus on the other surfaces, which for most of the tennis world has been a quite sensible approach.
I attribute this to Ivan. This is the kind of sinister (competitively clever) strategy Federer could have used earlier in his career. This is called damage control. What is so ironic here is the fact that many of us have always thought that Federer had too much confidence. Despite a terrible loss, he would just carry-on, play the following week/tourney. The sub-text of this post is that his unfailing confidence is a bit of a myth, especially when the discussion turns to clay and then to Nadal.
Ljubičić helps here with this scheduling, on his weakest surface. This was surprising, actually. I believed from the start that this was a good coaching move for match mentality. I overlooked this sort of scheduling genius.
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