Federer and Lopez, Class of the Pre-Wimbledon Grass

Sorry for the delay, my friends.

You know at what season we’ve arrived, what these warmer months entail; friends and family distract unaware of the tennis genius the summer grass attracts, with the history and prestige of these European lawns, green though grooved with the wear and tear of the game’s gentler player, more skilled in the game’s finer truths.

You get my drift.

Indeed the tennis has been quite good. Watching these gents navigate the grass reminds me of my own attempts at finding time to blog in and amongst the various seasonal distractions. I am off to the mountains in a week, but not before I have some comments on Eastbourne’s play and, hopefully, if the information is available, the Wimbledon draw.

Roger Federer’s ninth Halle title is on a lot of people’s minds. I sure hope I can keep this short and sweet, which will enable me to finally get this off, and provide me with a few follow-up thoughts this week as we approach The Championships and all that is on-the-line this year at the oldest and probably most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.

Federer was indeed masterful vs. Zverev and by “masterful” we will assume I am talking about his physical mastery of the sport. However, I am even more impressed with Federer’s mental approach (we’ll call it) than with some of his tennis of this 2017 version of the Maestro, which many are going to say showed-up in the Halle final last Sunday. He did strike the ball more consistently, with equal parts depth and touch, was perhaps even more balletic than he’d been and showed everyone, again, how much skill and variety defines (or possesses) his tennis.

The way he’s mixing-up the points, moving his opponent at will, finding the baseline, the FH looking ever-so malignant, what’s not to like about where he is going at this point?

But just as much as his game mastery was a grass court master class, that final seemed quite similar to a Rafa-like beat-down. The poor kid didn’t have a chance. To be honest, I’m not even sure he had his best tennis on Sunday, and I’m speaking of Sascha. Then again I will agree with the throng of you who will say that Federer forced Zverev into those mistakes, that nervous almost scared form that left the Halle final an anti-climactic mugging. Federer’s brilliance overcame the German. Tough to refute such a claim. But I think the mental approach Roger took was just as damaging as was his tennis. They go hand-in-hand, right?

I have argued all of this on Roger’s behalf before. In the 2015 USO vs. Djokovic, we all pretty much knew what was going to happen before they began that match. So on the eve of the match, after my preview and all that jazz, I wrote Federer a little pep-talk only to encourage a more unpredictable outcome, to give Federer a push toward a more clutch, professionally polished execution that might try to close some of those doors, maintain a little more leverage during those heated negotiations. This is what I wrote. Here’s an excerpt:

Novak will probably have the edge in attitude and this aspect of this match will go a long way in determining the champion.  The images I posted in my previous post, for me, speak volumes.  Everything’s come pretty easy to Roger. He’s (in)famous for his relaxed (classy) style.  When that has translated to victories, this style has helped build the brand, that strong character argument that people use to worship his greatness.  However, those of us who really care and watch closely, we see this attitude or style as a potentially huge hinderance for Roger.  Some call it arrogance and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.
At [2015] Wimbledon, Roger seemed to have this swagger in buckets.  I noticed it as the two made their way to the court.  Of course, Roger’s Wimbledon credentials are historic.  But that was then, this is now.  Get in the moment, Roger.  And when he made a u-turn in the first set (failing to consolidate that break), he crumbled.  The buckets of confidence and nonchalance brought this failed attitude to the ground and below.  Though we might see Roger as having a great poker face, a steadiness in his emotions during a match, this was not the case at Wimbledon and hasn’t been the case often for the Swiss in these big matches.  That’s his style.

This more execution-style (apply both definitions — carrying-out a plan and putting someone to death) seems inherent to the 2017 Federer, as much a part of this run as the BH, for instance. I will continue to study this, but this mental strength is a HUGE factor in this story, a story that has absolutely bedazzled everyone’s tennis imagination, forever.

I attribute so much of this kind of professionalism to Ivan the Terrible, which probably doesn’t make much sense, but it does. The way Federer ran through Melbourne, pulling-off that stunner down a break in the fifth to his nemesis was a plot twist most weren’t quite anticipating, especially in the fifth when things looked pretty grim. He consolidated this new direction in IW and Miami, marching right through the field and Nadal in the process. Sure, the two parts of this 2017 version are inseparable; sure, we need a more holistic view that considers the parts more complimentary, connected, etc. But Federer’s ability to keep his foot on the gas has been a remarkable change that I can’t overlook, or merely attribute this to his “form” or “confidence.” The difference between 2015 and 2017 Federer (other than age) is a more consistent return and BH and this mental capacity to finish.

What I saw vs Zverev last Sunday was a guy with a specific plan against the German who’d beaten him in Halle last year (SF), who has WB on the horizon and the historians fiendishly flipping the pages of these record books as Fedal continues to almost demoralize the field.

The slight nervous energy of the Mischa Zverev match, turned to an urgency vs Mayer in the QF. He maintained and finished a tough, close match vs. the Russian teenager, Khachanov. This urgency, with the footsteps of confidence growing a little bit louder, evolved into a professionalism (assassin-like) in the final. That evolution, itself, was interesting to watch.

To be clear, the tennis, for me, was almost secondary to this attitude of breaking his opponent as much with a fanatical focus as with an improved BH return of serve.

He was 2/12 in BP vs. Mayer. Through the first three games of the first set of the final, he was 2/3. Remember that aforementioned 2015 USO final and Federer’s BP conversion %? It was in the neighborhood of 3/19. The tennis at this level is almost SECONDARY to a ballsy return game early in a big match that breaks serve and tells your opponent “this is going to be a nightmare for you, pal.”

Speaking of nightmares, Federer’s serve does continue to really give him an edge over almost anyone. That Stuttgart loss I criticized? He had 29 aces in that match. And MP. And he lost. So, it’s not the weapon alone, people (serve, BH, etc.). He has to “finish” these points, games, sets and so on.

The more I think about it, the more it’s true, I’m afraid: at this level, the mental game, the ability to rise in those heavier, more meaningful moments will define the match.

That’s what Federer showed me more than anything in the final. He was cleaner. He executed his game plan (which he prepared with his coach) and he executed Zverev the younger, smashingly. The camera work is quite good, going from Federer to Ljubičić throughout. The Croatian is a steadying force, if you ask me.

Both finals last Sunday were won by a . . . (no, I’m not going to say “35 year-old”) one-handed BH. The grass is just a more interesting game (though I am pretty partial to HC, too) that requires players to use more game. The serve is a factor, the entire court comes into play, foot work, touch, the slice, etc.

Really, tennis-wise, the Queen’s Club final was more interesting, other than it’s tough to be more interesting than a Federer run on grass at 35. But Cilic and Lopez put-on quite a show. I always enjoy watching Lopez, the Spanish outlier, a guy whose game is so measured, deliberate and full of S&V class. How does anyone not root for this guy. With Cilic surging  these last two weeks, then going up a set here in the final to the other 35 year-old, most probably wrote-off Feli. But the way he digs-in, plays each point with both guts and grace, on Sunday he completed his task of winning what has been one of his most treasured tournaments, especially after failing in 2014 to Dimitrov where the big lefty held a MP.

For Cilic, this has to burn. I have been writing about his form for a few weeks now. He even looked decent in RG where he made the QF. On grass, his first strike tennis has been very effective. His serve is intimidating and he knows his way around the grass pretty well. What we saw, however, is a clear issue with this FH and probably his confidence, in general. He has some bad spells out there, where his timing and pop on that shot seem to go away.

I was thinking his placement in the draw would be a huge factor at WB (what top seed gets to deal with him in a QF). I still think this revelation will be pretty interesting as the Croat has to feel close to form, he’s played well at SW19 in the past, and his coach Jonas Bjorkman is a WB grass aficionado (SF in singles ’06 and three doubles titles ’02-04).

One theme we often see develop on grass is the presence of a big serve. Cilic shouldn’t hang is head that much as he has weapons to make a deep run at the next major in about a week’s time.

Lopez’s serve will certainly make him relevant, as will this weapon play a big role in the Federer and Zverev WB campaigns.

The grass does this: polishes the game and champions the players “more skilled in the game’s finer truths.”

Some see another developing theme in signs of the sport’s ageism: the older one gets, the better he becomes. Tough to argue with some of the numbers, but I will add that many of those players that we see succeed late in their careers, who persevere, remain relevant, etc., often carry a big serve (Karlovic, Muller, Federer, Lopez, et al). As a matter of fact, those four fine gentlemen have quite a game of grass in their tennis bag to boot (are there 33 year-old baseline grinders out there reaching tournament finals, grand slam  quarters and semis?).

So, Federer, serve in tow, appears to be finding that earlier 2017 form and confidence (the brutality of the BH still has room to grow, however). He himself was a little concerned earlier in the week: “I was doubting myself a little bit, I must admit, because losing [in the opening] round for the first time in 15 years on grass was always going to shake me a little bit and it did. So I’m happy to react right away and let that be forgotten and actually move on and remind myself I actually can play well on grass,” Federer said. “It’s a boost for me personally, with my confidence, knowing that my body is in good shape. Mentally, I’m fresh again and I’ve gotten used to match play” (ATP).

That was all I was talking about after Stuttgart. He needs matches.

Watching him evolve here through some tough matches (Mischa, Mayer, Khachanov) and then reach another level in the final has to be good news for the no. 3 seed at WB.

He appears to have a growing cargo of confidence as he pulls anchor and sets sail for London. So long, Halle (und die neun). Could Federer’s boat (das boot) have particular orders as Britain appears on the horizon?

Is London falling?

15 thoughts on “Federer and Lopez, Class of the Pre-Wimbledon Grass

  1. The order of the seedings at Wimbledon is traditionally calculated from 4 items concerning the players’s recent performance :
    1) Their ranking points in the Emirates ATP rankings of the current season;
    2) Their ranking points obtained during the lead-up events on grass of the current season;
    3) Their ranking points from Wimbledon year (x-1);
    4) 0,75 * their ranking points from Wimbledon year (x-2).
    Applying this formula to the the current top 5 players, the seedings will probably look as mentioned here below :
    Seed 1 : Murray : 9390 + 90 (Eastb.) + 2000 ( Wimbl. 2017) + 540 ( Wimbl. 2016 * 0,75) = 12010 points
    Seed 2 : Djokovic : 5805 + ? (= Eagon Int.) + 90 ( Wimbl. 2017) + 1500 ( Wimbl. 2016 * 0,75)] >= 7395 points
    Seed 3 : Federer : 5265 + 500 (Halle) + 720 (Wimbl. 2017) + 900 (Wimbl. 2106 * 0,75) = 7385 points
    Seed 4 : Nadal : 7285 + 0 (Wimbl. 2016) + 33,75 (Wimbl. 2016 * 0,75) = 7318,75
    Seed 5 : Wawrinka : 6175 + 45 (Wimbl . 2016) + 270 (Wimbl. 2015 * 0,75) = 6490 points
    These data show that Federer’s Halle victory has an important impact on the order of the seedings :
    Nadal will be 4th seed instead of 2d seed, and Wawrinka will be 5th seed instead of 3d seed.
    Your new post crossed my comment. Sorry. Will read your post later. Got to leave.

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    • Indeed, Wawrinka going-out in R1, Federer grabbing the 4th and now 3rd seed is quite the development. Good stuff, Wilfried. Hope you’re doing well.

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  2. Hey Matt,

    Really great stuff lately. As usual, you cover all the bases and leave the rest of us just a few scraps! 😉

    Of course I realize that may not be true for some of the more erudite commenters here, but it is definitely the case for me!

    So I just want to suggest something that seemed true to me a few years back, namely that Federer seemed so sold on the idea that he was the best ever, that he thought that meant he could beat anyone at their own game. Gulbis comes to mind, but there were others.

    Eventually, I think, he saw that his unsurpassed versatility confers the ability to keep just about everyone off balance and out of their own game, on just about any surface. I think we’ve seen that idea develop in Roger’s game about the same time he switched racquets, but it has really become evident this year, and I couldn’t be more pleased about it.

    And I can’t agree more with some of your earlier comments to the effect that Roger’s consistency has been his worst enemy at times. The rest has done him a world of good, his ROS has improved, backhand, (second) serve, etc. but that mental strength – along with great ‘execution’ of a game plan specific to his opponent – has got to give every other player pause.

    Looking forward to Wimbledon, and your perceptive analyses!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks and good stuff, Incondite. Some of Roger’s “demeanor” over the years does suggest a kind of arrogance, etc., but I have to believe he’s smarter than that. In the end, I’ll take a splash of that theory along with more of the softer core theory that derived from Federer finding excellence more easily, things coming to him wit out the fight that a Nadal or Djokovic had to muster (though much of this fight we can see is genetic, too, in Nadalovic).

      Either way, this 2017 Federer is a terrible concoction of offensive genius (the BH is absurd if it’s in Melbourne form) and very solid ROS that really fills out the checklist. On top of that, the mentality of putting a guy a way. . . that’s not so typical, especially when it’s Nadal or even a surging Zverev who has played Federer so tough.

      I didn’t say much about Khachanov, but he looks really really solid. That was a tight SF.

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  3. Another thought on the Lopez win at Queens Club: look at his draw. He went through Wawrinka, Chardy, Berdych, Dimitrov, and the near rampant Cilic.

    Bravo!

    PS
    How about the Russian youth! Wow. Rublev (19) is back on the radar, playing well, the kid Medvedev (21) is holding his own (looked like while battling injury), and Khachanov. . .wow. What a big game we have here. I could even throw Sascha in there, though he claims Germany. But Khachanov reaching the SF was a terrific development from that 21 year-old. And Medvedev and Karen are both 6’6″.

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  4. “Are there 33 year-old baseline grinders out there reaching tournament finals, grand slam quarters and semis?”
    David Ferrer (aged 35, currently ranked 39) takes on Y. Sugita in R16 at the Antalya, Turkey 250 tournament. The Spaniard’s star is definitely falling these days. Wear and tear from grinding.

    I agree with the somewhat arrogant approach Feds had in his tennis at times. Namely, he’d almost say to his opponent, “I’ll adopt your style and beat you with it.” Or earlier on in his career he felt the drop shot was one of panic, bailing out of the rally and a cop out. Baryshnikov wizardry aside, it’s time to play the tennis that will get the job done. Case in point: he did his homework on Zverev the younger (drop shots and shortish balls) putting the lad off balance enabling drop winners, put away volleys or setting up passing shots. This old soccer adage translates: “If you’re in the penalty area and don’t know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we’ll discuss the options later.” Credit to RF’s willingness to adapt albeit the racquet change could have occurred earlier in his career. Ivan the terrible aka The Federer whisperer?

    Matt, the Fedal show rolls into Wimbledon but could there be an upstart? My dark horse is Dimitrov and a Kyrgios meltdown to probably occur in R2 or R3 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, RJ.

      There is no question Federer has been more business-oriented. Perhaps just a sign of age and seeing the finish line in sight.

      We’ll talk more about the contenders very soon, as in tonight perhaps; Dimitrov seems a good pick to make a run, but he’s lost some matches this year after Melbourne that I think resonate. Would have been nice to see him go deeper in Stuttgart or London last week – though at Queen’s he did lose to the tournament winner.

      We’ll have to see. I think the list is short as for who can challenge at the far ends of the draw.

      Isn’t Kyrgios dealing a bit with injury? If he’s fit, he’s dangerous, especially where the serve matters.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nadal is sure to be vulnerable in the first week either way. Wimbledon is looking interesting, and a lot more interesting than RG in any event.

    In the Halle final, it almost seemed as though Federer was trying out new things (practising his drop shots etc). Some of the rallies were breathtaking all-court tennis. Did you catch the one where the German was lured to the net only to find a forehand passing shot whizzing past him at what seemed like the next milisecond?

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    • Can’t wait to see Nadal’s form on grass. As I said, if he bows-out early, this is tremendous commentary on his tennis.

      When Fed is rolling on grass, it’s like ping-pong, indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Will we see Roger Federer ever back in Roland-Garros one day?
    The question arises after new declarations of the Swiss to the Swiss daily Blick, following his victory in the final of the Halle tournament (ATP 500 event), his ninth title in his German “garden” and already his fourth trophy this season.
    « I do not appreciate Grand Slam tournaments taking on too much importance. The current ranking system gives them too much of (points) value today.
    In the past, it was also not only about big tournaments. It was normal to miss some. Borg has only twice played the Australian Open, Agassi missed ten and Moya has not often played at Wimbledon.
    I prefer to play grass in Stuttgart or Halle rather than Roland-Garros, which is why I decided to miss it this year ».
    Halle is particularly dear to Federer.
    « Because I have my peace here between Paris and Wimbledon. It is located in the German-speaking area – this is simply ideal for me.
    It is so different, whether you are moving under 500 players or 40, 50 players move. That’s why I really like ATP 250 and 500 events. 1000s are already almost too big for me. I like it very much ».
    https://www.blick.ch/sport/tennis/atp/turbo-sieg-gegen-sascha-zverev-sagenhafter-federer-holt-sich-titel-nummer-9-in-halle-id6895356.html#ui-tabs-1

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Federer’s recent comments to Blick, and therefore to the broader public, seem – for me – partly made in defence of his decision to not play at Roland Garros this year. Considering that he didn’t play any lead-up events on clay, this decision implied in fact that Federer skipped the entire 2017 clay season without being injured.
    His decision was questioned here on this blog, not considered very wise, because of him not maintaining that feel of of competitive tennis, and because of the look of his absence, the ethos and karma of such decisions.
    I do have thoughts about this that may possibly feature in another, more elaborated comment, if I find the energy to work it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was unusual in today’s game. As Fed alludes to, as I have alluded in recent posts, this practice of skipping tournaments/majors was practiced in the past. One’s culture and history often dictate one’s behavior. Sampras skipped or “bowed-out” early in Masters events. Today, Masters are so terribly important, apparently. But this was not the case in Pete’s era. It was all about majors and even then, the French was a subordinate major more or less.

      Federer ruined tennis, so he has himself to blame for the criticism to which he refers. His current coach said he WOULD HAVE advised him to skip clay earlier in his career and as I clarified, this would have dulled the Nadal advantage over Roger. No doubt.

      But Roger didn’t skip clay. Until now. Ha ha.

      Can’t have it both ways.

      If Federer wins WB, no one will care about this clay abstinence.

      But, again, the move was unusual given the historical context of Federer’s ethos.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually this ‘Blick article’ doesn’t mention to what kind of questions Roger is responding ; whether these journalists were referring to any critical comments about Roger’s absence at Roland Garros or not, we don’t know this.
        Anyway, I think it is worth to look into Roger’s own critical comments on how ATP is ‘weighing’ the slams in the current ranking system, regardless of the critical comments people (may) make about Federer.
        Two questions should be addressed : 1) whether Federer’s critical comments are justified or not, and 2) are there any factors that may explain why Federer didn’t make those comments any earlier than only now, other than his skipping the clay season 2017 ?
        For me those questions can’t be answered in an objective way, unless we at least compare the current system with the previous system, and try to understand the implications and the context in which that change took place.
        One may than perhaps find other factors in play than mere ‘ethos’ and perhaps other reasons for the fact that Roger Federer never skipped any majors in his career until very recently,, with which I’m not saying that I have all those answers myself at the moment.
        Sampras was playing in an era in which the previous ranking system was in effect.

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      • In my opinion, since the slams fall under the jurisdiction of the ITF, players who are associated with the ATP (like Federer), do not have any obligations to ITF as far as their participation at the slams is concerned. Unlike at the manadatory Masters (where Federer meets the conditions to be authorised a complete exemption), they are free to participate at them or not.
        It’s true that it is pretty rare these days that a player does not participate at a slam, but that’s more because of the money and honor they can pick up there than because of anything else.

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