By Mike McIntyre
It was another dissappointing loss for Roger Federer today as he was defeated 6-3, 6-4 in a brief 65 minute match by Daniel Brands at the Credit Agricole Swiss Open in Gstaad.
Playing in only his first match of the event, the 5th ranked Federer could not find the answers to his 55th ranked opponent. Federer was zero for five on break point opportunities and landed only 53% of his first serves, an indicator of the apparent back issues he has been feeling over his last two tournaments.
A week ago in Hamburg, Federer was seen with tape on his lower back. There he was at least able to navigate his way into the semi-finals defeating Brands, Jan Hajek and Florian Mayer before falling to Federico Delbonis (who himself lost today at Gstaad as well.)
Federer was using the clay events in Hamburg and Gstaad as a way to test out a new Wilson racquet and also to gain some much needed ranking points to potentially improve his seeding at the upcoming U.S. Open. Being seeded 5th will likely mean a quarterfinal match against one of Djokovic, Murray or Nadal, something he would clearly like to avoid if possible.
So the clay court experiment did not pan out - is this time to panic as both fans and media alike have done from time to time in recent years of Federer's career? I think not.
Any mention of injury automatically means we can't measure these two results against NFB - normal Federer behaviour. Who knows just how much it was affecting him on the court. Perhaps he would have pulled-out of the event in Gstaad if it had not been in Switzerland in front of his home fans. Instead he decided to give it a go and unfortunately for him wasn't able to get the job done. Federer did have the following to say today after his defeat, "In the last 7-10 days I could hardly practice. This made it difficult to prepare properly. I decided to play so it's no excuse."
Federer also has his new racquet to contend with. Going from a 90 to a 98 square inch head is a sizable adjustment that is going to take some time to work out the kinks. It will be interesting to see if Federer continues with his new stick, but I would be surprised if he didn't at least give it a try on the hard courts in Montreal in a week and a half. It's too soon to cut ties with his latest weapon without seeing what it can do on his strongest surface.
Now suppose that his recent struggles have little to do with injury or equipment choice and instead are the outcome of nothing more than a common slump. All players go through them at some point and Federer has had some, albeit not as noticeable, before. Better to go through a lull at this point of the season rather than a month from now. Federer will leave these results behind him in Europe and likely find the return to hard courts in North America as the perfect tonic. He has Montreal, Cincinnati and then a week of practice time before we head to Flushing Meadows and the U.S. Open. There is still lots of time for him to figure things out.
Some will claim that this is the beginning of the end for Federer. That with his 32nd birthday approaching he is finally starting to show the decline that all great champions (minus Borg) must inevitably go through. I find it hard to believe that this is the case. We are merely a year removed from seeing yet another Wimbledon victory and an Olympic silver medal as well. He won Cincinnati last year without dropping a set, made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open and the finals of the season ending ATP Championships in London. Even in 2013 his record is 30-8, he has one title, almost made the finals in Australia and is still a guy that people want to avoid if at all possible in any given tournament. This is not a Pete Sampras 2002 type fall-off that we are witnessing. That year Pete went 20-16 heading into his final Grand Slam victory and if it weren't for that wonderful accomplishment in New York at the Open it would have been a catastrophe of monumental proportions for him.
We can all take a deep breath and realize that we are still in for plenty of meaningful tennis from Federer and that very likely we are going to see some much stronger results delivered before this season comes to an end. He might not win the U.S. Open or even make the final, but if healthy and adjusted to his new racquet you can't put those types of results out of his reach.
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