The best for now
By Roger Childs
The 36 year old father of two sets of twins bestrides the tennis world like a Colossus. In Melbourne on Sunday night he secured his record breaking 20th grand slam 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, and is clearly the top player around.
Marin Cilic fought gamely for five sets, but only in set four did the Swiss maestro seem to lose his way after leading 2-1. However it was business as usual in the final set, which the champ roared through with the loss of only one game.
But is there a young breed coming on to fill the gaps when Fed, Rafa, Novak and Andy leave the scene?
The winning ways
First let’s look at the amazing durability of the great man. In the last 13 months Roger Federer has won three of the five grand slams and five other major tournaments, in one of the golden eras of men’s tennis.
How does he do it? He is extremely fit and practices hard, but he does pace himself. He picks his tournaments and for example doesn’t play the French Open any more.
Relaxation is important and he loves walking round the cities where he is playing and enjoys meeting the fans. After the official presentations in Melbourne on Sunday night he went under the stands, talked to everyone who was in the area and then decided it still wasn’t time for a shower.
He turned around and went back onto the court where there were still a few fans around. He talked to another reporter to the delight of those who had stayed. Then he went outside and mingled with supporters outside the arena. Fed had time for everyone.
He enjoys his family, who are very supportive. His biggest fan is wife Mirka, who is ringside at every match The twins are a great joy to him, and one of his injuries, a knee strain, was famously caused when he was running a bath for his boys!
On-court temperament, is big part of his success. In his early years of professional tennis he was racket thrower, however people took him in hand, notably his father.
Basically the message was: Son, you are talented player, but if you want to get to the top keep your emotions under control until after the match. Fed took the advice and his on-court demeanour sets the standard for younger players.
Obviously the key factor in his success is his outstanding all round game. He has no weaknesses and is the master of every shot in the book, and some he has invented.
His serve is fast and reliable, and opponents have difficulty in predicting where it will go. He also has a very quick second serve and aced Cilic twice with number two!
His unpredictability also unsettles opponents. He will often deliberately slow the game down with a sequence of deep, highly top-spun returns, then whip a backhand down the line, or fire a tightly angled forehand cross-court at incredible speed.
At the net he has no equal and his volleying invariably brings winners. One of his great strengths is balance and he is able to play shots on the half volley and slightly behind him with great skill. Whereas other players race, scramble and slide along the baseline Federer moves quickly over short distances but uses his long reach to save on energy.
He is also a risk-taker and this sometimes makes him vulnerable. However, it’s all part of the complete Swiss package, that makes him such an entertaining player to watch.
What of the next generation?
Age on their side but work to do
Five names come to mind and two of them were semi finalists in the Australian Open.
- 21 year old Korean, Hyeon Chung received a lesson in courtcraft from Federer in the first set of his semi. He will had learned a lot from that. Sadly blisters forced him out in set two. Nevertheless, he has a great future.
- Englishman, Kyle Edmund, is the heir-apparent to Andy Murray on the British tennis scene. Aged 23 he also has a great future and was unlucky to sustain a hip problem in his semi-final encounter with Marin Cilic.
- The Australians have high hopes for 22 year old Nick Kyrgios. He has been around in professional tennis for a few years and thrashed Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon a couple of years back. He also won the Brisbane tournament earlier this month. The big problem is his on-court temperament and he could learn a lot from careful study of the Federer style.
Alexander Zverev Jr is ranked fourth in the world and won the Italian Open last year. The 20 year old German is an exciting player and currently leads the younger pack. However, he need to control his temper, especially after making a fool of himself in his third round encounter with Chung in Melbourne. He under-estimated his opponent and his frustration boiled over in the fifth set when he broke a racket behind the baseline. The set was lost 6-0. Federer has been talking to him and hopefully the young German will be better for it.
- 18 year old Canadian Denis Shapalov is another exciting prospect. He beat Nadal and Del Potro on his way to reaching the semi final in his home country’s 2017 Open: the Rogers Cup. According to Californian tennis authority, Richard Childs “… he is already the most exciting player to watch now according to a growing legion of entirely devoted fans”.
So there is plenty of young talent around, but they need to work on their consistency and court demeanour.
They have no better example than the great Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro is definitely not retiring, so he will continue to set the very high standards which the young guns will aspire to.