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Federer’s feet of clay « Getting at the truth

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Federer’s feet of clay

Daniel 2:33-45 – “Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image … his feet part of iron and part of clay. … And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.”

Rod Laver

Rod Laver

When Rod Laver got into the “zone”, he went for broke – not so with Roger Federer.

I had the opportunity to watch Laver, close up, and I have seen him go for broke more than once. It was a sight to be seen – something you don’t see with Federer.

Yes, Roger Federer can elevate his game a bit, but nothing like Laver, and that is the difference between them – it is a huge difference.

Unlike Laver, often Federer is playing not to lose, and he is pretty good at it.

In Federer’s loss to Robin Soderling in the French Open, it was Soderling who was pushing the envelope. Again, it appeared that Federer was playing not to lose.

In part, the reason for this may lie in Federer’s controlled on-court personality.

There may, however, be another factor at play – a fundamental flaw which prevents Federer from going deep into the “zone.”

The great Bill Tilden once said, “A player is as strong as his weakest stroke.”

Federer preparing to hit defensive slice backhand at Roland Garros

Federer preparing to hit defensive slice backhand at Roland Garros

Federer’s weakest stroke is his classic one-handed backhand. It’s a beautiful stroke, but can break down against hard-hit shots especially those with heavy topspin, or even backspin. With a one-handed backhand, you can’t impart top-spin if the ball bounces too high due to topspin, or too low due to backspin . All you can do is be defensive. (Unless you were Don Budge who could blast back a high-bouncing serve with his great topspin backhand.) As for Laver, in his day, the heavy topspin of today’s groundstrokes did not exist.

The backhand is Federer’s flaw, his weakest stroke, his feet of clay. His problem is not an unwillingness to elevate his game; it is an inability to do so because of his weakest stroke – the backhand.

Soderling must have known this, as he played aggressively to Federer’s backhand from start to finish to take the match.

After losing the opening set 6-3, Soderling upped the ante with blistering groundstrokes forcing errors off Federer’s backhand.

A telling backhand wide by Federer gave Soderling his first break in the second set, which Soderling won 6-3. That established the pattern of what was to come, and Soderling’s eventual victory at 6 – 3   3 – 6   5 – 7   4 – 6.

“A player is as strong as his weakest stroke.” There is a lesson to be learned here – and not only for tennis.


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