Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Sports: The Two Faces of Roger Federer

From what I've seen of him in the past couple of years, Roger Federer has exhibited two playing modes.

One is the form you'd expect of someone who is the world's number one tennis player and a 12-time Slam winner. It's been called JesusFed, NinjaFed, or TMF-mode ("The Mighty Federer") by the guys over at MTF. In these periods, Federer's play is truly a cut above even the rest of the extremely gifted ATP tour players. He moves faster, he hits more accurately, and he seems to have an uncanny awareness of where his opponents are on the court. The most recent instance has been in the 2007 U.S. Open quarterfinals against Roddick:



But there is another side to Federer, whom many have called the greatest player ever to hold a tennis racquet. This is "Cruise mode" Federer, who is content to simply do enough to win matches without pulling off anything special. The world number 1 reverts to your average aggressive baseliner - a vicious forehand, decent movement, but little aggression.

I've seen Fed casually wait out his opponents' service games, preferring to simply serve for the match rather than try to break. I've seen Fed keep blunting back the same slice backhand over and over, seemingly hoping that the guy on the other side will miss. It's troubling when even the world's greatest can slip back to this passive play in a French Open final. In 2008, he essentially waved the white flag and got bageled by Nadal in the third set:



But now Federer is back on Wimbledon grass. Can he even make it to the final? And can he beat Nadal, who is red-hot and getting even better? It should be an interesting week - either dizzying success or disappointment.

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