CBS Sports – Lesley Visser – March 30, 2009 – KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Nick Bollettieri, who has coached 10 No. 1 players in the world — from Becker to Agassi to Seles to Sharapova –- didn’t mince words when reflecting on what Roger Federer has to do to regain the form that made him dominant for most of the decade.
“I think he has to change his game completely,” Bollettieri said. “He’s got to serve and volley, he’s got to take chances to come in and he’s got to do something about his confidence.”
Federer is often voted fan favorite and cited for his sportsmanship, but his game has lost its gentlemanly swagger. It’s well documented that he lost his No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal, who has now won 13 of the 19 matches they’ve played, including epic battles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
For the first time in five years, Federer isn’t seeded first here at the Sony Ericsson Open, and it has been two years since he won a Masters Series event, the tournaments listed just below the Grand Slams. Federer, always dangerous but lately less damaging, could face Andy Roddick in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal, where Roddick stunned the Swiss legend. Moving on, he would likely face Andy Murray or Nadal, both of whom have his number.
“Roger’s such a laid-back kid,” said Bollettieri, who, at 77, looks at someone 27 as still in his boyhood. “He has problems with Murray (who is 6-2 against Federer), but his major hurdle is Nadal. Roger has got to improve his backhand when Nadal hits that heavy topspin crosscourt. Roger should aim for the middle of the court.”
Nadal is hungry now, playing with breathtaking speed and power. The world No. 1, the French and Australian Open champion, the Wimbledon champion, the man who saved five match points just weeks ago against David NalbandianÂ in the fourth round at Indian Wells, which he won, has nothing missing in his game.
“He’s got everything,” said legend Bud Collins. “He can play offense or defense, he can serve, he has strength, he can control the game from the baseline and he has the best inside-out forehand since Jim Courier.”
Nadal has already won six Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal and a Davis Cup championship. He also has Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, a position Federer has not filled since severing his relationship with Tony Roche two years ago.
“I think Roger needs a coach,” said Collins. “He told me once years ago, ‘I want to hear my own voice,’ but Nadal has crawled into his head, like a worm.”
Federer spoiled us with his gorgeous, unstoppable tennis, but he has now lost five straight matches to the Spaniard Nadal. Federer has been the overachieving perfectionist, effortless on the court. But now he needs a mental tune-up.
“Nadal is in his head,” said Collins, “the way Bjorn Borg couldn’t beat John McEnroe at the U.S. Open. This is an incredible rivalry, but Roger has lost his confidence.”
Is Federer’s run over? Will he ever win another Grand Slam? Or does he just need Dr. Phil?
“Well maybe not Dr. Phil,” said longtime sports psychologist Dr. John Murray who traveled with Vince Spadea to the Australian Open. “There is no doubt that mental coaching can have an enormous effect on confidence, and, for Roger, the clock is ticking. He should be talking regularly — 30- to 60-minute sessions, to someone who’s done a full assessment of him and his game, someone who’s actively getting him ready for matches, not just a sit down with a therapist.”
At 2-2 of the fifth and final set at Wimbledon, during the second rain delay, Nadal talked to his coach, Toni, and his trainer, Rafael Maymo, in the locker room. After two successive losses to Federer on the lawn at SW19, Nadal told his team he knew he was going to win this one. In January, Nadal brought Federer to exhausted, emotional tears after winning the Australian Open 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2 and accepting the trophy from Rod Laver. The Sony Ericsson is scheduled to be their next encounter.
“I know this is a big week for me,” said Federer after his second-round win over Kevin Kim. “Last season was very, very tough. I’ve been struggling against Rafa, and Murray, too. I have to get wins against them to turn it around.”
Nadal is 22 and will try to prevent Federer from capturing a record-tying 14th Grand Slam. But the mighty lefty, Nadal, and the gossamer righty, Federer, have given us magnificent memories.
“Tennis has not had a period like this, with two such gentlemen at the top, since Don Budge and Gottfried Von Cramm,” said Collins of the two rivals known for their courtesy in the 1930s. “They’re both so unselfish — we’re in a golden period.”