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ROUNDTABLE — Evaluating Roger Federer After Basel

Tennis Accent Staff

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Danielle Parhizkaran - USA TODAY SPORTS

Three Tennis With An Accent writers had something to say about the nine-time Basel champion:

NICK NEMEROFF – @NNemeroff

What do I think about Roger Federer after Basel? Going into Saturday’s semifinal against Daniil Medvedev, I fully expected the Swiss to be seriously challenged. Instead, Federer blitzed through the Russian in 64 minutes, dropping just five games.

Tennis is a day-to-day sport: Your level one day is not going to automatically transfer to the next. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 3.5 recreational doubles player or Roger Federer. Each day is a new day, for better or worse. With that said, Federer is certainly going to have more variance in his level as he continues to age.

It has been interesting to see how Federer has handled this reality. He has appeared to display more negativity on court than at other points in his career, particularly to the linespeople and umpires.

Federer still has the ability to beat anyone on any given day, even Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Whether he will be able to summon the necessary level needed to beat his primary adversaries is the big question. Maintaining the necessary level of play over the duration of three, four or five sets is only going to get tougher for Federer as the end of his career approaches (whenever that may be).

SAQIB ALI – @saqiba

A pizza party tradition with the ball kids continued in Basel, Switzerland, on Sunday, as their very own Roger Federer was crowned champion for the ninth time.  This win made Basel along with Halle as Federer’s most prolific hunting grounds. The Swiss champion became the first player to win 9 titles on two different surfaces – grass (Halle) and indoor hard (Basel). This also brings Federer within one title of the 100-title mark as he continues to trail James Scott Connors’ overall title tally of 109.

One would think these kinds of numbers will create a euphoric week for Federer fans in general. But if you reside on Tennis Twitter and rely on the information circulated there, this week was anything but routine for Federer. We all know Federer is a lot closer to the end of his career, but no one knows the exact finish line. However, each Federer loss is magnified and moaned about more than ever. The same goes for his two biggest rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Their form is always the topic of discussion. The head-to-head or GOAT discussion narratives hit a weekly reset button to perpetuate such conversations.

What gets lost in this is a home win and the pressure it involves. Federer in Basel is very reminiscent of the 1990s scenario of Boris Becker playing in Germany in the fall. Nadal in Barcelona and Madrid, Andy Murray and Tim Henman at Wimbledon, and American greats such as the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras have endured this kind of pressure. Of course the majors have a more global audience which involves more scrutiny. One cannot compare the levels of pressure involved between Wimbledon and Barcelona, or the U.S. Open and Basel.

Nevertheless, playing at home is always special and emotional. In this case, there is less historic relevance: Whereas Murray carried hopes of winning Wimbledon (and fulfilled them), or the Williamses, Agassi and Sampras were regularly favored to win or reach the final at the U.S. Open, Swiss tennis has not had giants of the game. Before Federer there were Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset, two very good Swiss players but not top-tier threats to the extent that they were expected to bring home the trophy on a regular basis.

(A brief history lesson: Rosset was slightly to moderately better than Hlasek, reaching a Masters final and one Roland Garros semifinal plus an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992. Rosset won 15 titles, Hlasek 5, but neither man was ever a serious threat at a major except for Rosset’s entirely unexpected run to the 1996 Roland Garros semis. Both players played more of their tour singles finals on indoor carpet than any other surface. The fact that there are no carpet tournaments on the current tour shows how long ago they played, but more precisely, it shows how many tournaments no longer exist, which is part of a world in which it is harder for pros to win matches and tournaments – there aren’t as many available to play as there were in the 1990s and previous decades.)

Federer here is giving Swiss fans something for the first time. This is their ONLY opportunity to see their own champion every year. It is not a surprise that Federer has always valued the 500 ATP in Basel more than the Bercy Masters 1000. This year the pressure was somewhat higher. Two of his biggest rivals, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, did not play in Basel, making the field slightly more open for Federer. But a title still had to be won over five matches. Playing Djokovic in a high-stakes Basel title match obviously is a big pressure match, but not being able to win a title in absence of some of those big names in my opinion adds a different element of pressure.

Some have said Federer’s game was far from his usual best this week. And Giles Simon is one of those players who have matched up really well against the Swiss in the past. This week too their clash was seen as a battle in which Federer had to fight hard to reach the finish line. The match was very much in accordance with Federer’s form throughout the week, and given the level of his patchy play and this particular timeline in his career, this may go down as a special hometown win for him. He had to fight to win every match and there is grace in that.

MATT ZEMEK – @mzemek

There are plenty of things to say about Federer, but I said some of them on the new Tennis With An Accent podcast with Saqib Ali, which will soon be released. Saqib and I recorded the episode Sunday night, but you can listen to it throughout the week.

Here are the Stitcher, Google Play, and ITunes/Apple links where you can find our show, which we try to release on Tuesday of every week. You can also go to RadioInfluence.com and click the drop-down menu on Sports Podcasts, where you can find our show’s homepage:

I want to use this space to briefly mention a few notes not included in the podcast.

First, Federer’s body is simply going through a new stage. We had never seen him be so overwhelmed by weather conditions until the John Millman match at the U.S. Open.

As Nick Lester told Saqib on last week’s Tennis With An Accent podcast, Federer had not been home in Switzerland for roughly eight straight weeks, due to the need to stay in the United States to prepare for the Laver Cup in Chicago.

Had the Laver Cup been in Europe this year, Federer would have gone home for at least a week before Laver Cup, but it made little sense to fly from New York to Switzerland and then back to Chicago. Federer then promoted Uniqlo in Japan before playing Shanghai, so he was spending a lot of time in hotels and in transit. (AHA! Maybe a few too many deep-dish pizzas in Chicago – I kid, I kid.)

Nevertheless, this has been a weird year for Federer in terms of the rhythms of the season. The smaller load of tournaments hasn’t necessarily made him sharper or crisper. That doesn’t mean Federer has played his cards poorly, but it does mean that the process of revving up the engines, then not playing tennis for awhile, and then starting back up again might not be the formula Federer needs for future schedules.

The other big note I want to mention here – again, which I did NOT include in my podcast comments with Saqib – is that whereas Rafael Nadal plays Barcelona in late April, as the second leg of his five-clay-tournament run from Monte Carlo all the way to Roland Garros, Federer plays Basel in late October.

Nadal is often wiped out at this time of year. Imagine him having to play clay in October, and imagine Federer playing Basel in April.

I wonder: How different would their results be?

You might think I have a strong idea on this one, but I don’t.

I raise this question not to suggest that their results would be different, but to make the point that the specific structure of the tennis calendar shapes so many of the decisions tennis players make and affects the conditions in which they perform. When I invite you to consider how different life would be if the tennis calendar was dramatically reorganized, I am inviting you to realize how many forces exist beyond a player’s control.

You can only deal with the circumstances you have. As with Rafa in Barcelona, Federer keeps embracing the pressure of winning tournaments in front of the locals, though in a very different part of the season on a very different surface. The ability to handle the heat remains the same for those two icons.

The Tennis With An Accent staff produces roundtable articles and other articles with group input during the tennis season. Staff articles belong to the TWAA family of writers and contributors, as opposed to any individual commentator. Our staff produces roundtables every week of the tennis season, so that you will always know what the TWAA staff thinks about the important tennis topics of the times.

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