The big news was the reappearance of the 90 square inch frame in the hands of Roger Federer. The 98 square inch prototype will be sitting out this Cincinnati-US Open stretch. However, it does seem like it’s only a temporary move to the equipment bench for the new stick:
@SI_BTBaseline he will be playing with the 90 thru the US Open. Will play test 2nd phase of new racquet after the open. Per Wilson source.
— Midwest Sports (@MidwestSports) August 14, 2013
The experiment will live on, it seems. I’ve been thinking about this racquet change quite a bit, and I think I’ve reached a conclusion I’m satisfied with: if I were Roger Federer, I’d stick to the old 90 square inch frame that’s been a staple of his game since 2002. For one simple reason: it’s too late to make the switch. Some equipment experts mentioned that it would’ve been ideal to switch to a 95 square inch model (like the one Del Potro uses, and is also made by Wilson). That makes sense, and it should’ve been done a few years ago – say, in 2010 – and then transition to a 98 square inch – if necessary – around this year. As we know, that didn’t happen, and now Federer is trying to play with something that’s eight square inches bigger than his usual weapon at 32 years of age. Not only that, but he’s doing so after playing 1117 matches, most of them with the old frame.
Of course, Federer and his camp are making this switch now thinking that Federer truly has three or four more years on tour, most of which will see Federer in or around the top 5 of men’s tennis. If Federer were 28 or 29, and had played around 750-850 matches, I would agree with them.
But that’s not the case.
Hence, if I were the head of Federer’s team, I’d focus all my energy on making sure Federer’s back becomes reliable again. Injuries are the biggest threat to Federer’s career, not the eight square inches missing from his current racquet head.
In the first set of the match, Roger Federer looked like the usual Roger Federer. The penetrating forehands were there, the immaculate gliding around the court was there, and most importantly, the great serving was there. However, the rather unwelcome Federer trademarks were there, too. Particularly the return of serve, which was mediocre all night. Kohlschreiber essentially gifted the first set break via two straight double faults and a forehand unforced error. Roger didn’t have much to do with that situation.
The second set was a different story. We were back to 2013 Federer, when the wheels can come off at any given time. They did at 2-3, when the five-time Cincinnati champ missed a relatively simple overhead, and then double faulted away a break. By that point, his forehand had started to fly on him a bit, and his return of serve had deteriorated even further.
Fortunately for Federer, he was playing Philipp Kohlschreiber, who is having a most unremarkable year. The German is short on confidence, and it showed, as he gifted the break right back.
The eventual tiebreaker was a mess that fortunately ended with a few bits of brilliant play. Kohlschreiber went up an early minibreak, and proceeded to lose his next two service points with pretty horrid forehand unforced errors. Another one saw him go down 2-5. Later, Federer joined the forehand miscue party, and the score was leveled at 5-all. Kohlschreiber faced a match point at 5-6, but served and volleyed to great success. Federer then saved a set point with a service winner. But the match was over when Federer produced a simply spectacular running forehand down the line while sprinting to chase down a pretty great Kohlschreiber inside-in forehand. Federer’s shot caught Kohlschreiber by surprise, and that was that.
The crowd was relatively sparse for a Federer night match. Many left once the Sharapova-Stephens atrocity ended – and who can blame them? That match was almost a crime against the sport. And despite a few nice points and some flashes of vintage Federer, there wasn’t a whole lot for the sleepy crowd to get excited about:
This match is nearly as dull as the previous one was terrible.
— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) August 14, 2013
After the match, Federer stopped by the Tennis Channel set and had a few interesting things to say:
– Federer claimed to be pain free in Gstaad, but that he hadn’t been able to practice much before that tournament (he lost to Daniel Brands in the first round). After that, he didn’t do a whole lot for around five days, and then proceeded to practice again. Once he realized he wasn’t having any back issues, he said he “worked very hard” both on his tennis and on conditioning issues. Federer said he’s feeling stronger and pain-free, which has to be a good thing for his fans to hear.
– Roger mentioned that he’ll be doing more tests with the new racquet after the US Open, confirming the above tweet from Midwest Sports.
– Federer apparently went to see his agent’s son play in a junior event. You can guess how excited the kids were when they saw that most inconspicuous spectator.
I thought Kohlschreiber had a bizarre tactical game plan. He was trying to do way too much with his forehand, which makes no sense. Everybody on this earth knows that his one-handed backhand is the more solid shot, and it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to engage Federer in as many backhand-to-backhand exchanges as possible. Instead, Philipp seemed quite intent to direct many neutral balls to Federer’s forehand instead.
However, the main issue facing Kohlschreiber was his inability to get any sort of read on Federer’ serve. The Swiss ended up winning 87% of first serve points, and 63% of second serve points. The latter number is the problematic one – it’s pretty hard to win a tennis match when you’re being so ineffective against your opponent’s weaker delivery.
What I don’t get is how Kohlschreiber hasn’t been able to glean anything from the six previous times he’s played Federer in order to improve those return numbers. He was simply clueless on return, and it makes perfect sense that his only break point (and break) was generated by two straight Federer miscues.