Forces in balance again

Patrick Mouratoglou

What a pleasure to see Roger Federer back to his best. His win in Madrid provided confirmation that he's one of the guys in top form this year. Not only has it been a pleasure to watch him play his inspired and unique brand of tennis, but his form also means things are tightening up at the top, ensuring suspense for this year's Grand Slams.

Federer and the art of adjusting

It's true that the new surface in Madrid favoured offensive players. It was difficult to get any kind of support from the blue clay and to find balance after sliding on it, which counted against defensive players and counterpunchers like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

These abnormal conditions, criticised by most players, forced them to adjust and as usual the Swiss was the best at doing so.

The Swiss has always know how best to adapt to new conditions, be they an unfamiliar surface or changing weather.

His first serve helped him to open up the court and make his opponent move. He also showed once again his fighting qualities, notably against Raonic when he faced a break point at 4-4 in the third set.

The game is probably already up for blue clay

Players have been extremely vocal about this clay. If the aim was to create a buzz and get people talking, then it's a case of 'mission accomplished' for Ion Tiriac's marketing people .

But as far as the quality of the game is concerned, huge changes will be needed. All week, we've watched some surprising tennis: players' games have been based on hitting hard on the first shot and they have been pushed into taking risks.

In the women's tournament, Serena Williams's victory was helped by these conditions while hampering her rivals at the same time, due to the American's outstanding serve with dozen aces per match. Her return was lethal too.

Federer back in top shape

As for Federer, even if conditions suited him, this title is the continuation of a streak that started at last year's French Open - where he reached the final after beating Djokovic in the semis - and ran through to the US Open, where he got two match points against Nole.

His great form towards the end of the season, with titles at Bercy, again in Paris at the Masters and then at the World Tour finals, served as confirmation that he was back.

He won seven of the last 10 events he entered, a run that speaks for itself. But what can be credited for this momentum? It probably has something to do with a period of perfect health for someone who had been suffering back problems for the best part of two years. That meant he could not train as much as he needed to and it also bothered him during matches, giving off the impression he was not involved as much as should be.

That's why Roger decided at the time to hire Stéphane Vivier, a physio, on a full-time basis, in order to find a solution to his problems. The decision seems to have worked and Federer now appears to be back to his best shape, with just one exception coming in Doha last year when he withdrew from his semi-final.

What to expect from Roger?

The tennis he's playing at the moment is giving him hope of winning another Grand Slam title. Yet two things can prevent him from doing so.

First, Rafael Nadal, a player he still has issues with, stands in his way.

Roger is focused on finding the answer; finding better sequences, improving the way he takes the ball early on his backhand and on balls with topspin. He regularly trains with lefties.

In their last two battles, there was no doubt that the Swiss did better and is getting close to the Spaniard. But Rafa has such a mental edge over him that he invariably wins in Grand Slams.

The second issue is physical. Unable to train properly on his fitness for some time due to his back, he's not at his best in five-setters. He has become unpredictable during long exchanges, as was the case at the Australian Open when he faced Nadal.

But time will help him. The more matches he wins, the more his mind will become used to winning again and the more he will start to play instinctively.

Seeing Roger back like this bodes well for the next Majors on the calendar, starting with the French Open.

What to read next