Patrick Mouratoglou

Roger Federer back in business

Patrick Mouratoglou

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I am convinced that Roger Federer is back in business.

Some may think I'm rushing into this conclusion, but I have seen vital signs which prove, in my opinion, that the champion we all love has returned.

I'm not going to predict that he will win every match he plays, but I am convinced he has rediscovered his motivation, something lacking over the past year. 

And as such he becomes one of my favorites to win the US Open.

Against Tomas Berdych in the Toronto semi-finals, Roger chose to attack from the first point of the match. He was hitting the ball with conviction, adding speed to the movement of his arm while retaining his usual relaxed game. 

He clearly respects the Czech player after losing both previous matches played against him this year. But he knew he had to restore order to prevent his opponent from obtaining the psychological edge - and that he had to play his best tennis in order to beat Tomas.

The match in Toronto was different to the ones Roger has played over the past year.

We have gotten used to seeing him play matches when he didn't really care, which showed he wasn't committed as he used to be, and he struggled with his confidence as a result. He did not put in the extra effort to win.

But this match was completely the opposite: he was focused from start to finish. In his press conference, Roger compared it to the one they played in Miami, where he lost despite holding a match point.

But for me it was like comparing day and night. In March, Tomas wasn't the player he is today. He didn't have two successive victories over the Swiss player. And now he is a semi-finalist and a runner-up in the last two Grand Slams played. As for Roger, he took his chances from the get-go, compared to Miami, where he was lymphatic at times, and even seemed to be walking while hitting the ball.

In Toronto, however, he finished the match the same way he started it. He was aggressive and dominated rallies against the Czech, who was slow at the start of the match and too defensive in the deciding tie-break.

Roger's movement around the court is outstanding. He is a player who moves around the ball to hit forehands from any position. He is also a player who moves forward to put pressure on his opponent. He takes the ball early, and therefore moves one step ahead of his opponent.

In the first set, Roger looked nervous on key points. He was more static and less decisive. He was playing backhand chop shots too often and trying to force his opponent to make a mistake. Statistics speak for themselves: Roger managed to convert just two break points out of 12.

However, that doesn't upset my opinion. Federer was weaker on key points, which only goes to prove his desire to do well and his lack of confidence after accumulating many setbacks over the past year.

And I finally saw the old Roger, the winner. He had his focused face and determined spirit back.

He looked a combination of desire, calm and extreme focus. Over the past year he hasn't seemed that comfortable on a tennis court - it was like he almost didn't want to figure out how to win any more. But in Toronto, Roger was deeply involved in his game. He is the best ambassador for tennis when he is fully committed to it.

He also proved once again that he could return to the world number one spot. When he hits the first four or five shots of a rally he is so aggressive, but he is less decisive when he has to play longer rallies.

It was a treat to see him play in the first set. He was attacking the ball with great conviction. It is the key to his game: to convince himself to move forward, to fully take his chances, to create openings during the first couple of shots of a point.

There are still places where Roger can improve though.

As the match progressed, his intensity reduced. In fact, he had to dig himself out of a tough situation after trailing 5-2 in the decider. He won thanks to his focus and determination, and took his chances.

Roger is no longer used to playing his best tennis for three hours in a match. He only played really well for one set. But with this rediscovered mindset he will very soon be able to keep playing well for longer.

He used the backhand chop shot far too often. In the past this weapon would force the opponents to play safe and allow Roger to attack, but now it is a weaker asset since he is forced to defend more than to attack.

He did not take enough advantage of the Czech's second serve, which is relatively weak. He did hit few Sampras-like returns, taking the ball early, but most of the time Roger just putting the ball back in play on Berdych's short second serves.

He should also give up playing long rallies, which force him to become too defensive.

That is why he is losing against Nadal. In their head-to head meetings, Roger kept playing from the baseline in most encounters. Therefore, he forced himself to wait a couple of shots before taking the decision to attack.

Roger seems to have found a new motivation with the help of Paul Annacone and maybe the solutions needed to beat the Spaniard. The first set he played in Toronto was a good example of the type of play he will have to use against Nadal.

Let's not forget that all the hard work already achieved is thanks to American Annacone. Of course there is still a long way to go in order to find the very best in Roger Federer, but he is moving in the right direction.

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