A few years ago in a very memorable Christmas Day message Queen Elizabeth referred to the year that the Royal family had been through as their “annus horribilis”.
This year could be seen as something similar for Roger Federer. No Grand Slam finals, the best being a semifinal in Australia and the worst losing in the second round at his beloved Wimbledon, only one title and a ranking slide of big proportions for him. He was a staple in the top three but now he’s closer to the other end of the top ten.
His latest loss, to Gael Monfils at the Shanghai Rolex Masters only added to his headaches for the year and he could be in danger of not qualifying for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London.
I said at the end of last year and against the beginning of 2013 that Federer would not win one of the majors this year, that despite him winning a seventh Wimbledon and reaching the Olympic tennis final in 2012. He made the point that after his rise back to the top of the rankings and winning that Wimbledon crown and the efforts he put into the Olympics that 2013 was always going to be difficult, or as he said “a bit of a more quiet year”.
This year he drastically cut back his schedule and took a few more rest periods. So was that part of the price he paid?
“I'm running late with practice, to be honest, because of the issues I've had this year,” he said. “I've been sort of caught behind. I really believe the extra week of practice, the everyday spending at least three hours on the tennis court for seven straight days, 20 plus hours, have been very important for me right now. So clearly that makes me a bit more vulnerable in the early rounds.
“You know, I still feel I'm heading in the right direction. Honestly, now looking back, I know I took the decision to take the seven week break but I couldn't utilize it the way I wanted to. I was going to have to rest anyway how I felt after Indian Wells, which was really bad. I couldn't train for two, three weeks after that. It took me some time to get over the issues I had.
“So that break wasn't necessarily as helpful as it actually was. But it was planned, but it kind of matched up well with one another. Yeah, so, but then again, because it's been a bit more of a quiet year this year, that I didn't play as many matches, I didn't have that many tough matches overall, hopefully that's going to allow me to have more potential maybe to play a bit more next year again.
“It always goes in phases. It's important just to utilize it the right way next year.”
He seems to have a different approach in how he explains the situation. Certainly he says that he will keep on working hard and doing all possible to get back on winning ways which in turn develops confident again, but by his standards there must be concern.
Sure, losing to someone like Gael Monfils is not like losing to someone around 100, even though he had experienced that this year eg: Sergiy Stakhovsky. He says: “What’s important is if you do play the right way and you move the right way, then all of a sudden that margin you don't have maybe right now, you get it again.
“It's just important not to like worry too much, to be honest. It's important to keep on doing what I'm doing. Obviously I might get tougher draws as we move along with my ranking not being in the top four anymore. But that's okay. I don't really care that much about the rankings if I'm not world No. 1.
“I lost some other matches this year because I couldn't really perform at 100%. Probably shouldn't have played. But I don't really care having to explain some losses from time to time. I have nothing to say.”
Sounds like a big element of frustration there but he is trying hard to remain positive.
“I really (think) right now what I need is a really solid block of practice. I guess in some ways also 2014 is in the back of my mind and also the end of the year right now,” he said. “I didn't want to focus too much on what happened the last two months. The US Open, I hardly ever thought about it if I look back, at the Robredo match, so forth. I didn't think it was that bad, like maybe the way it looked. I think it was tough conditions. Tommy played well. It wasn't my day, all these things. It's one of those things you just want to move on from.
“I think my game's been coming back, which has been very important. Now it's about staying positive and working hard every single day. That's been the mindset.”
But in that vein of looking at the positive, one thing he can look forward to in 2014 is the fact that he will have fewer points to defend and can pick up points which would help boost things for him … similar to what Rafa Nadal experienced this year that saw him get back the world No.1 ranking.
I can’t see him getting back to No.1 but what I do believe is that he will win another one of the majors in 2014 – my guess is Wimbledon. Being at the top of heap, king of the hill is something he would love but is no long the focus, he was there for 300+ weeks. It’s adding to the tally of majors for him. However, having said that, he needs to get his ranking up so that that he is not facing the really tough guys, the other big guns, earlier in tournaments.