Psychology and tennis: Old man Federer does it again

Fed ServeYou lean over slightly, toe close to the baseline.  You bounce the ball down onto the court; it bounces back up into your hand.  You look up, across the net, staring your opponent in the eye.  He stares right back.

You check his positioning on the court, continuing to bounce the ball the right (lucky) number of times, trying to find your groove.  Is it five, six, seven?  Did that same number work last time?  Does it even matter?

You check your feet again.  How far to the right of center court are you?  How far left?  Does everything you’ve just reviewed, plus whatever else is running through your mind, even matter or should you just react?  Have you put yourself in the best position to serve that winner or are you thinking too much?

And that’s just the service.

I grew up playing tennis.  I don’t play much anymore but there was a time when I played religiously.  Of all the sports I played growing up, I can honestly say tennis was the most mentally grueling.

It is you against your opponent, mano a mano; a zero sum game.  Either he’s winning or you are.  There is no third option.

It’s why tennis players burn out so early.  Not only is the game physically demanding but mentally, it’s a mother.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe that’s the way I took the sport but I doubt it.  Blocking out those voices is tough business.

It is that mental toughness that makes what Roger Federer did last Sunday so amazing.  Like most objective tennis fans, I had resolved myself to the fact that the winningest tennis player of all time would never win another major.  He could have easily given up on himself as well.  He was 35 and his best tennis was clearly behind him.

Coming into this Australian Open, he was the seventeenth seed, almost entirely off the radar if his name wasn’t Roger Federer.  He hadn’t won a major in five years.  It had been fourteen years since he won his first.

But champions don’t quit and Roger Federer is that and then some.

To the world’s most famous Swiss, the Australian hardcourt was mighty kind on Sunday.  Federer was not nearly as kind to his opponent, Rafael Nadal, who holds a two-to-one edge in head-to-head victories over their careers, 23-12.  Against his Spanish rival, Federer played like he was 25 not 35.  Nadal was the one who looked old.

Despite having won five Australian Opens, Federer had never beaten Nadal down under.  Until Sunday.

Fed Aus

Somehow Federer blocked out all the noise and bested his opponent in a three-and-a-half hour, five set match that will likely remain one of Federer’s fondest tennis memories.

Federer has shortened his calendar year.  Still in incredible shape, he will now focus on winning yet another major, something we all thought would never happen again.

Shame on us for doubting there was ever anything left in the tank.

18 thoughts on “Psychology and tennis: Old man Federer does it again

  1. Idiots continued to write off Roger Federer at their peril. Many of the player’s detractors simply know nothing about the sport or the fact that Federer over the past five years , suffered numerous injuries that hampered his play. Now that he he has won his record eighteenth Grand Slam singles’ title (Men’s record), it firmly makes him the greatest player in the sport’s history , man or woman.

    Andy Murray is currently the number-one ranked male player which in essence is something of a joke .

  2. I’m one of those idiots, Al.

    Every time Federer went up against Nadal or Djokovic, at least over that time frame, he looked outclassed, injuries or not.

    Those guys were younger, faster and better conditioned.

    That wasn’t the case in Australia in 2017.

    Now let’s see if Tiger can pull a rabbit out of his own hat like Fed did.

  3. It’s really too bad what happened to the popularity of men’s tennis in this country. If you’re my age (an I know you are), you remember when during Wimbledon, NBC would push back Johnny Carson to run a highlight show in the pre-ESPN days. That was when you had personalities like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Ilie Nastase. Now, the best player in men’s tennis is Ray Lewis in drag.

  4. Chris,

    As you are aware, neither of these classy players are spring chickens(30&35). A sharp tennis handicapper told me prior to the semis that Fedex got 5 years younger when both Murray and DJoker got ousted.

    Rafa was a small(-130) favorite in the final. I must admit I watched the whole match until 5a.m.(PT) w/out a dime on it along with the Qatar Masters on the Golf channel. Before we crown RF next coming, let’s consider this. Prior to this AO final, Roger hadda full extra days rest and a semi versus Wawa 2 hour less than Rafas struggle versus Dimitrov.

    Oh Tophat, greatest tennis player of all time(M/F)? Margaret Court court couldn’t carry Serena’s bra.

  5. Tiger Woods will never be the the dominant player he once was . His game is shot to hell and so too is his psyche, never mind his own personal demons concerning his sexual proclivities. Since his breakup with Lindsay Vonn, he’s been with at least two other females . Which begs the question , how serious is he with regard to making a successful return to the PGA Tour ?

    Roger Federer’s issues concerning his injuries are for more devastating when it deals with back , ligaments and knees . It all relates to the player’s core , in terms of their bodies . For Rafa Nadal it’s the same thing also. It’s not just about their being younger players on the ATP Tour, but also about players remaining in peak physical condition. Look at Federer’s record overall and it is remarkable to think his win-ratio remains at over 67% after almost eighteen years on the Tour as a tennis professional. He is the greatest male tennis player in the game’s history .

  6. Jon Lynch GM of the Forty Niners ? WWE President Vince McMahon now has his wife Linda McMahon , as head of the SBA (Small Business Administration) . No word as of yet , if Hulk Hogan will be made Donald Trump’s special advisor for all things di#k related and also as an adviser to Press Secretary Sean Spicer. With Hogan getting that $31 million settlement from Gawker , all after the wrestler having admitted to having sex with his former wife’s best friend . The President’s Cabinet and Press Secretary need all the spin they can get at the moment and what better way than to hire the former wrestler . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

  7. Dubs…

    Without looking at the television ratings for men’s, or even women’s, tennis, I’d venture to say that Americans lost interest in watching when we no longer had a stake in the pot.

    We haven’t had an American men’s tennis player worth a damn since before you and I were of drinking age (all the more reason TO drink) and Serena has dominated so much, it’s like watching the Patriots in the AFC East (booooring!)

    Why does no young American male want to be the next Connors, McEnroe, etc.? Or do they even know who they are?

    I’d apply but I’m afraid my eligibility (and range, mobility and forehand) have long since expired.

  8. Bets…

    That being said, now that the four of them (Serena, Nadal, Djoker & Fed) are all getting long in the tooth, what’s to become of competitive tennis?

    I talked to tennis fans lately that were unaware that Federer had even won the Aussie Open! How did this fly under the radar?

    Sounds like the powers that be behind tennis need to work a little on their marketing.

  9. Not a big tennis fan, but Federer is like the Spurs.

    Didn’t hurt that Djokovic got bounced, but still.

  10. Exactly, Bleed.

    I though the same thing. The path to the championship wasn’t a horribly difficult road BUT winning a major is never easy no matter who ya’ play.

    Kudos to Fed for winning his 18th and shame on us for not making more of it.

  11. A couple of years ago I met a tennis coach at a casino coffee shop. He said watch out for my prize student. He’s an American named Jack Sock.

  12. I’m also old enough to remember McEnroe, Connors, Borg…Arthur Ashe. Men’s tennis used to be must-see TV in the States when – as has been stated – we had representation at the top. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a return to those glory days. Breakfast at Wimbledon…you really did have breakfast in front of the TV and didn’t plan on going anywhere for awhile thereafter. US Open Men’s Finals were also played during NFL weekends back then…and as much interest in the tennis action as the football action for a lot of sports fans.

  13. Ashe was a little before my time, Burnsy, but Mac came around right when I started watching.

    Ironically, I loved Borg too. It was just good damn tennis.

    I don’t think tennis is all that far away from getting viewers back (if they left).

    If we had a charismatic American player come along, I still think people would flock to their television sets.

    The sport is ready for it. We’ve just been waiting too damn long.

    Thank goodness for the the Williams sisters.

  14. I’d like to kick Shaqs’ ass for saying he bedded Serena. Since he recanted I’ll let it go. lol.

    Tophat is spot on with his Tiger assessment. Actually he was being diplomatic about it, if that’s possible.

    A rehabbing Rory McIlroy commenting Wednesday on Tiger Woods’ progress, “He’s almost there.” I’m trying to figure out if he meant his game or the the Senior Tour. He WD’ed this week in Dubai. Shame to see one of best ever going out like this. You’re safe Jack.

  15. It didn’t look that way for a while, Bets. We had all resolved ourselves to the fact that Tiger was the greatest to ever play.

    A whole bunch of personal life, injuries and his lack of dedication to his craft ultimately led to his demise.

    I mean, there’s no way this guy rattles off five more majors when he can barely stay in a tournament.

  16. Chris,

    The last few years have been a cash cow for casinos booking all forms of Tiger wagers.

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