By Chris Oddo / Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Darren Cahill and Chris Evert agree. Roger Federer will need more time to get the hang of his new racquet.
Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve
ESPN's Darren Cahill and Chris Evert spoke about the future of Roger Federer during a conference call promoting the network's coverage of the 2014 Australian Open.
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After watching Federer play some great tennis at the Brisbane International last week only to falter in the final against Lleyton Hewitt, Cahill believes that Federer needs time to adjust to the nuance of his newer, larger racquet.
"I thought his results in Brisbane were encouraging on one hand,” Cahill said. “I thought the way he started against Lleyton was really average. You could tell the ball wasn't coming off the way he was used to it coming off. He was frustrated with it. He tried to hit his way through it. With his other frame, he would have understood it and worked his way through it much better. That's why you saw the unforced errors count so high, I think 22 in the first set.”
Federer, one of only three males in the Open Era to own four Australian Open titles, will bid for his fifth title Down Under and 18th Grand Slam when play begins at Melbourne Park next week. Though he has slipped to No. 6 in the rankings, he has reached two semifinals and two finals in his last four events. Cahill thinks Federer has another Slam in him, but conceded that the man many consider the greatest player in tennis history still has a lot of work to do with his new racquet and new part-time coach Stefan Edberg.
“You can't judge him on a couple matches,” Cahill said. “I think overall it's a good thing he's gone to the new technology. It's going to give him a little bit easier power. He won't have to fight for it so much. Also on the return of serve, that frame or a different one, he's going to find it's going to help him against some of the big servers. The fact he's trying to do this, the fact he's appointed Stefan Edberg as part of his team means he wants to get the best out of himself. That's the best thing about Roger, he may love this sport more than anyone I've ever seen. He loves being on the tennis court, practicing, getting the best out of himself. You can't be critical about a player that does that.”
At 32, Federer will break the all-time consecutive Grand Slams played streak when he takes the court in Melbourne for his 57th in a row, but at most he's only got 12 more to play. To be making changes to his racquet is certainly a gamble, but it's one Federer feels he has to take.
Chris Evert agrees that Roger's timeline could be slower than many would expect. But she, like Cahill, admires the Swiss maestro for turning over every rock in his quest to rediscover his best tennis.
“He is making a big effort to think about what he can do to change, to modify his game, whether it's coaching, whether it's the racquets,” Evert said. “I think it's going to help his game. I liken it to when you change a racquet to having had an injury. You have that little 1% doubt under pressure... That little inkling of doubt will probably enter his mind. That's not a great thing. That's why, as Darren said, I think it's going to take months for him to fully 100% feel comfortable with it.”
But Evert, like Cahill, thinks the change will eventually pay off for Federer.
“If that racquet enhances his serve and his forehand, it's a good move because those are the two big shots I see in Roger's game,” Evert said. “When he's playing his best tennis, he's slapping winners off the forehand. If he can do that with confidence, be consistent with it, I think that the bigger racquet is a much better move.”
Cahill thinks that while it may take time, Federer will have chances to win an 18th Grand Slam over the next two seasons. “I still believe he's capable of winning a major,” he said. “I still believe he's capable of winning any one of the four. Maybe not the French Open, a difficult task for him. The French Open does become more difficult once you get older. Any one of the other three this year, in 2014, he's more than capable of putting himself in position to win it.”