Wimbledon, a Grand Slam tournament generally perceived as a hunting ground of Roger Federer’s, has just got underway. Needless to say the fans are amazed by how well the Swiss has been performing this year. Federer has swept up 4 tournaments out of 6 he played this year, including two Masters 1000 titles and the Australian Open title. Federer is one of the favourites at SW19 as a result.

But despite his impeccable record this year, the Swiss maestro is not unbeatable, as we take a look at the kind of players that could pose a threat to Federer on the grass-courts of Wimbledon.

Federer has been so successful on grass.

1. Baseline Grinders

Since the introduction of Stefan Edberg as the Swiss’ coach in 2014, Federer has been employing a proactive rush-to-the-net tactic. Owing to his age, the 17-time Grand Slam champion would like to end a point sooner rather than later these days, and his ability to build up approach shots and step inside the baseline, will be the key of the match.

Baseline grinders generally stays at 3-4 metres behind the baseline during a rally. You may think they wouldn’t cope with Federer’s brisk and fast attacks by being so passive, but actually that won’t be the case. As shown in the last few years, players like Monfils and Zverev has been efficaciously pinning Federer at the back during a rally. This is because Federer’s power on each shot has diminished these years. By staying back behind the baseline, there is more time for the grinders to produce a heavy top-spin shot back to Federer, forcing the Swiss to step back. When Federer is stuck at a long baseline rally, of course it is the grinder who gets the advantage.

As a result, Federer has to conjure up powerful (yet risky) shots, create wide angle shots, or surprise the opponent with perfect drop shots (like he did in Halle 2017 vs Sasha Zverev). Otherwise, perhaps on his off-days, he will be put in very difficult positions. Like this match:

It has to be that perfect:

Other references:

Federer vs Monfils 2014 US Open 46 36 64 75 62: highlights

Federer vs Sasha Zverev 2016 Halle 67 75 36: highlights

Federer vs Kohlschreiber 2015 Halle 76 36 76: short highlights

(Not every opponent above is a full-time baseline grinder, but they used similar tactics to neutralize Federer by forcing a long baseline rally on a fast court)


2. Hard hitters

Suffice to say, the Swiss legend hasn’t been known as a fast runner, nor a defensive player, even at his prime. In this way, you could have already comprehended what I am going to say. A big, hard hitter is definitely a nightmare for Federer.

In the last three matches between Federer and Cilic, Federer won 5 sets, while Cilic won 6.

Things can get really tough if Federer faces an in-form hard hitter. It is unthinkable to let a pair of 35-year-old feet chase a rocket-speed ball from corner to corner. Even on Federer’s favourite fast courts, over the last few years, many a powerful player has already given the 7-time Wimbledon champion excruciating headaches, if not a taste of defeat. So let’s not mention the cases in slow courts.

Talking about defeat against hard hitters, the first match that comes to mind is the dream trumiph of Marin Cilic in 2014 US Open. In the semi-final, the Croatian  bombarded the Swiss master relentlessly, giving Federer very little chance. Cilic  won in staight sets, 6-3 6-4 6-4.

Highlights of the match (Click here)

2 years later, Cilic brought Federer into another nightmare, exactly in the Wimbledon centre court. Federer barely escaped another beat-down, coming back from 2 sets behind to clinch the victory. Yet, if the Croatian was able to replicate one more set of his untenable performance at earlier stages, it could have certainly been a quick game-set-and-match.

Match highlights (Federer vs Cilic Wimbledon QF 2016)

As you can see, the Swiss star has to make sure his ball control is on the highest possible level to avoid getting into trouble facing hard hitters. On the bright side, his improved backhand this year may gain him a little more advantage. It would be alright if he could produce something he did in this year’s Australian Open.

Other references:

Federer vs Wawrinka Wimbledon 2014 (first two sets) 36 76 64 64 (highlights)

Federer vs Raonic Wimbledon 2016 36 76 64 57 36 (highlights)

Federer vs Raonic Brisbane 2015 (won) / 2016 (lost) (highlights)


3. Roger Federer

This is not a troll, I promise. There is no contention that, there are always two opponents in a match, in any kind of sports. In tennis, one of them is the one standing at the opposite side of the net, and the other one is the player him/her-self. Roger Federer may have lost so few matches this year, but when you look at the ranking of those who defeated the Swiss maestro, you will definitely scratch your head.

Tommy Haas (ATP 302) and Evgeny Donskoy (ATP 116) are the only two players who have savoured victory over the 2017 version of Roger Federer. There are a few similarities between those two matches. First and foremost, Federer was in cruise control on both first sets. Secondly, Federer failed to convert match points in both matches. And lastly, Federer’s level of play plummeted in both matches. Credit to the indefatigable effort from the two players, who were able to hold firm on the brink of defeat. However, it is Roger Federer, who could neither maintain the level of performance, nor came up with a different approach to win the match.

Federer himself described these matches as ‘failing to make correct decisions at crucial moments’ and ‘frustrating’. None of us are certain whether it is the lapse of concentration, determination or an inconsistent physical output that leads to those erratic defeats. But what’s so noticeable is that Federer seemed to not push hard enough after winning the first set, allowing his opponent to react and adapt to the Swiss’ rhythm.

From scoreboard level, it is manifest that players losing the first set to Federer by a large margin, generally have an easier time in the second. To be fair, it is normal for players to bounce back a little bit after losing the first set to a top-notch player, but on some (yet already too many) occasions, Federer did not respond enough and got himself into trouble, which makes the difference with the rest of the Big 4.

Federer’s full results: http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/players/roger-federer/f324/player-activity

In both pre-tournament interviews in Halle and Wimbledon, Federer himself admitted that he has to ‘focus on getting through the first round’, which shows that he is aware of this occasional phenomenon. Although this phenomenon has scarcely been a fatal impact in a 5-set match, Federer fans may have to keep their fingers crossed their idol would not repeat his previous mistakes.

Who will cause trouble to Federer? And will Federer all-of-a-sudden struggle with his form? Can Federer actually win his 8th Wimbledon title? Anyway, what’s certain is that we will surely relish the enthralling matches that the Swiss maestro brings to us!

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