John and Patrick McEnroe, who will both commentate for ESPN and CBS during the U.S. Open, weigh in on the status of Roger Federer’s game and his potential at the tournament. Seeded seventh, Federer was drawn in Rafael Nadal’s quarter. Federer has only won one tournament this year, on grass in Halle.
“He’s in a tough predicament obviously because he’s so great that it’s going to be mentally difficult for him to deal with what his results have been this year,” John McEnroe said in an ESPN conference call. “Obviously when you get into your 30s tennis takes its toll and physically starts to slow you down. Those injuries crop up a little bit more often and they take a little bit longer to get over.
“Of course he’s always been a hard worker that prepares well for the big events. Went 36 straight majors getting to the quarters or better, so clearly he’s a guy that will be tougher to beat in a longer match because he knows what that takes…Andre [Agassi] got to the final of the Open at 35, so there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t do it.
“To me, it’s obviously going to be a lot more difficult at this stage. I don’t see at this stage him being able to go through all seven [matches] and have to beat at least two of these three [top] guys. Maybe he would use that type of thing as incentive. When you’ve won 17 [majors], you clearly think you can win another one. To me, there comes a point, even as great as Roger has been for so many years, that it catches up to you a little bit…I personally think that at this stage it’s going to be quite, quite difficult for him to win another one. These guys are hungry. There’s other guys that want get on the board. He’s 32. He’s going to have to at some stage decide how bad he wants it if he does dip lower in the world. I doubt he’ll enjoy being in that spot.
“Now, he can shut everyone up if he was able to go all the way at the Open and possibly finishing as one of the top couple players. But at this stage, I think you’re looking at the other three battling for No. 1 this year. One of those three guys is gonna get the second major.”
Patrick McEnroe said he would never underestimate the Swiss and believes he has a chance to win the title, but he thinks that Wimbledon is his best shot to win another Grand Slam.
“Not only does he have to worry about the big three guys, who there is no doubt they’d be favorites against him on a hard court, and even more of a favorite I think in best-of-five simply because they’re younger,” Patrick McEnroe said. “But I think there are also a bunch guys, like [Tomas] Berdych, who is up to No. 5, [Juan Martin] Del Potro, guys like that. The fear factor Roger had for so long is not quite as strong as it was. That’s inevitable. We saw Berdych beat him last year at the Open. So I just think it’s more likely that he could be picked off early.”
John McEnroe added that Federer has been stubborn as he’s failed to change his game despite his advancing age.
“One of the things you notice a little bit is possibly he’s slowed down a little bit. The balance and the movement are not quite as they were in the past. So he’s reaching for more balls and therefore mishitting more shots. It doesn’t seem like he’s been able or willing to make that adjustment where he’s got to either play safer or take that extra step to balls. That’s very difficult to do as you get older.
“One of the obvious things would be to say he hired [Paul] Annacone. Why? You would presume that’s because he was an attacking player who knows a thing or two about moving forward and playing at net. So that he got a little bit older he would want to shorten points, to attack more. What it appears to me is that he doesn’t believe in his movement well enough. That first quick step you got to take to take advantage of a ball, especially how hard as they guys hit it. So he doesn’t seem that will to try for it, although I saw him do it a couple times in Cincinnati.
“But clearly he would need to keep points shorter, but to be, in my book, a little bit safer. He’s so used to being able to go big and hit pretty much everything he wants. And part of why he’s so great is because he’s stubborn and he believes in himself, so he’s unwilling to change a whole lot. At this stage, it’s difficult to know whether that would succeed, but it certainly would seem to be worth trying.”
Patrick McEnroe said that perhaps one of the reasons why Federer won’t institute substantial changes is because if he did, he would have to admit to himself that his current game is no longer good enough, which is difficult for any great champion to do.
“If he does make some significant changes, then in a way, and I think in the mentality of that great player, you’re sort of admitting -- I’m not going to say failure -- but that you need to do something differently. I think that’s really hard for a tennis player to do, because so much of what goes on in a tennis match is that self-belief and confidence. Walking out on the court when you opponent feels that you feel like you’re unbeatable or you know how good you are. So I think there is a really interesting dynamic in play there with Roger, even by trying a different racquet, and this is where I can relate. I, as a guy ranked 30 or 40 in the world would think, ‘Wow, Roger went to a different racquet. Maybe I have a chance now. Maybe he doesn’t believe in what he’s doing.”