All I can say is: Sigh. It's hard not to feel angry at him when the unravelling is taking place in real time. It's almost like how a parent gets angry at a kid when the kid doesn't do well in exams, because the parent expects more from the kid, and probably knows the kid is capable of so much more. That's sort of how I feel about Roger and his stupid losses - he's capable of so much more. He had the match on his racquet. He could have won. And just like how the parent will love the kid no matter what, and is angry at the kid not because the parent blames the kid for not doing well, I still love Roger no matter what, and I will always support him, and I will step back to the starting line when the next tournament starts and hope he does well even when my head is bracing myself for yet another disappointment; and when I get angry at him, it's not because I blame him or hold it against him for ruining my day and my mood, but it's because, quite frankly, my heart breaks for him when such things happen.
What can I say? It's hard watching your favourite player, your favourite team, lose. It's even harder when you're not even a sports person and when you're the kind of person who gets way too emotionally involved in things way beyond your control for your own good, when your favourite player isn't just your favourite tennis player, but an actual human being whom you inexplicably care about and whom you want, badly, to do well. Of course I know it's only one tennis match, and of course I know Roger's losses have nothing to do with me; and yet, it can't help but feel deeply heart-wrenching, especially when Roger is the kind of player that he is, with the kind of reputation and respect that he has. I wonder if it's any easier being a Safin or Nalbandian fan, two highly talented players whose talent have not been fully realised, Nalbandian because he's not focused on tennis, and doesn't do enough to get himself the wins. (At least Safin has won two Grand Slams and has been #1 for a few weeks at one point. Roger beat him when he was #1 way back in 2001 though, also in Rome.) Because it doesn't feel good at all - in fact, it even hurts like hell - to watch someone so respected and loved by the fans and sponsors alike lose matches like this. Not because he was outplayed by his opponent, but because he couldn't maintain his high level of play and couldn't keep up when his opponent played just a little bit better, and perhaps because he lost his momentum and focus when the weather turned on him.
But then, the Roger that dominated for so long would never have let this happen. Some of his fans are saying that he's really the #4 player in the world, and I'm quite inclined to agree; but at the same time, I just don't think it's even important. Like he's said himself, it's either #1, or nothing. #2 is as good to him as #100, and it's as good to me as #600. Purely based on talent alone, he belongs at the apex of the ATP ranking. But based on his performances this year, I'd say he's squarely at #4, behind Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. (Maybe Nadal, Murray and Djokovic. Gah, putting Murray at #2 makes me feel so dirty.) He's slipped into a slump ever since his Australian Open loss. He's never openly acknowledged how badly the loss affected him, but I wouldn't expect him to. This is pure speculation on my part, but I AM now quite inclined to think that his confidence has really been shaken quite badly by the AO loss. And it's just going to keep getting worse if he doesn't reverse his trend of losing to the top 4 player soon (Wawrinka match doesn't count because MC doesn't count as an actual tournament in my book). But it's such a catch-22: on the one hand, he needs to build up his confidence by winning against the Nadal/Djokovic/Murray triumvirate; on the other, he doesn't have the confidence to win against them, and if he keeps losing he's not going to get back the confidence. He just needs that ONE win to unlock everything; sadly, he hasn't been able to find it.
I was SO hopeful that yesterday's match would be it, and it was looking SO good. I suppose the positive thing to take away from Rome is this: It's obviously not his game. His technical and tactical game is sound - it's more than sound. It's superb. Whatever issues he's having right now, they seem to be mental more than physical. A coach isn't going to help him with this if he's still going to self-destruct on the court after leading by a set and a break or two; a coach is only useful if he's shown that he doesn't know how to fix the holes in his game, but Rome has shown that he HAS fixed the holes, and he's done so all by himself brilliantly. Even better, his aggressive game is so solid that he doesn't make even 10% of the amount of errors that another aggressive player makes. Before yesterday's match, his winners/unforced errors difference was in the positive - and a player usually makes more unforced errors than winners on clay because of the nature of the surface. His shot-making instinct is innate and deadly; when his game is on, no one can touch him.
But when his game is off, even a little, the only person that can fix it is Roger himself. And when he fails to believe in himself, the wheels come off, he self-destructs, and everything starts to unravel. I don't know if this was the case back then because I will never watch matches that he lost (Shanghai 2008 against Murray is an exception because of the sheer fighting spirit he displayed in that match), but it seems to be the pattern he's exhibiting now.
In any case, I'm looking ahead to the Madrid tournament, then the French Open. Not expecting Roger to win the French, obviously, and I'm half-not expecting him to even make the final. But only his performance in Madrid will tell where his game is truly at - and I say this because Roger is always spot-on when he analyses his own game and tells the world what needs to be fixed. I read this, and I felt a little bit more assured and relaxed:
No2 seed Roger Federer was left ruing the rain break after his three-set defeat to Novak Djokovic in Saturday's opening semi-final.
"Things were going well for me. I was playing him well and serving well when I had to and putting him under pressure. So the rain delay came at a perfect moment for him, because he came through a tough service game at 2-0 down," said Federer after the match which he lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. "Instead of going 3-0, he goes 2-1 and then the rain comes, so he's got something positive to look at. Then when he comes back conditions changed, so sure, it helped him. But then again, who knows? He might have come back anyway and beat me in the end. He did well today to use the rain delay in his favour, that's for sure."
"I was in good shape. Maybe also a little pity that I didn't get the break to go 3-0 before the rain delay, but after that, actually I started okay. I thought he came through with a bit more energy after the rain delay - before that he was pretty flat," the former world No1 continued. "All of a sudden it became a different match and he played better. Should have held once, to not give away one of the breaks at least. Then I would have had a better opportunity. I thought he was playing better. Definitely had the win on my racquet today, so it's pretty disappointing. Miami (where Federer also lost to Djokovic) was a difficult one just because I played pretty good in the first set then I completely lost control. This time around it was different. I was in the match obviously all the way through. I feel like this is not a match I should have given away because (I was a) break up in the second, break up in the third and I usually don't give away opportunities like this. It's bad but I still have some work to do on the clay. I think I'm playing better obviously than Monaco. The hard work has been paying off, but I've just got to fix my serve a little bit. I have the feeling that maybe since I had the back problem, my serve is just not working there where I want it to be. It maybe could have saved me a few times and it didn't, so that's something I have to make sure I can fix for Paris. Other than that, there was some good moments which is a good thing. Also some bad ones - I have to make sure they don't happen as frequently, obviously."
"I think the last few years it's helped Rafa playing me before Paris," said the 13-time Grand Slam champion when the subject of the French Open came up. "Just that he knew maybe a bit more what to expect from me, whereas you know exactly what you're going to get with Rafa. So I think it maybe worked more in his favour the last few years. We'll see how Madrid turns out. If we have to play each other, I still think it's a great match and I would look forward to that. But the focus is elsewhere right now."
"At the end, it's always disappointing for me when I exit a tournament losing a match," concluded Federer, who has not lifted a trophy since his "home" tournament in Basle last November. "I've gotten used to winning tournaments and then leaving a tournament having lost just leaves a bitter taste, obviously. It doesn't take me long to get over it, but in the moment itself it's just not really fun, because it's just these kind of matches I feel like I should have won here and I end up losing them, so it's just not a good feeling. It's just a matter of getting back in shape and playing good hopefully in Madrid again."
Whatever it is, nothing will take away the beauty of his tennis. I am glad to have the privilege to witness near-perfect tennis from him in the previous two matches, and in the first set and 3 games of the Djokovic match. I've said this a million times and I will continue to say it: No one - NO ONE - makes striking a tennis ball look as beautiful as he does.
He's simply the best. There's just no one else for me.
Another positive before I post this: At least he doesn't have to meet Nadal in the final. Djokovic can have the pleasure of losing to him again.
I wasn't going to root for Djoke yesterday as I was quite pissed at him, and very irrationally so obviously, but I have calmed down since and will be rooting for him. I REALLY want him to defend this title, just so Murray wouldn't take the #3 spot from him. Djoke hasn't defended a single title at all; it'd be nice to start here.
Besides, the person that beat Roger in a tournament better go on to win. SERIOUSLY. The only business you have in beating him is if you actually win the damn thing.
This, of cours, does not apply to Andy Murray. I will always root against him, no matter what.