I did not see this coming. If anyone had told me that Federer’s New Year resolution may have been to become less of an old fuddy-dud stick-in-the-mud, I would have counter-challenged with “Federer Who?” Because surely they could not have been speaking about my Roger.
Not the guy who resisted the implementation of Hawk Eye technology, insisting that the eyes of the linesmen and women were sharp and beady enough. Not the player who sneered at the use of the drop shot, as if it was cheating, as if that cop-out of a play was way beneath him. Not the buttoned up, tucked down player who has been using the same racket and string technology since the 1990’s?
Honestly, if someone had hinted that Federer had advocated a return to wooden rackets with smaller frames, I would have believed them. Because let’s face it, as much as I adore my Fed and worship at the shrine of his greatness, I also have to admit that there is an old-fashioned quality to him.
Which is why for so long it made sense that he was always dressed by and regularly hung out with the equally decrepit Anna Wintour. God forbid that a Jason Wu or Phillip Lim would dare to offer him their designs. Heck even his wife has an old-ma’am-ish quality to her, a kind of pleasantly plump matronliness that goes right along with being married to a Dear Old Fart.
I don’t know how it happened, but apparently my Fed has finally embraced change. Did it start with his first successful “challenge”? The one that he practically whispered, his face twisted in disgust over having to use the technology – the same technology that now invariably proves him to be correct?
Or did someone simply manage to put the bug in his ear, to point out gently that the only reason he only won one tournament in all of 2013 was because he was competing against players whose rackets were closer to 100 inches in size? Did someone help Federer finally realize that it made zero sense to stick to his old-fashioned stance when around him other players were embracing technological change faster than you could say, “Should we prepare your hyperbaric chamber Mr. Djokovic?”
For most of his professional career, Federer has played with a 90-inch racket frame. And for most of his career, it did not matter. For a long time, Federer’s natural talent and dedicated preparation were enough. They led him to a historic 17 Slam wins. Until 2013, when his record for making it to the final of at least one Slam per year was suddenly, definitively, broken. Perhaps that was the wake-up call, the pride-puncturing realization that being a relic from the past – technologically-speaking – was not going to help him win matches, much less Grand Slams.
Reports indicate that a year ago, Federer asked Wilson to start working on a larger racket. He apparently tried their product over the summer of 2013 but did not like it. He went back to his 90-incher during the US Open – and lost in the fourth round. For most other players, a fourth-round Grand Slam loss is something to boast about. For Federer, that loss to Tommy Robredo may have been a moment of humiliation.
By all reports, Wilson finally came up with a 98-inch stick that pleased Mr. Federer. He apparently practiced with it during the down time before the start of the 2014 season. And he just used it to spank Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of Dubai, followed by a three-setter win over Tomas Berdych in the finals. 2014 has gone off to a delicious new start. Because Mr. Federer has apparently made his peace with technological change.