Yes I know I dog him, but that’s because I love him so. And if the people who love you can’t dog you from time to time, who the heck can? OK, so I called him a whore, which was probably going a bit far, but he hurt my feelings by selling his soul for some attention in Madison Square Garden. And as much as I love him, I will probably never forgive him for allowing Old Ass Sampras to come close to beating him – even if the entire damn thing was a pappy show.
OK, now that I have vented my feelings, let me get back to the loving.
I am in love with Federer’s latest decision to hire José Higueras to help him win Roland Garros. Because have no doubt that this is precisely what the agenda is. And it is a good plan. Only fans of Andy ‘the Boor’ Roddick and Rafael ‘Wedgie-Man’ Nadal would say otherwise. And that only because they are already running scared.
Let me tell you first a bit about José Higueras. He was born in Diezma, a town outside of Granado, Spain. He is a former professional tennis player with 16 singles titles. He was a semi-finalist at the French Open in successive years (1982 and 1983), and even famously broke his arm in an attempt to win that particular Slam. He ranked as high as Number 6, and represented Spain in 39 Davis Cup events, garnering 21 victories, 15 in singles play. In other words he is experienced, and he understands the game of tennis very well.
After retiring in 1986, Higueras went on to become a world-renowned tennis coach. He is probably best known for helping Jim Courier become the No.1 player in the world in 1992. Higueras has also worked with Michael Chang, Carlos Moyà, Sergi Bruguera, Dmitry Tursonov, Todd Martin, Guillermo Coria, and, most famously, Pete Sampras. Higueras runs a tennis academy in Palm Springs, Florida (www.higuerastennis.com). And he has become the go-to coach if you are serious about mastering the terre battue.
Which apparently Federer is. And that is excellent news.
Federer is a bit of a maverick. He has accomplished a great deal in his career without the benefit of a coach. In December 2003, he parted ways with Peter Lundgren, his coach of seven years. With only the assistance of hitting partners, Federer then went on to win three Grand Slam tournaments in 2004. This was an incredible accomplishment. Federer remained without a coach until 2005, when he began to work part-time with Tony Roche, the famous Australian coach. They parted ways in mid-2007.
Despite Federer’s many accomplishments during his coach-less years, it has been difficult not to join the call for him to accept the fact that his game has been thoroughly deconstructed by his opponents and that it is time for him to consider hiring a full-time coach.
However, I do not believe that he has done this with Higueras. Higueras is a surface-specific coach. He knows how to help players win on clay. He has done this for much of his coaching career. His hiring signals only one thing – not that Federer thinks that he needs a full-time coach, but that he wants to win on clay. He wants to win Roland Garros.
Everyone who is anyone has beaten up on Federer so far this year. Heck, even Andy Roddick who faced this kind of beat-down just last year, ended up getting a win over Federer in March 2008, after 11 painful attempts. Probably the lowest moment occurred when Federer lost to Mardy Fish. Even when he wins, it has become embarrassing to watch him relinquish sets to players who this time last year were dreading having to face him. Federer has not won a single tournament thus far in 2008. He is, frankly, in the worst slump of his career.
His decision to hire Higueras is not a decision to pull himself out of this slump in any general sense. It is a decision to improve his chances of winning Roland Garros, the one tournament that has so far eluded him. Sampras made the same decision in 2002 – but this came way too late in his career. By that point it proved impossible for Higueras to teach the mechanical Sampras the fluidity required for sliding and playing on clay.
With Federer he will not have this problem. Federer actually grew up playing on clay. He glides naturally on this surface. He has come close to winning Roland Garros on several occasions. I look forward to him finally winning it in 2008. It’s time he achieved the Federer Slam.