Tuesday, 27 July 2010

FedaCone: “There’s more than one way to skin a Sod”


Dear Fans
I've been looking to add someone to my team and I've decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone. As Paul winds down his responsibilities working for the Lawn Tennis Association, we will explore our relationship through this test period. Paul will work alongside my existing team and I am excited to learn from his experiences.
See you soon


Call me a nutter but I was never on the “Fed needs a blinkin’ coach” bandwagon the first time round back in 2008.


The implicit suggestion being that he was somehow resisting the natural forces of change – geez, what a stubborn git, huh.


It wasn’t that I was totally averse to the idea of a coach after what was, by all accounts, an unprecedented period of mediocrity -- not surprising he might want to explore other options. I just didn’t buy into the notion that a coach, be it Cahill, Annacone or the Scarlet Pimpernel, was the answer to “Life, the Universe and everything”.


Even so, the idea made more sense then than I think it does now.





When we look at Fed’s fortunes since he won Wimbledon last year, two things stick out.


1) His poor performance outside of Slams.


So…..no change there then (unless you want to believe that trend’s actually gathered pace).


2) His losses at critical stages in Slams to Delpo (Final), Big Rob (QF) and Tomas (QF) - players that are to the ATP what Krakens are to mythology.


During the same period he raced to an Aussie Open win so emphatic, it had both fans and critics (mostly mutually exclusive) cooing like it was 2007 all over again.


Call me a nutter (again), but I don’t think that quite qualifies as a crisis.


Nor does it seem reasonable to suggest that 23 Slam SFs and almost 7 years at the top have no role to play in extricating himself from this crisis, if indeed it is one.


You only need to win so many matches at that level before those winning ways begin to rub off on your DNA – which is why I’m a little suspicious of his “needing a coach”.


Fed lost to those guys for the same reasons anyone else would have – and it wasn’t for want of form or technique.


We’ve been conditioned to expect media speculation on his demise every time this happens. What’s been peculiar this time round is the way elements of his fanbase seem to have lost faith too.


Fed can’t have too much of a problem turning things around because, quite simply, there’s not that much to “turn around”.


He’s simply gone from dominating most of the field to dominating most of the field minus a handful of players everyone’s having trouble with.


“We are all creatures of habits,” Annacone said. “Roger has won a lot a certain way, and when you’ve done that for four or five years and then in year six or seven, that shot that used to be a winner isn’t a winner anymore, the tendency in human nature is to overplay a little bit. And that’s what’s happening. His couple of patterns that used to be very dominant are still successful against 95 percent of the guys — just not against that last five percent.”


What, perhaps, elicits such a reactionary response from people  is that he’s dropped to #3 in the world – though that’s only because he’s run into three of the hottest players on the planet during Slams: anyone not named Rafa would likely have suffered the same result.


So part of me says, well, if nothing much is broke, then why call on the services of someone else to fix it?


On the other hand, the emergence of Krakens is nothing if not a game changer: it might not, very well, have changed everything, but it kinda hasn’t left anything unchanged in it’s wake either.


So the other part of me says that Fed would be a fool not to dignify this new assault on his senses with a slightly different sort of response.


Far be it from me to complain if Annacone can help out with that.


Equally, though, don’t kid yourself into thinking Annacone will magically equip him with skills that lay mysteriously dormant for the best part of a decade.


His influence is likely to be as cerebral as it is tactical or technical. And very likely more so.




Rafa didn’t beat Sod in the RG final by taking him on head on (the way he might have with, say, Novak).  He did so by recognising “there’s more than one way to skin a Sod” and then taking his chances when they came - this despite Rafa being more vulnerable, technically speaking, to a Sod or a Tomas, than Fed will likely ever be.


Both areas in which Fed could, frankly, do with some improvement.


Skinning a Sod”


I’ve never bought into the idea that Fed’s ego is some out of control petulant child getting in the way of his development as a player – but his reluctance to embrace change, whether it’s HawkEye or the drop shot, is a matter of record.


“Taking his Chances”


His break point conversion rate this year speaks for itself and is also, unfortunately, a matter of record.


If Fed needs help with anything it’s in reconditioning himself mentally so that he considers it ok to lose every once in a while, to not consider it a disgrace to be seen to be winning ugly and to be more open to the prospect of experimentation.


“There are definitely some parallels,” said Paul Annacone, Sampras’s longtime coach, in an interview this week. “Just as it was for Pete, it’s a particularly interesting, challenging time in Roger’s career. But I would look at it with Roger in the same way as for Pete. For guys like that, it is daunting but not that daunting. They are so skilled, they can adjust, but a lot of the adjustment is mental.”

-- NYT


In other words exactly the kind of attitudinal shift his detractors would say he’s been unwilling to countenance up till now through what they see as sheer stubbornness or something worse.


All are changes of temperament rather than of tactics.


Can Annacone help with that?

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