Friday, November 16, 2007

Shanghai Day 6: Sadomasochism

Roger Federer loves his mental dominance over Andy Roddick. He'll do anything to keep it.

He loves it even more when Andy gets close to beating him, as he did here last year, as some suggest he did at the US Open the last time they played. Loves it even more when Andy is considered a slight favorite in a match, as many buzzed Andy would be today based on form coming in. Then he can come out and kick ass just as he did today in a 6-4, 6-2 massacre that wasn't even as close as the score might suggest.

Two days ago, in the comments I wrote:

Andy and Raja have a mental dynamic in their relationship that reminds me of the dynamic between the blue collar prep school boy who was supposed to go to the pubic high school and the boy who's entitled to be inside the campus gates based almost entirely upon his family's pedigree.

If you know anything about this relationship, you will know that the entitled one will die before coming in second place to the outsider.

Raja will be in top form, his reflexes will be sharp, his first serve will be on, and he won't be shanking backhands.

People often ask why I call him Raja, as though I'm somehow disrespecting him. If you know anything about Ninja, then you know why.

Didn't you see that smirk on his face when one of his returns hit the net and fell in? It lasted all the way through the changeover.

He loves breaking Andy's will. He gets an absolute rush out of it. Hell, he'll even challenge aces that are smack on the line when he's leading 4-0 in the second set just to turn the knife a little harder.

King Arthur my ass. Marquis de Sade is more fitting.

Andy tries hard, but sometimes doesn't seem able to try different things. He doesn't even try to serve bombs into Fed's body to take away Raja's long reach on the return, doesn't try to lob when Raja is standing inches from the net.

Andy opened the match with his head down. I guess he knew he'd be playing a player who felt no pressure given that Nikolay Davydenko decided today would be the day that he would put forth effort to actually win a match, a match about which nothing whatsoever needs to be said. Andy knew he'd be playing a player who would indulge in the opportunity to try to humiliate him in open court.

It's S&M, people. Nothing more; nothing less.

Maybe, just maybe, Andy will find a way to break Raja's will.


Karen said...

Hey Craig, I am still trying to get my head around the whole prep school, public school similies but not having much luck. You will have to expand on that a little bit. As a Fed KAD I really have to agree with you that Roger seems to have broken Andy's spirit or is it that Andy does not have the belief factor. I too saw the smile on Roger's face and am not too sure whether it was because he was happy that he was winning or he was a bit regretful that sh*t even when I mishit and stuff, I still win the point against this guy. Nevertheless, I dont think Roger ever underestimates Andy, it is Andy who underestimates himself. If you look at matches that Roger has played against other players he believes he can win. In the Gonzo match at no point did he think that he was going to lose and he was a bit surprised that he actually lost that match. With Andy, he comes out firing on all cylinders, and that is because in Roger's mind he is of the view that he always has to hold serve against Andy because Andy is so hard to break. Today was the exception to that rule. Roger just came to play and whether the semi spot was on the line or not, he wanted to win this match. It does not help Andy's cause when people from his team talk all type of crap prior to a match, because lets face it, we all read the press reports.

Craig Hickman said...

What crap did people from Andy's team say before this match?

cms said...

Part of the laugh, I think, was in reaction to Andy. Roddick had just screamed something like, "Don't worry, I'll start to play better," and then this shot happened. We didn't see Andy's side of the court, but it seemed like he may have had a "what can I do?" kind of reaction (done in a purposely humorous way, which I've seen him do before) eliciting Fed's smile.

Craig Hickman said...

karen, I don't know if I can expand on my prep school simile. But I'll try.

Prep schools in the US (and perhaps elsewhere, but I only know of these), especially in New England are basically comprised of two kinds of students: those who are supposed to be there and those who are not.

You an imagine the cliques.

The entitled can't stand the interlopers while the interlopers want nothing more than to be in with the entitled. If relationships develope across these classes, the dynamic in them is very much like waht I see between Raja and Andy.

Remember in 2003 when Andy leapfrogged Raja for the year-end No. 1 ranking. To this day, Fed wants Andy (and the world, of course) to know that if not for his sole loss to Roddick in Montreal earlier that year, Raja would've clenched the year end No. 1 ranking and be working on 5 years atop the sport rather than 4, giving him just one more year before tying Pete's record of 6.

Raja refers to that loss from time to time and constantly reminds us how close he was to securing the 2003 year-end No. 1.

Andy knew/knows it too. That's why it doesn't matter what kind of form Federer is in or how many match points Andy might earn, Federer will always come out on top when they play.

edma1022 said...


tristann said...

I didn't watch the match live, but just watched some parts of it. wow, it is personal, isn't it? Craig, I have to hand it to you, you were right. I really thought Andy had a chance, at least to keep it close.

I'm glad I have to work today and can't visit the boards.

Karen said...

Hmm - something to think about - it was not actually Andy's camp that said it but Andy himself, about the fact that 7 other guys are hoping that he knocks Roger out of the competition - don't know if the comment is being taken out of context, or it was said in the wider scheme of things and only that portion presented to the public, but I guess as you say Roger had something to prove against Andy. From your analogy, who then is the entitled and who is the interloper, because your example can be read both ways. The artful form of tennis, rather than the baseline style of play

Pamela said...

I read that comment Karen, it was purely in jest when Andy said it.(with a laugh) I don't think Andy truly has any delusions about being able to beat Roger. He CAN, but he'd have to play like he did at the USO and Roger would have to play slightly below his normal "regular" level. Poor Andy.

Craig Hickman said...

Yes, karen, I read Andy's remarks. It was in response to how he was going to approach the match.

I think that comment tells you where Roddick's head is when it comes to Federer. He's saying it aloud because I doubt he really believes it. Roger probably rolls his eyes while sharpening his knives.

You may also have read that Roger said he doesn't have to do anything special to beat Andy because Andy would take all the risks, Federer would break his will, and Andy would start missing shots and basically set him up.

And while that's not exactly how Fed plays Andy, you think that doesn't piss Andy off? And Federer knows his words won't fire Andy up; they'll simply plant more doubt.

Yeah, it's personal. And mental.

Roger is brilliant. He's a master manipulator and once he gets you...

But he can also be gotten, which is why he struggles against players who've developed a mental edge over him.

But here's where Roger's ego and mental strength help him. He'll find ways to win against those few and he may turn around his record completely as he did with Hewitt and Agassi, or he'll get enough wins to make the outcome of the matches unpredictable, as in the case of Nadal, and even if he turns it around, as in the case of Nalby, he's always going to be vulnerable to Dahveed because he knows Dahveed had his number for a long time. Federer's body language the next time he steps on court to play Nalbandian is going to predict the outcome of the match.

It's why I love the sport. It's so mental.

tangerine said...

Poor Roger Federer. His GOAT legacy will continue to be cast into doubt until he can prove his critics wrong and beat a 100% sharp Andy Roddick instead of this clown who keeps showing up. Until that day arrives, he'll have to live with his nearly-man status. ;)

Karen said...

Craig, either you are psychic or you are posting on message boards with another name. The following quote taken directly from

Seth and Suresh mentioned the loss Federer had to Roddick in Montreal which stopped him getting to No 1.

It occurs to me that maybe Roger just can't forgive Roddick for that one - I'm sure he felt that he should have been year end No 1 in 2003 and if he had been this would be the 5th straight year.

Karen said...

It is so bizarre that people on all the boards are basically saying that Roger has Andy's number. As a Roger KAD I actually dont believe it. For everyone else who plays against Roger and has beaten him, the only person that I fear when he plays is actually Canas. For some reason Canas to me brings everything to the court, because he has a nothing game. He plays like how club level players would play, get the ball back in play and keep it in play at all costs. He tries nothing, he is not offensive, just straight defense. Now Nadal on the other hand will try different things etc. I know most people wont believe this but Andy to me does have the game to defeat Roger, he just does not have the belief, and like Craig said, it is all mental. True story: Every Wednesday and Sunday I play at my club. For some reason I keep losing to this one person and that was because I just had no belief that I could beat her. The other night we were playing a singles match (as usual) and my instructor was passing and he shouted out to me, Karen, you need to go on your front foot whenyou return and keep your racquet in front of you. That is all he said to me. I did not realise that I was not moving towards the ball properly which always led to me unable to hold serve and not being in position to set up my shots. Believe it or not after playing this person for almost 3 months, I finally won a match - 1 and 2 and all because I followed what my instructor said. Andy has had 3 coaches since 2003 (at least I think so) and each time someone has come and showed him a different way to beat Roger and it has all been for naught. How about if Andy just goes back to basics. Go for what worked for you before everyone started improving your backhand, your forehand, your serve etc. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Roger does not take a coach. If you as a player are comfortable playing the way you play, and it is working for you, and the minute you change you start losing, then if what people are saying to you is not working, then maybe it is time to start going back to what works for you. Everyone has an opinion as to what they think Andy should do in order to beat Roger (short of breaking his legs) but the truth is that I think Andy needs to go back to the basics of tennis - big serve, huge forehand, step into your shot. Be aggressive, stop slicing your backhand (you dont have one anyway). Rip the ball and forget about what people think. Look what happened to Roger the minute he let Roche go, he finally beat Nadal on clay, and I dont care that people say Nadal was tired, he beat him fair and square and a bagel set at that, playing his game, his way. Sorry for the long post.

Craig Hickman said...

"Having someone's number" is more mental than technical.

Roger can do anything he wants against Andy because he knows Andy doesn't have the mental game to beat him. Net cords go his way; his mishits land in. He can hit any shot at any time and he knows Andy won't even chase it down. Not because he can't, but because Andy is so startled by being out there against Roger that Andy will just watch the ball go by more often than not.

I am pyschic. We all are.

I agree with your post. When Andy beat Raja in Montreal, he beat him from the baseline, not the net. He dictated with his forehand, he was patient, and he didn't go for a winner until he had it. Federer's ground game broke down. That's what happens when he loses, no? You can rarely outhit Federer. But you can outlast him.

Karen said...

Craig, so true and that is why players like Canas and Nadal will always have a chance at Roger. Not because they are better than him, hail no, it is because of the style of game that they play. I was a bit shocked at the winners that Roger was hitting this morning because they did not seem all that spectacular to me. I felt that some of those winners Andy could have got to, if he believed that he could even get a racquet on the ball. They were not balls where if he put his mind to it (there goes that word again), he could not have even gotten a set off him, or even take him to a breakpoint. I thought it was a dismal display by a tennis professional and while I am glad that Roger won, I do not like him to win matches this way, because then it gives people the opportunity to say that players have no cojones over him.

rabbit said...

I was a bit shocked at the winners that Roger was hitting this morning because they did not seem all that spectacular to me.

Yeah, it was hard to know whether Federer was really playing well, or whether it was a letdown from Roddick after he knew that no matter how he played, it would make no difference as to who went on. At least, it seems Roger himself is aware of this: "Let's not over-rate today's match, because we both qualified, both could play freely."

And then also: "I know that my game matches up well with his, but that doesn't mean I'm going to beat him all the time. Look what happened with Gonzalez. You think you have a guy under control. It turns around."

Emily said...

More fuel for the fire, I just read this in a Reuter's article, re:Andy

"He gives off an attitude sometimes of being very disappointed," said Federer. "So sometimes you're like 'Okay, sorry I hit that passing shot'. But at the same times that's tennis and he knows it."

I'm sure it's very gratifying for Rog to crush Andy when people keep asking if he's starting to slip....but then I find Andy totally grating...

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks for the post, Emily. Just more evidence that Raja is clearly aware of the mental dynamic at play here.

oddman said...


PeytonAllen said...

Craig, great write up. You're spot on.

Saw the match. Man, what a whipping. He may never beat Fed again. I hope he does, but it's a match up problem mentally and physically. Fed plays his A game against Andy. Well, I think its been said well here by a few folk so i won't add to it.

The comment by Emily was revealing. "sometimes you're like 'i'm sorry." Fed's post match handshake look was "i'm sorry."

I think he likes Andy, but yes, enjoys crushing his 'true rival.'

The challenge up 4-0 was horrible. Then Andy bombs a body serve.

The mental hold is too great. Roddick is just beat. Period. Maybe when they're 28 and Fed has lost a step....maybe.

Technically...yeah Andy needs to step in and hit hard. He admits he can't move as well as the guys who have beaten Fed. Use your assest. Power. He spun that forehand and Fed buried it.

A few times he tried to step into shots. He just can't change at this point.

He's a pusher who found a big serve. That's the reality.

Craig Hickman said...

"He's a pusher who found a big serve. That's the reality."

I don't quite agree with this, since Andy used to bash the ball on the regular as a junior and early in his pro career.

He won claycourt titles and made the semifinals in Rome by bashing the ball.

He became a pusher under Brad Gilbert's tutelage and to this day I maintain that hiring "winning ugly" BG of the dink and junk was the biggest mistake of Andy's career, and he's still paying for it.

If you look at how Roddick played against Younes El Aynaoui in that great AO quarterfinal in 2003, you see an aggressive, attacking, hard hitting Roddick who was also hitting his backhand down the line. This was all before BG and Jimmy Connors and any other coach he's had since Tarik Benhabiles, his Very. Best. Coach.

If you look at how Roddick struck the ball the only time he's defeated Fed, the difference is night and day. But that match was before BG sent Roddick 20 feet behind the baseline to try to outgrind his opponents.

Roddick became a pusher when everyone told him he didn't have enough variety in his game to beat Federer.

Roddick is fighting the "ball bashing" label instead of embracing it. Which is too bad, because he'd win a lot more matches a lot more easily if he gripped and ripped and only relied on whatever variety he possesses when he has to. Andy moves better than he gives himself credit for, but against Fed, he doesn't anticipate well at all, refuses to run down balls, and his feet stay frozen.

It's all mental.

oddman said...

Agree with your analysis, Craig, absolutely.