When we last left Roger Federer in our review of his 2009 season, his Mad March was over and he was growling to reporters in Miami: “Thank God the hardcourt season is over. . . because now that I’ve started smashing racquets I don’t wanna stop!”
His shell-shocked fans needed a change too. We were about one forehand shank away from conducting a mass hunger strike outside the adidas Tennis Player Development facility in Las Vegas, demanding Darren Cahill’s return to Dubai.
We were on the cusp of the clay court season, generally known as “Rafa Time!” Roger was ranked No. 2 in the world and losing ground to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (who won Miami.) Rafa owned three out of the last four majors, the Indian Wells title, and – despite his “amazing disaster” quarterfinal loss to Del Potro in Miami – seemed to be in fine form going into his favorite time of the year. This video chilled many a Fedophile’s heart:
When Roger Federer announced he was taking a last minute wild card into Monte Carlo, we wondered if he was getting desperate. As if sensing our despair, Roger and Mirka decided to lighten things up:
Via RF.com on April 11:
Earlier today, in my hometown of Basel, surrounded by a small group of close friends and family, Mirka and I got married. It was a beautiful spring day and an incredibly joyous occasion.
Mr. and Mrs. Roger Federer wish all of you a Happy Easter weekend.
Roger Federer and his bride kept a low profile on their Monte Carlo honeymoon, but the rest of the ATP stepped in to fulfill most of his press duties:
Gael Monfils: “We must not forget who he is. He will be out for revenge.”
Gilles Simon: “Why does he lose his temper on the court? Because he did not need to before as he used to slaughter everyone. . .To me, on a good day, he still is the best player in the world. He had already broken rackets before, now he is frustrated so he does it again.”
Fernando Verdasco: “Two years ago he was winning everything. Now, since the beginning of the year, he has been beaten by Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. I think mentally it is not easy to handle.”
Novak Djokovic: “I found it strange he broke his racket in Miami, he who always keeps calm. But these things happen when you are frustrated on the court. . . Federer won everything for four years and now he starts losing against some players but you cannot say he is in crisis.”
Rafael Nadal: “He has played a grand slam final and two Masters Series semi-finals, these are very good results. Everybody talks about the racket he smashed in Miami but that’s nothing. It happens to everyone. He just needs a title to confirm his good start to the season.”
Ah, and here’s Roger. It’s so interesting to hear him talking about winning Paris at this point, when all of us were just hoping he’d find a way to beat Andy Murray in a best of three match:
Of course, Roger went on to lose to Stan Wawrinka in the third round, who was still smarting from being left off Roger’s invite list. “Stan schickt Roger in die Flitterwochen!” proclaimed a Swiss headline. Google translate set our minds at ease: “Stan sends Roger to his honeymoon!”
Mirka signals it’s time to get off the court:
But Roger’s honeymoon wasn’t extended for long. He soon embarked on a week-long training camp with aging lefty Stefan Koubek in an undisclosed Italian location (Sardinia.)
Roger came out of hiding for the Rome Masters, but was focused on Paris:
“I just need to win the French Open,” Federer told reporters. “That’s what my goal is.”
Federer proceeded to lose to Novak Djokovic in the Rome semifinals. We were at our wits’ end, but “a locker room source told The Globe and Mail that (Roger) was actually in a playful mood” after the loss.
Maybe he knew something we didn’t. Roger Federer went into the Madrid Open with a plan to win. Check out this quote from his pre-tournament press conference (I titled the post Playing Mind Games with Rafael Nadal*):
“It might have been a little bit of an advantage for Rafa to have beaten me before Paris on clay in the past seasons. That gives him confidence and might have made it a little easier to beat me in the (last three Paris) finals. This year I haven’t played him on clay but I’m hoping to play him here in the final. But even if it doesn’t (happen) it could still be a good thing. It’s different when you’ve played a month earlier and got to Paris knowing that you’ve beaten someone.”
Well, guess what happened next? Roger Federer and (an admittedly weary) Rafael Nadal met in the Madrid Open final and Roger slayed the Clay Court King on Spanish soil. It was Roger’s first tournament win since October 2008 and his first Masters win since Cincinnati 2007.
“I thought I took all the right decisions today. In the end it was a perfect game for me. . .(You) stay positive and I did. I got the win I needed badly.”
Even Rafa looked relieved:
Rafa pegged Roger as a favorite at Roland Garros:
“In Paris, we’ll see who makes it to the end. . .Federer has the potential to win in Paris, to win anywhere. He is a favorite there, but the tournament begins not with the final but with the first round. I hope to play with him in the Paris finals. If you give me a paper now, I’d sign it.”
So the stage was set, we thought, for a fascinating French Open. We didn’t know the half of it. . .
*Roger Federer admitted to actually using some mind games against Rafa during the Madrid Open final:
Interviewer: Two things stood out today. Nadal ordinarily keeps you waiting at the net before the match. This time you kept him waiting. And instead of serving you decided to receive. Psychology?
Roger Federer: I simply thought to do something differently today. The players allow him to do too much, let him determine his rhythm. From the time one leaves the locker room to the first rally, twenty minutes have passed against him. Normally, five to ten minutes should be it. So today I simply took my time to see how patient he is. And today I had little to lose, so I did it with humor. Perhaps it helped that I played more relaxed.