On Sunday, Roger Federer lost the Shanghai Masters 1000 final against Andy Murray in straight sets. It's a disconcerting result for Roger, since he looked so impressive at the start of the tournament and seemed to have found the proper balance of determination and fitness. Unquestionably, the Paul Annacone version of Roger Federer is way better than the previous one.
I agree that he seems more determined and offensive as people have claimed, but not as much as he had been this summer. Considering how Roger amazed me in Montréal because he was finally playing an aggressive tennis and was fully taking his chances, this is a step back. This summer he seemed to have found the right path, like Annacone's style was becoming effective. The evidence was in all those chip and charge on opponent's second serve, just like Annacone's old student, Pete Sampras. But then he went back to his old ways in China.
Let's take a step back and look at what Federer did in Shanghai. His match against Söderling was a good one, but the victory was even easier cause the Swede was totally out of sorts and never entered the game at all. In his semifinal against Djokovic, Roger showed a strong and confident tennis but, curiously, the Serbian played spectacularly wrong from a tactical standpoint. He offered a lot of speed, a lot of flat shots and direction changes: all things that Federer thrives on. In the past, Djokovic had won against Roger by playing a less flashy tennis but way more efficient ... So in the end I would say Roger is playing a good tennis, but not as inspired as it was this summer.
Even if it's fair to state that Murray played a great match, even if it's also obvious that Federer didn't look very comfortable in his footwork during the final, it has to be said that this setback for the Swiss is only due to one factor: Murray himself. Unlike Djokovic, Andy played the perfect tennis to make Federer lose his own game. He played with a lot of topspin, with higher balls and with deep shots. He also prevented himself from opening the court too much with down the line shots, unless he was sure he'd get a winner there. He forced Roger to stay in long rallies so, in the end, the Swiss lost his tennis and his legs.
As I have already explained it here, Federer needs to win the point before the sixth shot or he loses both spontaneity and efficiency and ends up being exhausted. It's exactly how Rafa found a way to end Federer's domination and how he lead others to beat the Swiss. The Swiss champ didn't try to shorten the points against Murray. Obviously the great mindset he showed this summer is already gone. Roger must make his game evolve. His main rivals know today how to beat him. Even if doing so is far easy than thinking about it, the Nadals, Djokovics and Murrays are perfectly suited to play the kind of tennis that throw Federer out of his comfort zone. Nadal opened the way, then Murray and Djoko took the opportunity because they possess the same sort of skills that the Spaniard does, even if Nadal is still the greatest.
In order to defeat the Swiss, you have to display a great defense and to be able to handle long rallies with putting a lot of topspin in your shots. The goal is to take Federer out of his routine so he'll lose his natural offensive game. All the players who were able to play that kind of tennis have often won the battle. As the match is going on, Federer is, in this case, making more and more unforced errors and his game fades away. It's now up to him to find an answer to this "anti-Roger plan." His game has always been naturally offensive so he has to refuse to step out of it and decide that he'll attack all the time. Roger's age hurts this. He's getting older and his fitness isn't as great as it once was. That's why he needs to save his energy. Going on in tiring himself in long rallies on the baseline, which he now often lost, can't be a good strategy at all.
Could Annacone put his hand into Federer's game? Let's hope that the American coach is given enough power to really influence Roger's game. If he succeeds in bringing into him some of Sampras skills to end shortly the points, Federer will be again able to win the main titles. Roger must use serve and volley, as much as chip and charge on second serves more and more, he must take every chance to attack his opponent and come to the net. He can't allow himself to sit back against the top players. If he does so, he's lose.
The path to defeat Roger is clear, as clear as the fact that Roger is getting older and weaker against the best players who are all perfectly fit. The issue is well defined, the other players know it and Federer has the coach in place to help him counter it. But it's all up to Roger in the end; he's got it all in his hands. Will he agree to give himself up to a coach when he's done it for so long on his own? We can only hope that this new defeat will make him proactive and that Paul Annacone will find the way to make the great Roger move forward.