Look Ma, No Hands .. (nor feet of clay)

Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam under Peter Lundgren’s guidance. Wimbledon 2003. Six months later, they parted ways.

In Feb 2004, without a coach, Federer became World no 1. He also won 3 more Grand Slams. All except the French Open.

In 2005, he signed up with Tony Roche. Who’d until then worked Ivan Lendl and Pat Rafter to World no 1 rankings.

Among Roche’ achievements are 3 French open victories by Lendl. Take a look at this piece by Rohit Brijnath. Its 2005. I will pay to watch Federer practice”. Thats Lendl. To Roche.

From all accounts Tony Roche and Roger Federer only worked together for 10-15 weeks per year before Grand Slam and ATP tournaments and yet Roche has since helped Federer to six of his ten Grand Slams. 2 in 2005. 3 in 2006. And the 1 played so far in 2007. But so far , no Rolland Garros.

Then, as the pressure to perform on clay increased – and surely, the desire to remove all doubt, and as clay season approached, it all started going horribly wrong for Federer. 4 straight tournament losses. 2 on hard courts (to a guy who would chase down anything – like a clay courter, an old time clay courter). And the next 2 , on clay courts.

Feet of clay means ‘a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person’.

The phrase is from the Bible (Daniel 2: 31-40). King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. The image that appears to him has a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron. The feet of this image are made of iron and clay. A stone hits the feet and the whole image breaks into pieces.

The prophet Daniel’s interpretation of the dream is that Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold (a great king), but after him would come weaker kingdoms (like the image with feet of clay). These kingdoms would finally be replaced by the kingdom of God.

Then, in a move that shocked and surprised, Federer and Roche split . Two weeks before Rolland Garros ?! And a month before Wimbledon ? “I’m not taking a coach because I know what it takes to win”.

Yesterday, one week after all that , Federer beat Nadal. On Clay.

2-6, 6-2, 6-0. It was Nadal’s first loss in 82 matches on the surface.

And if you were fortunate enough to see the game , or if you read any of the interviews after, you’ll know that the decision to go it alone, without the coach was not an arrogant one. In fact, maybe,  just maybe,  he lost four tournaments because the agony of being on the verge of closing a relationship was eating him.

Either way , he doesn’t have feet of clay.

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4 thoughts on “Look Ma, No Hands .. (nor feet of clay)

  1. Would like to add to Lendl’s comments.. all the way to the finals..
    So few tennis players have been graceful over the last decade or so.. And they never went beyond the 2nd round..
    The greatness of being a Federer is being an exception to the adage – Nice guys finish last..And I don’t mean I want well behaved / good human beings to win at any sport.. Its his grace, his style that I want to watch for longer than 1 round..

    It might seem comical to talk about Ramesh Krishnan on this topic, but I have always liked what I saw of him.. Agreed his serve put most men to sleep but that man had the touch play which I have seen in very few.. Thanks to DD, I was lucky to watch him in the Davis cup matches.. He would caress the ball when it asked to be smashed, would play a deft touch almost as if he were afraid the ball would complain, if hit hard.. And he never won anything significant.. Yes his serve was a liability and maybe he would have won more matches if he asked the opponent to serve all the time.. but there have been many players like him who won’t find any mention in the grace department.. His doubles partnership with Leander in the Davis cup was a treat to watch as well.. One breathing fire all the time, the other ever unflappable.

    Well Leander needs a different column to talk about as it will be unfair on the ‘greatest athlete’ (my view only) produced by our country.. Sfx can do the honours

  2. Thanks Homer
    Wonderful piece – (as usual) and a great way to start the morning …
    Coming to the sport itself – couldn’t agree more – what was important was the feet of clay bit – the “breakthrough” as Brijnath calls it …
    I’ve got a bet with a colleague on here ( a coffee at Starbucks, no less !!) that Federer will win the French, but if he does, Nadal will come like an uncaged tiger at him in Wimbledon and win (its not worth more than a coffee punt – besides if they’re playing there will be a lot more than cofee going down while watching) .
    I love Sport !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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