NEW DELHI: Nick Bollettieri could wear the look of a smug man and maybe he does, the orange tan that is the trademark of the Florida sun slightly blurring the expression. For a man with over 30-years of coaching experience behind him and a Who’s Who list of tennis champions among his former pupils, being right all the time, after a while, maybe loses its charm.
While most pundits began talking about Roger Federer’s fading aura only after his sensational ouster by Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon recently, Bollettieri had already noticed chinks in the Swiss king’s armour.
With 16 Grand Slams in his pocket, Federer surely hadn’t forgotten how to win a tennis match but what he seemed to forget, according to the exalted tennis guru, was that ‘he’s the best’.
“Is the end of the Federer era near? Well, it’s going to be very interesting because today there are 8-10 guys that can beat Federer or think that they can beat him. Earlier, no one thought they could beat him and that fear gave him an advantage. Players don’t fear him anymore,” was Bollettieri’s summing up of the predicament that Federer finds himself in.
The road ahead of Federer isn’t easy but its got little to do with his game or technique. He needs to keep himself fit as a fiddle to ward off the challenge of the young guns, according to Bollettieri.
“Federer must be as healthy as can be. If his movement falters at all like it did at Wimbledon, then he will be in deep trouble on the backhand side. Why? Because he’s not in a good position to hit the ball, he can only slice the ball and that’s not good.”
Bollettieri, never one to mince words, lands a soft but telling blow. “A lot of players and sports writers wondered whether he has lost his competitive edge. I believe that Federer will win another Grand Slam or two. However, if he doesn’t win either the US Open (this year) or the Australian Open (early next year), he may himself begin to doubt his ability,” he predicted.
He added, “Then you’ve got Rafael Nadal, who’s just 24 and can play on any surface but Rog is still the man. He’s lost a little edge but he still is the man. Difference is now people are going to be looking furiously at whether he can still win a few more Grand Slams.”
However, Federer remains Bollettieri’s definition of a perfect player. “Nobody is perfect but he’s damn close to being perfect. You have the Samprases and Lavers but Federer is the perfect player or very close.
A perfect player would be one who has total confidence in himself, plays the game like a true sportsman, respects the sport and its competitors, lives the life as a role model for youngsters and a player who can do little bit of everything and have one or two weapons, play defence and offense, serve and volley and attack and a player that is really physically and mentally unbelievable. Federer embodies all of that.”