The Net Post: Paul Annacone would be perfect fit for Roger Federer
The Times Tennis Correspondent says Pete Sampras's former coach could help rebuild the shattered confidence of the former world No1
Roger Federer would be wise to enlist the help of Paul Annacone to help him out of his current trough
When it comes to probing anything to do with Roger Federer, words have to be chosen wisely, for having sat courtside and witnessed so many memorable matches, to have been up close and exceedingly personal (the front row of the press conference in Miami last week after Federer's loss to Novak Djokovic when he constantly dabbed at his eyes, was not a comfortable spot to be in) and allowed to share a comradeship on what is a lonely road, anyone would feel a special need to get things just right. And there is his legion of supporters who take any word against him as akin to blasphemy.
As Federer put it as the announcement of his weekend nuptials appeared on his website, his marriage to Mirka Vavrinec in Basel was an 'incredibly joyous occasion' and for that, the Net Post offers the happy couple its felicitations and the hope that they will enjoy a blessed life together and with at least one more significant other, for the couple are expecting a child which could, or so we hear, be delivered as soon as Wimbledon time.
Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Albert Costa (not three names you usually mention in the same sentence) have won grand slam titles this century while married, so nothing ought to stand in The Fed's way of taking his tally to No.14 and beyond. I sincerely believe that he will, but something dramatic needs to happen for it to occur. It is too easy to say 'hire a coach' and everything will suddenly fall into place but there does come a time when a player should harken to advice, respectfully offered. This is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.
As Federer wished his many global disciples a Happy Easter, so there can be no more appropriate time for one to respond in kind to him and simply say "Keep The Faith."
One recalls a press conference similar to Federer's in Miami the week before last at Wimbledon in 2002 when Sampras had lost in the second round to George Bastl of Switzerland and it felt as if his whole world was crumbling apart. Sampras and Federer are similar in many ways, tough to get to know but once you break beyond the initial shyness, both are splendid, sensitive people who are as much touched by their place in the sport as the sport itself has been touched by them.
Sampras' chin trembled when he spoke of his loss to Bastl, how he felt as if he had been affronted by playing on Wimbledon's Court No.2 (they haven't done that to Federer since he became the champion), and that he thought his last chance of a 14th grand slam had been scuppered by a commmittee. He was 30 at the time; Federer is not 28 until August (their birthdays are four days apart). But read this from Sampras's recent book "A Champion's Mind", and what do you make of it?
"I felt utterly empty (after the Bastl defeat) and had no answers to explain it. Marriage may have had something to do with it, especially with Bridgette being pregnant. Maybe all these big life changes were subverting my focus, or putting me at war with myself. But I felt I knew what I wanted: my wife, our child, a good, clean, normal life - and to squeeze every last drop of poential out of my career. I had spent more than a decade beating people for a living, putting all of my mental, physical and emotional energy into the task. I beat people. That was that I did, that was who I was. I had to ask myself Am I still that person?."
It strikes me that that is where Federer is right now. Is he still that person? If he is, he has to play like he is, remember the innate satisfaction he gleaned from lifting those trophies (his last, the US Open of 2008 was not that so long ago), to get his head around the fact that though Rafael Nadal is a titan, he is not unbeatable, nobody is. He remains the tennis player whose many gifts most would kill for. For him it should not be enough simply to walk around and behave like a champion, he has to start playing like one again. For that is how he is best suited. There is plenty of time for him to match and break the Sampras record, as long as his self-belief is not destroyed.
It was all going so swimmingly until Nadal came along; then Novak Djokovic and now Andy Murray. Between them, these three 'youngsters' have contrived to play havoc with Federer's equilibrium, they have sewn doubt where there was once total certainty and clouded his judgement where once there was sureness and clarity.
They have attacked the weak points in his game and, as of now, he is finding it very difficult to get back at them because he does not quite have the belief in himself he used to exude. His strategies have been mixed, the shot selection uncertain, the mood swings evident with the smashed racket in Miami when his game was sagging against Djokovic.
There have been hundreds of applications for the post of Federer's coach, from all manner of well qualified persons and the odd oddball, one of whom suggested that poetry was all that was required to turn him around. Perhaps it is time to sift through them more vigorously. The Net Post - if The Fed does not mind - has a suggestion.
Though he is currently employed by the Lawn Tennis Association, where is he overseeing the progress of Britain's younger male players, could not Paul Annacone be released from his contract for a couple of years and take Federer on? I sincerely believe they would sit famously together. Annacone coached Sampras after the death of Tim Gullikson and did wonders for a stricken superstar, he can do so again.
By sheer co-incidence Annacone said this, this week: "There are definitely some parallels (between Federer's current situation and Sampras when he was in a pickle) "Just as it was for Pete, it’s a particularly interesting, challenging time in Roger’s career. But I would look at it with Roger in the same way as for Pete. For guys like that, it is daunting but not that daunting. They are so skilled they can adjust, but a lot of the adjustment is mental."
Sampras recalls: "Paul knew that different people needed to be handled in different ways. He could coach me or he could have coached Andre (Agassi). He was a good reader of character and temperament, knowing what I needed to hear and how to say it. And that is a huge - repeat (itals) huge (itals) - part of being a high-level coach. You have to understand the guy and work in his comfort zone, avoiding the temptation to change him or make him conform to how you want him to be - even when you know that change would be beneficial. His bedside manner was great. He realised I didn't want to talk about my tennis a lot - I was kind of possessive about the game. He was a great tactician, though I often resisted his strong emphasis on attacking tennis. Tim (Gullikson) was great when it came to my game, Paul was great when it came to the games of guys I would need to beat."
And that is where Federer is right now. He should take a leaf from Sampras's book. He should bring in Annacone, a coach who will tell him what is happening, where he is going wrong and how he might put it right. And, above all things, he must keep the faith.