You know it’s a down year for Roger Federer when the only tennis prizes he has won by late July are a trophy at Halle, Germany, and a cow named Desiree, which he received this week for entering the Swiss Open in his homeland.
Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion, has slipped to No. 5, his lowest ranking in the past decade. Last week, he lost in a semifinal in Hamburg, Germany, to 114th-ranked Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis. A few weeks earlier, he lost a shocker in the second round at Wimbledon to then-116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky.
The Wimbledon loss was his earliest in a Grand Slam in 10 years and his first loss to a player outside the top 100 since 2005. He had reached at least the quarterfinals of his previous 36 Grand Slam tournaments.
Federer lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals of the French Open. He was crushed 6-1, 6-3 by Rafael Nadal on the clay in Rome, which was not entirely unexpected considering Nadal’s dominance there. His first-round loss to Kei Nishikori in Madrid was a bigger surprise, but chalked up to rust after taking an eight-week break in March and April.
Federer, who turns 32 on Aug. 8, insisted after the early Wimbledon exit that he wouldn’t panic. But he tweaked his schedule and made a major equipment change. He added two clay events in Hamburg and Gstaad, Switzerland, to his summer itinerary. And he switched to a bigger, more powerful racket that is in line with what other top players are using.
The Wilson racket he relied on his entire career had a 90 square-inch surface area, which is considered a small frame in today’s game. His new Wilson racket has a 98-inch head, an increase of 8 percent. Nadal and Novak Djokovic use rackets with 100 square-inch heads, and Andy Murray’s is 98 inches.
For years, Federer had contemplated modernizing his equipment, but it never seemed necessary and the time never felt right. Like Pete Sampras in his later years, Federer has resisted change because the smaller racket head gave him greater control and was working for him. The larger hitting area gives players a larger sweet spot and more power. But it takes some getting used to.
“This racket will probably change over the next few months, we will keep tinkering with it,” Federer said. “I’ve tried a lot of models and this is the one I like the best. I’ll play Gstaad with it, and then we can look ahead. The plan for now is to continue with this racket.”
He told the ATP website: “I’ve been very close on numerous occasions to changing rackets in a bigger way. But then very often, time was the issue. After I lost at Wimbledon, I thought this is a good time to go and test the rackets, to take a bit of time off and then add some tournaments and see was there enough time to change or not. I’m just still looking for the timing and the rhythm.’’
He told reporters Monday that he’s trying to keep a positive attitude through this rough patch.
“I feel OK,” he said, “It’s been a tricky season, to say the least. Clearly I’ve been asking myself questions of how can I get out of, I wouldn’t call it a slump because I did win Halle in between, and I know that the game’s just around the corner. It’s just important that I take the right decisions, how to move forward from here and then how I bounce back, because usually when things don’t go so well I find a way, and that’s what I’m looking for right now.”
He is happy to be playing in his home country this week, at the event where he made his ATP debut 15 years ago. He last played there in 2004. He will play his opening match on Thursday.
“I feel like I play home almost everywhere I go; I have so much support all around the world, but there’s nothing like playing in front of your own. There’s no doubt about it that it’s extra special — more friends and family can come support you and see you. Also once the match is over you go hang out with them more often, so it’s really comfortable.
“It’s nice, it’s home, it’s the cows, it’s the Alps, it’s everything you know about Switzerland and more, especially here in Gstaad. It’s a very unique event, and I’m happy to be part of it again this year.”