It always amazes me when today’s world meets yesteryear. At the age of 39, the legendary Ken Rosewall got to the final of Wimbledon and the US Open in 1974 losing to the American Jimmy Connors in both. Rosewall has largely been forgotten in the annals of history because he was one of the early adopters of the Kramer Pro Tour. Some surmise that if he had stayed an amateur, he would have won many more Grand Slams. But, back then, in 1974 yesteryear met todays world and almost did the improbable: dominated the current tour.
Fast forward to 2014, Wimbledon and we have Roger Federer at the age of 32 — a dinosaur in sports — make a run for the coveted Wimbledon jewel and his 18th Grand Slam title.
On the other side was the younger, fitter and emotionally charged Novak Djokovic, who has been just come off a solid hard court US season, winning back to back Masters 1000 events in Palm Springs and Miami into an up and down spring season on the clay courts winning the Italian Open, then losing in the final to Rafael Nadal at the French
If there was a moment for Federer to come alive it was now at Wimbledon. Many have asked ‘why are you still hungry after all these years? Do you really need this anymore?’ Some had asked the dreaded ‘age’ question wondering how he can still motivate to compete at this level.
It must be difficult when you have no control over the press to answer that question without letting it sink into your psyche; to believe your answer will somehow stop the question from being asked again. Federer to his credit understands to the need for the press and how they promote his sport, one that has given him fame and fortune, answers that question diplomatically, ‘well I hope I still have enough left to compete at this level.’
With what most of us think as the most resilient, classic, style of play: one-handed backhand, brilliant footwork and balance, an economy of efficiency in shot making, Federer has been remarkably injury free compared to his counterparts. Yes, there’s a nagging back issue, but he never lets that enter into the discussion or the pursuit.
The draw couldn’t have been better once Rafael Nadal lost to the young Australian Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16. Only Stan Wawrinka pushed Federer into four sets in the quarter finals. Ever other match Federer played he won in straight sets.
Djokovic, on the other hand, had a tougher time starting with a four-set win over Radek Stepanek in the second round, then a brutal five-set win over Cilic in the quarters and a four-set win of Dmitrov in the semis. He, of the two, was the more fatigued and battle weary coming into the final.
During the final, Federer takes the first set in a tiebreaker. It was the Roger Federer we had hoped would enter Center Court at Wimbledon, hungry, passionate and precise.
Djokovic had other designs though, history and youth were on his side. Djokovic takes the next two sets and runs up a 5-2 lead in the fourth.
We all thought the same thought then, ‘well it was a nice run for Roger, but not this year’ when out of the blue, Federer goes on a tear and running off five straight games to force a fifth and final set.
This was the Federer we had hoped to see with a spring in his step and a spark in his shotmaking. When tentative, Roger overthinks, hits short and goes for too much too soon; when confident, he seems to pick the perfect shot at the critical moment to deliver a knockout. With others it’s angry precision. With Roger, it’s a work of art. The footwork alone could take up a large part of this piece, but it’s the combination of footwork, balance and precision in which we marvel in a glazed over ‘how did he do that?’ stupor.
But this year is the experiment year. Change of Coach. Change of tactic and stratagem, with a heavy dose of the above mentioned “age question.” This Coaching change — to move away from Paul Annacone and into the Stephan Edberg era — is a refresh, Roger 2.0. The trust is in their shared ‘hardware.’ Edberg, a six-time Singles winner in Grand Slam, three-time Doubles winner Grand Slam and a four-time Davis Cup Champion. Annacone, a great US player, with a X-games attacking style of play, had only one Grand Slam title, in Doubles. The apples vs apples, side by side had to give anyone hope. And even though Annacone was as aggressive in his style of play as Edberg — if not more so — it was Edberg’s history that gave Roger that second-stage booster. Edberg was not only a childhood idol of Roger’s but he had the much sought after experience to tap into at ‘The Bigs.’
Roger began to trust what he and Edberg had worked on: shortening the points. At 32 (now 33), Roger has to face the reality that he can’t turn on a dime, stop, jump two-and-a-half feet, fading away to hit an overhead. His body, more specifically, his back won’t allow it, particularly at Rafael Nadal ramming speed on the slow deep red clay courts of Europe.
It was the same that Annacone had suggested to Roger, but Coaching like any long term relationship needs breaks and vacations from ritual, routine and regimen. I’ve always thought that a change in voice, in exchange of ideas, was the most important thing to embrace when coaching. You don’t own the player. They don’t own you. So the freedom to exchange is based on a complicated series of likes, intonation, history, storytelling, a good dose of humor, and a lot of hard work, exchanging ideas, implementing stratagems.
A player to fully embrace a new direction has to trust the voice, has to go ‘all in’ without hesitation or resistance or even a need to tap into yesteryears success. Roger trusts Stephan Edberg. And mid-season, it’s beginning to show results, now, at Wimbledon.
Roger is deciding to come into the net more during his return game. It’s not quite right, yet, choosing to float his chip, deep, up the middle of the court, or slightly to the side of the center baseline. The mind has to commit in advance and the body has to respond right away. Roger is still uncertain, hesitant.
That is, until the fourth set, down 2-5. Combined with Novak’s nervous constitution and his fatigue, Roger set out to make a run at the set, without fear, without hesitation, without doubt. And Novak felt Federer’s attack, an attack of full and unrelenting confidence.
It was at 2-all in the fifth where the story takes a little turn. I call it ‘Kabooki Theater.’ Novak was barely holding on, he looked tired. He was being pushed from corner to line more aggressively and he was in search of … a break. No, not a break of serve but a break in action.
First, a bathroom break. Second, an injury timeout.
Between the two, it had to have been seven to ten minutes of inaction for Federer. Imagine after turing the corner from the edge of defeat and now on the cusp of going for a knockout, Federer who was clearly the hotter player at that juncture in the match has to sit idle as Djokovic is being manipulated on the sidelines.
Roger didn’t sit though. He stood at the back of the baseline, bounced around, while keeping a watchful eye on the entrance to Center Court. Seven to ten minutes can be an eternity in tennis time. It’s time to cool the body, more importantly, slow the mind down to a cognitive tick tock awareness of the noise, the court, the circumstance, the time of day, the idle chatter in the stands ALL of which a player — particularly a hot player — doesn’t hear in the heat of battle.
Time delays refresh the senses. What used to be micro-focus, like blinders on a Breeder’s Cup horse around the last bend, is now sitting at a press conference listening to questions. You are too aware instead of lost in the moment.
And Novak Djokovic knows this. Prior to his ‘gluten allergy’ discovery, there was always a point in the later rounds, at a critical juncture in a match, where something went terribly wrong with his body, his breathing, and his mind. He created new meaning to the ‘injury time-out’ by moving injury from back to hip to thigh like a master thespian (think Soccer when someone lightly touches a player who does this brilliant “arched in agony’ dance for the ref).
Novak uses ‘Kabooki Theater’ without the face paint. And, the top, doesn’t like it. Thinks it’s an abuse of the rule, a legitimate rule, to deal with a legitimate injury, not an injury that moves from spot to spot to spot.
Was Djokovic manipulating Federer? All moves by Djokovic are legitimate according to the rules, but the gamesmanship — if you can call it that — leaves a bitter taste in a purist’s mouth.
It’s why the Kings of the Sport, Nadal and Federer, do not have any love lost for Novak. They’ve seen it before and they’ve thought the same thoughts that those of us who love the sport have thought: how can anyone get away with this … this intentional stall?
Ask McEnroe who was the master at dampening someone’s momentum by blasting a linesman for a ‘poor’ call or picking on someone in the crowd who was goading him. McEnroe could single handedly crush any momentum gain with his ‘act’ and with a wink and a nod, he’d get away with it.
Well here is Roger on the back baseline doing his best to keep warm, to not stiffen up and mentally cool down from his obvious dominance and his confident roll from the fourth into the fifth set.
But he’s 32. Things don’t spark like they do at 25. And the little things turn into big things. Federer, never a fan of the Hawkeye review system because of the delay in game, and the manipulation of the process in allowing a review to transpire well after a point has ended (think Del Potro at the 2009 US Open).
Well the injury time out has to be right up there. *
As was the case, Roger Federer had the elusive momentum, then lost it. It was as if the match was started all over again and the work up to get to where he was — physically as well as mentally — took too long. Yes, he had moments to break, and squandered them, but it really was Djokovic who amended the Code to comply with his desire.
And that’s why they should add a ‘Kabooki Addendum’ and immediately assess point penalties for bathroom breaks and requests for medical timeouts, OR, like challenges in Hawkeye, allow only one medical timeout per match, never at a critical juncture.
After all, it wasn’t until 1973, at Wimbledon were the players allowed to sit down during changeovers. That’s right, there was no concierge service back in the Rosewall’s day. You played from beginning to end, standing.
And you had to get your own water too.
Djokovic came racing out to the court. Picked up a racket from his chair, apologized to Roger and then began to claw his way back into the match.
Roger, as predicted, became the Federer at the end of the third and entering the fourth: he hesitated. What was auto-pilot, now became manual flight control.
And Novak found his moment, broke serve and eventually held to close out the perfect “Almost #18” for Roger Federer.
I would’ve loved to have heard the banter between Edberg and Federer post-Wimbledon.
*From the ATP Rulebook
O. Bathroom Break
- 1) A player may be permitted to leave the court for a toilet break. A player is entitled to one (1) toilet break during a best of three set match and two (2) toilet breaks during a best of five set match. Toilet breaks should be taken on a set break and can be used for no other purpose.
- 2) Any time a player leaves the court for a toilet break, it is considered one of the authorized breaks regardless of whether or not the opponent has left the court.
- 3) Any toilet break taken after the warm-up has started is considered one of the authorized breaks. Additional breaks will be authorized, but will be penalized in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule if the player is not ready within the allowed time.Case: In a best of three (3) set match, a player has used his one toilet visit. The player informs the chair umpire that at the next change- over he would like to take another toilet visit prior to his serving. Decision: The chair umpire may allow a player to leave the court but must inform the player that any delay beyond the 90 seconds will be penalized in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule.
Toilet Visit: When Does Play Resume?
Case: After play has been suspended for an authorized toilet visit, when does the “clock” start to resume play?
Decision: When the player returns to the court and has had the opportunity to retrieve his racquet, then the chair umpire should announce “Time”. This announcement shall signal the players to resume the match.
A medical condition is a medical illness or a musculoskeletal injury that warrants medical evaluation and/or medical treatment by the physiotherapist during the warm-up or the match.
- a) Treatable Medical Conditions
- i) Acute medical condition: the sudden development of a medical illness or musculoskeletal injury during the warm-up or the match that requires immediate medical attention.
- ii) Non-acute medical condition: a medical illness or musculoskeletal injury that develops or is aggravated during the warm-up or the match and requires medical attention at the changeover or set break.
- b) Non-Treatable Medical Conditions
- i) Any medical condition that cannot be treated appropriately, or that will not be improved by available medical treatment within the time allowed.
- ii) Any medical condition (inclusive of symptoms) that has not developed or has not been aggravated during the warm-up or the match.
- iii) General player fatigue.
- iv) Any medical condition requiring injections, intravenous infusions or oxygen, except for diabetes, for which prior medical certification has been obtained, and for which subcutaneous injections of insulin may be administered.
2) Medical Evaluation
During the warm-up or the match, the player may request through the chair um- pire for the physiotherapist to evaluate him during the next change over or set break. Only in the case that a player develops an acute medical condition that necessitates an immediate stop in play may the player request through the chair umpire for the physiotherapist to evaluate him immediately.
The purpose of the medical evaluation is to determine if the player has developed a treatable medical condition and, if so, to determine when medical treatment is warranted. Such evaluation should be performed within a reasonable length of time, balancing player safety on the one hand, and continuous play on the other. At the discretion of the physiotherapist, such evaluation may be performed in conjunction with the tournament Doctor, and may be performed off-court. *
If the physiotherapist determines that the player has a non-treatable medical con- dition, then the player will be advised that no medical treatment will be allowed.
A medical time-out is allowed by the supervisor or chair umpire when the phys- iotherapist has evaluated the player and has determined that additional time for medical treatment is required. The medical time-out takes place during a change over or set break, unless the physiotherapist determines that the player has de- veloped an acute medical condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
The medical time-out begins when the physiotherapist is ready to start treatment. At the discretion of the physiotherapist, treatment during a medical time-out may take place off-court, and may proceed in conjunction with the tournament Doctor.*
The medical time-out is limited to three (3) minutes of treatment. However, at professional events with prize money of $40,000 or less, the supervisor may extend the time allowed for treatment if necessary.
A player is allowed one (1) medical time-out for each distinct treatable medical condition. All clinical manifestations of heat illness shall be considered as one (1) treatable medical condition. All treatable musculoskeletal injuries that manifest as part of a kinetic chain continuum shall be considered as one (1) treatable medical condition.
A total of two (2) consecutive medical time-outs may be allowed by the super- visor or chair umpire for the special circumstance in which the physiotherapist determines that the player has developed at least two (2) distinct acute and treatable medical conditions. This may include: a medical illness in conjunction with a musculoskeletal injury; two or more acute and distinct musculoskeletal injuries. In such cases, the physiotherapist will perform a medical evaluation for the two or more treatable medical conditions during a single evaluation, and may then determine that two consecutive medical time-outs are required.
A player may receive treatment for muscle cramping only during the time allotted for changeovers and/or set breaks. Players may not receive a medical time-out for muscle cramping. In cases where there is doubt about whether the player suffers from an acute medical condition, non-acute medical condition inclusive of muscle cramping, or non-treatable medical condition, the decision of the Physio- therapist, in conjunction with the tournament doctor, if appropriate, is final. There may be a total of two (2) full change of ends treatments for muscle cramping in a match, not necessarily consecutive.
Note: A player who has stopped play by claiming an acute medical condition, but is determined by the Physiotherapist and/or tournament doctor to have muscle cramping, shall be instructed by the Chair Umpire to resume play immediately.
If the player cannot continue playing due to severe muscle cramping, as de- termined by the Physiotherapist and/or tournament doctor, he may forfeit the point(s)/game(s) needed to get to a change of end or set-break in order to receive treatment.
If it is determined by the Chair Umpire or Supervisor that gamesmanship was involved, then a Code Violation for Unsportsmanlike Conduct could be issued.
A player may receive on-court medical treatment and/or supplies from the Physiotherapist and/or tournament Doctor during any changeover or set break. As a guideline, such medical treatment should be limited to two (2) changeovers/set breaks for each treatable medical condition, before or after a medical time-out, and need not be consecutive. Players may not receive medical treatment for non- treatable medical conditions.
After completion of a medical time-out or medical treatment, any delay in resumption of play shall be penalized by Code Violations for Delay of Game.
Any player abuse of this medical rule will be subject to penalty in accordance with the Unsportsmanlike Conduct section of the Code of Conduct.
Delayed Medical Time-Out
Case: A player has an accidental injury and asks to have a medical time-out during the next changeover. What procedure should be used for timing the treatment if the physiotherapist arrives?
A. 30 seconds into the changeover?
B. After 60 seconds has elapsed on the changeover?
Decision A: The physiotherapist has 3 1/2 minutes [but, as a minimum, he has three (3) minutes to treat after completing his diagnosis] to treat the player before the chair umpire announces “Time”. The player then has 30 seconds to play, subject to the Point Penalty Schedule.
Decision B: The chair umpire stops the clock at 60 seconds and suspends play until the physiotherapist is ready to treat the player. The three-minute medical time-out begins, and after the chair umpire announces “Time”, the player has 30 seconds to play or be subject to the Point Penalty Schedule.
Case A: When does a medical time-out begin?
Decision A: Medical time-out begins when the physiotherapist arrives and is ready and able to treat the player. Thus, the physio- therapist has completed his examination/diagnosis and the medical time-out starts when the physiotherapist begins treating the player.
Case B: A player asks to see the physiotherapist during the middle of a game although the chair umpire observed no accidental injury. What should the umpire do?
Decision B: First, tell the player that you will call the physiotherapist and he can see him at the changeover. If the player insists that he cannot continue, then stop play and call the physiotherapist. The physiotherapist will make the decision, upon examining the player, whether a medical time-out is needed.