Michael Stich: Roger's sense of enjoyment a joy to behold
Sunday 04 July 2004
Today Wimbledon will stage the best men's final it could possibly have, the two most exciting players in the game facing each other. There is Andy Roddick, the extreme American fun-boy version, and Roger Federer, who is the best tennis player ever, so fluent and stylish. It will be a contrast of styles, too. Even though Roger can play from the baseline he likes to charge the net, while Roddick is someone who stays back.
When I did the Five Live radio commentary on Federer's semi-final on Friday I told my colleagues: "Don't involve me in the commentary, I just want to watch this guy play tennis." He is the only one I really enjoy watching, he is so much fun to watch because what he does in the space of winning one game is what most others can't do in a whole match.
He can play slices, short cross-courts, forehand winners, backhands down the line, serve and volley, chip and charge. He does everything, using his brain to outplay his opponent and just enjoying it so much. It is great to see that he has all those options. He can play backhand cross-court shots when he is off-balance, yet has such a strong lower arm and wrist that he manages to get pace on the ball. It is so great to see.
I think I was pretty talented but that guy is beyond me or anyone else. The fact that someone like this has arrived from Switzerland just happens. Roger has an attitude towards the game which I feel is very rare these days in that he seems really to enjoy his tennis and the game.
When you look at a lot of players, they play tennis but often they don't play the game of tennis. They play it for the purpose of winning tournaments and also for the purpose of making money and doing it as a job, which it is in the end. But Roger always seems to think of another option, what he can do to get better and to explore the game itself. What I always try to tell juniors is that tennis is a game to be played and not to be worked. Roger is the perfect example of someone who plays the game.
Why someone like this has emerged from Switzerland, I have no clue. I think it's unfortunate he wasn't born in Germany, but it is great to see it happen, because we are always waiting for something like this. We waited for the rivalry of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, Boris Becker against Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and now we have Federer and Roddick.
Federer is a one-off but he is going to have his down days, and he will have such days facing Roddick when the American is serving as big as he does, and on hard courts it's a different game. We saw Roger not doing very well on clay at the French Open. I really admire his game and his personality so much, but two things might stand between Roger and ultimate greatness. Sometimes he gets too loose because everything is so easy for him, and also he has too many options. Then perhaps you don't know which one to take because you are spoiled for choice.
I can see a great rivalry developing because Roddick is mentally very strong. He has become so much better in that area since he started working with Brad Gilbert and that is so important in this game, and becoming more important all the time because everyone is physically fit. They are virtually the same age, Roger 22 and Andy 21, and thankfully have emerged from different backgrounds, a different style of tennis, and have different attitudes towards the game.
This is a perfect final from the standpoint of names, but tennis-wise I don't see Roddick yet being able to win Wimbledon. He just serves as hard as he can. While, thankfully, that is still what people like to see, I wish he would explore his game a little more with the talent that he has and not just restrict himself to hitting as powerfully as he can.
Can he win today? I doubt it, but if you get to the final you can win. Probably people said that about me in 1991, that I couldn't beat Boris, but I did. Federer and Roddick are both strong mentally, so it is going to come down to a point here and there.
Andy has a good coach, Roger doesn't have a coach at all right now. What I know of Federer is he needs to be happy with himself, very settled, good focus. Then you don't need a coach. When you need a coach is when you are not at your best mentally. There is no coach in the world who can teach him anything about strokes. The guy has everything he needs and tactically he is one of the very few who tries to figure out how to play an opponent before he goes on court.
I think he will get to the stage where he wants a coach again, to develop his game even more. If he thinks he is not good enough to win Roland Garros on clay he is smart enough to take a coach aboard, maybe do it like Patrick Rafter and have a coach for the Grand Slams and spent the rest of the year on his own.
The former Wimbledon champion and BBC Radio Five Live analyst was speaking to Ronald Atkin
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