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Misfiring Federer dreams of feat on clay

Federer in action in Monte Carlo on Sunday Keystone

Roger Federer's hopes of winning the French Open are still alive despite Sunday's loss to chief rival Rafael Nadal, sports journalist René Stauffer tells swissinfo.

This content was published on April 24, 2006 - 13:48

In his first tournament on clay this year, the world number one succumbed in four sets to the mercurial Spanish teenager in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters.

The French Open, which lies five weeks away, is the only grand slam title to have eluded the 24-year-old Swiss. If he wins in Paris on June 11 he will become the first man to hold all four grand slam titles since Australia's Rod Laver in 1969.

On the evidence of Sunday's defeat – his third successive loss to the Spaniard – victory in Paris is anything but certain.

But Stauffer, who writes for the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper of Zurich and is publishing a biography on the Basel star this summer, believes it is too early to write off Federer's chances.

swissinfo: The big question everyone has been asking this season is can Federer win at Roland-Garros? After Monte Carlo, how would do you rate his chances?

René Stauffer: I think that overall his chances even improved after Monte Carlo, since he exceeded his expectations there and it was his first tournament on clay for a long time. Obviously Nadal is the big favourite once again but we also saw that Roger has all the guts and all that it takes to win in Paris. Don't forget Nadal would have to win seven matches and that's a tough task for the young Spaniard as well.

swissinfo: Is Federer doing anything differently on clay this year?

R.S.: I think he is trying to play with more confidence, to show that he can play on clay basically like he does on hard court, which means he also attacks the net pretty often. He came to the net more than 60 times in Monte Carlo.

swissinfo: But he made 78 unforced errors in the final. Is this a sign that he's trying too hard?

R.S.: The match took almost four hours and this figure is pretty average. Twenty unforced errors an hour is not too bad. He also had to play a lot with his backhand, which is not as good as his forehand, and Nadal was really testing this shot. Roger was trying to be aggressive and I think that's the reason behind his mistakes.

swissinfo: Federer has now lost twice to Nadal this year and has a 1-4 record against him. Has the Spaniard got Federer's number?

R.S.: Roger is someone who never allows anyone to have his number. He wouldn't have been number one for two years if he allowed himself to get down and start building up psychological barriers. Even when he lost to [David] Nalbandian five times in a row, he was never talking about a "nemesis" – he was always looking at the positives.

If you look at the head-to-head you will see that Roger was suffering from heatstroke in the first match he lost [to Nadal] in Miami in 2004. Then the second loss in Paris last year was one of his worst grand slam semi-finals and then Dubai this year was an absolutely one-sided match until the end of the second set.

swissinfo: Ivan Ljubicic said earlier this year that the main reason Federer has a problem with Nadal is because the Spaniard is left-handed. Is it really that simple?

R.S.: Some experts say that if Nadal wasn't a leftie, Roger would have won Paris last year. For people who don't understand tennis very well, you have to realise that lefties play against right-handers almost every day. But if you take someone like Roger, he seldom plays against lefties. A leftie also has the advantage that he can hit his forehand to the backhand of the right-hander, which is Roger's weaker side.

swissinfo: So what does he need to do to beat Nadal?

R.S.: I think he really needs to start believing that he can beat him. He also has to be ready from the word go. He can't afford to fall behind 4-0 after 20 minutes, as he did in Monte Carlo. He also needs to keep his unforced errors low, attack, and take every opportunity he gets.

swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont

Key facts

Federer, who is 24, comes from Basel.
Last month he was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's' Fund (Unicef).
The Swiss set up a foundation in 2003 to promote tennis worldwide.
It works closely with a non-governmental organisation in South Africa, where his mother was born.

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In brief

Roger Federer has been world number one since February 2, 2004. He has won seven grand slam titles: Wimbledon (3), US Open (2) and Australian Open (2). He has never won the French Open.

This season he has won four tournaments: Doha, Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami. He was also a finalist in Dubai and Monte Carlo, where he lost on both occasions to world number two Rafael Nadal.

He has a 1-4 record against Nadal, who won 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 in Monte Carlo on Sunday.

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