Roger Federer’s latest attempt to find a way out of his slide sees him turn to the comforts of home.
A clay-court tournament in late July is not the place you would usually expect to find the 17-time grand slam champion, but this is no ordinary season.
Twelve months ago Federer was basking in the glory of a seventh Wimbledon title and his return to the world number one spot.
Today he is ranked fifth after seeing his record grand slam quarter-final streak ended at 36 by Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of Wimbledon.
Federer has won only one title all season, the Wimbledon warm-up in Halle, and cannot hide the fact he is enduring one of the worst spells of his career.
The 31-year-old said on www.atpworldtour.com: “I feel okay. 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, 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.”
Last week he headed to Hamburg, a tournament he has won four times, but instead of a much-needed boost it brought a second loss in less than a month to a player ranked outside the top 100, this time the little-known Federico Delbonis.
As a demonstration of Federer’s descent into the world of the mere tennis mortals, it was telling. He had lost just once to a non-top 100 player in the previous 11 years.
Now Federer is at home in Switzerland in Gstaad for an event he has not played since winning the title in 2004.
At nearly 32, most pundits see Federer’s decline as simply the ravages of time catching up with the great man.
But this is no trip down memory lane for a player resigned to his fate.
Federer is playing these smaller tournaments largely to test out a new racket with a substantially bigger head.
He has not committed to continuing with it but, if he can adjust to it relatively quickly, it could be just what he needs.
A bigger head helps generate more power and is more forgiving, compensating when a player’s footwork is not quite perfect.
Federer’s supreme talents allow him to hit the ball incredibly early, but that relies on being in exactly the right place, and it is no coincidence he has begun to mis-hit more and more shots.
The racket change appears an admission he needs a little help to cope with the effects of ageing, and the compromise is a likely loss of precision, one of Federer’s big strengths.
The other concern is what impact playing now will have by the time the US Open comes around in a month’s time.
Federer won the Masters event in Cincinnati last year so has points to defend before the year’s final grand slam, although age and his previous achievements means he is entitled to pick and choose his schedule.
The Swiss star’s first goal is to steady the ship and make sure he does not sink any lower.
“Right now it’s important for me to maintain my ranking and eventually, hopefully, when I win big tournaments again or more tournaments, then I can move up again,” he said.
“I just need to first make sure that I’m healthy, that I do all the right things in practice and then that I can attack again in the matches.”