Tennis Prose



Does Federer Subconsciously Duck Rafa and Djokovic?

By Scoop Malinowski

Ducking happens in one on one sports, it happens in pro boxing and it happens in tennis, perhaps even at the highest level.

After Federer lost to John Millman this week, I made a comment on a Facebook post about the match suggesting that maybe Federer subconsciously tanked to Millman to avoid having to face Djokovic in the next round. Federer has lost seven of the last nine head to head matches to Djokovic including this year’s Cincy final, the rivals first clash in about two years. We all know losing to Djokovic especially burns Fed’s ego as Novak is hardly one of his favorite personalities on the ATP Tour.

So after suggesting Fed may have tanked to Millman to avoid another showdown with Djokovic, a former top 100 ATP player liked and agreed with the unpopular theory.

Jeff Salzenstein is the player. He replied: “I argue that Federer self sabotages not to play Nadal or Djoker when he isn’t playing well and the Fed heads think I’m nuts. I see a pattern.”

Okay, playing devil’s advocate, the heat was a factor, Fed rarely sweats on the court. He trains in Dubai.

“I know the heat was terrible that night,” agreed Salzenstein, a lefty who starred at Stanford University and now operates JS Performance Tennis School in Denver, Colorado. “And Federer didn’t fight in this match. He bailed. He did the same thing against Delpo last year in the US Open the round before playing Nadal. He doesn’t play the French. He won Australia this year with no Nadal or Djoker. He won Wimbledon the year before with out those two. Anytime they are both hungry and at their best he does not play them in a slam or he loses.”

Okay, Roger is 37 now, he deserves a pass, even if this theory is accurate. But as tennis commentators, we both deserve the right to question everything and anything. To look beneath the surface and connect some dots. It’s a fascinating sport with so many intriguing aspects involved. Heck, any sport that could inspire a great champion like Jack Kramer to create a theory he called “subconscious tanking” is open to anything being possible.

Maybe Roger Federer does have a secret fear of playing Nadal and Djokovic at this late stage of his career. Maybe he does not. But we should be allowed to discuss and analyze it and question what arouses our curiosity.

· ·


  • Duke Carnoustie · September 7, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Except Fed won the 2017 AO over Rafa in the final. And has beaten Rafa 4 straight.

    I believe it’s true for Novak. He tanked this open after losing that Cincy final and remember he defaulted a match in London. Losing to Novak drives Fed nuts.

    Really though what Fed has proved is how useless the Nextgen is. Clownios was walloped by him. Looking back what an embarrassment that was for him to bend over for a less than stellar Fed.

  • Joe Blow · September 7, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    I call BS on the sub-tanking by Fed. If he was this mentally fragile about facing Djoker and Nadal, he’d have quit by now. What would be the reason to train if you’re going to tank before the final?
    The skipping of the French, is not something I agree with, or like, but he earned the right to make his schedule. All those years Sampras was basically making a Nike promo appearance showing up to the French. Agassi skipped tons of AO’s as did JMac in their primes.

    Guy was 36 last year, he doesn’t want to grind on clay anymore, and with an extremely slim chance of winning the French, can’t really blame him for coming up with this schedule.

    On another note, after watching the loss to Millman, Feds done as far as winning Majors, and probably Masters events. Should quit after one more Wimby

  • Joe Blow · September 7, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Is Nadal sub-tanking not to play Djokovic with this Knee issue?

  • Jg · September 7, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    I just saw parts of the Nadal press conference after his match, are you kidding me, they didn’t offer Scoop and Dan press credentials, the questions asked were ridiculous, how many of those folks know anything about tennis, do they even know there is a solid challenger in Chicago this week? The questions like is it something inside your knee? Are ridiculous.

  • Chazz · September 7, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Yeah, let’s hear it. Nadal subconsciously ducked Djoker. Everyone’s scared of him.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 7, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    My guess is Rafa ran out of gas. First set was key, he realized he didn’t have enough in the tank to come back and subdue a top form Delpo who has had a perfect tournament. Not sure about the knee, I think Delpo was just too good today. Delpo in top form and fresh has blasted Rafa on hard courts before. Plus there is the revenge angle from last year, Delpo was surely drained from his grueling wins over Thiem (five sets) and Federer (four sets). Delpo clearly ran out of gas last year vs Rafa.

  • Duke Carnoustie · September 8, 2018 at 1:13 am

    Interestingly Novak lost twice to Murray and twice to Stan in Slam finals otherwise they would be one-Slam wonders.

    It’s entirely possible he will also turn DelPo from a one-Slam wonder to one of the all-time greats.

  • Duke Carnoustie · September 8, 2018 at 1:17 am

    Slam runner-up finishes:

    Fed: 10
    Novak: 9
    Murray: 8
    Rafa: 7

  • Dan Markowitz · September 8, 2018 at 2:26 am

    Scoop, here’s your answer about Fed possibly tanking because he didn’t want to face Djoko, and it comes from Jon Wertheim, who knows a thing or two about tennis and Roger Federer:

    Jon, it was so surreal watching Federer-Millman. Halfway through the second set I had a gut feeling Roger was going to lose (my wife can corroborate my clairvoyance). Don’t want to get all conspiracist here but I really believe a part of Roger’s brain hated the idea of a likely loss to Djokovic in the next round and, while in no way tanked, gave a more desultory effort. Perhaps in his mind, the optics of being upset by a guy playing out of his mind versus losing another match to one of his GOAT contemporaries seems more optimal. Would love to get your thoughts on my “grassy knoll” theory.
    —Neil Grammer, Toronto

    • We’re always game for examining—and in this case dismissing—a theory. Nah, I think Federer was simply overwhelmed (and surprised emotionally) by the conditions. Credit Millman for his relentless tennis and extreme stamina, the mark of a pro. But, no, I suspect that Federer would have relished playing Djokovic. The occasion, the test, the opportunity to reverse the Cincy defeat, the knowledge that the fan support would have been overwhelming.

    And Duke, stop it with the Left, we’re not dealing with politics on this site. You want to discuss Sandgren’s game go right ahead. You want to discuss Nike’s decision to drop Federer or visa versa, go right ahead, but don’t come on this site and start talking about the left because that’s a street we don’t want to go down.

  • Duke Carnoustie · September 8, 2018 at 3:11 am

    Dan my only point is that I, like Scoop, am done with Nike.
    I think you can figure out the reasons.

    Djoker looks like a tennis machine with an insatiable appetite for winning. Let’s say he wins Sunday. It still means over the last two years, the Slam numbers went from 17, 14 and 12 to 20, 17 and 14 which means both Fed and Rafa gained a slam on him. Not sure Djoker can get to 20.

    Speaking of gutty performances, here are a couple. Jack Sock earns another doubles crown with some great serving. You have to respect that.

    And Reilly Opelka prevails over DY in an epic match n Chicago in a 3rd-set TB. DY still not winning the big points and Opelka moves on to face Koepfer. The other semi is the whining journeyman Fratangelo vs. Asian Games champ Istomin.

  • Duke Carnoustie · September 8, 2018 at 3:17 am

    Here is match point of Opelka beating DY – You can hear DY throws his racket into the fence behind him! The poor guy is still scuffling.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 8, 2018 at 7:12 am

    I will take Jeff Salzenstein’s thoughts on pro tennis and Federer over Wertheim any day of the week. Wertheim is a good commentator on the sport but he’s not a player of any renown. Also, people like Wertheim in the media will never challenge or dare question Federer or any of the top stars. There is plenty of evidence to suspect Federer of dodging Djokovic. Jack Kramer subconscious tank idea is not some crazy conspiracy theory.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 8, 2018 at 7:15 am

    What I really want to know is a translation of what Opelka roared after that MP??! Sounded like I WANT THIS…CMON. What a match point roar!!

  • Gaurang · September 8, 2018 at 7:23 am

    I agree its possible. Fed could tank when he is not playing well and he feels he will lose. Fed hates losing.

  • Hartt · September 8, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Shall we talk about some actual tennis matches, instead of dodging or subconscious tanking?

    Thanks for the info on the Challenger in Chicago. Have been following it to a degree. Lots of American players, wonder who will win the title?

    Even though I am not a real Rafan, it was sad to see Rafa have to retire from a Slam SF because of his knee. I think a final between him and Novak could have been great. But who will win the title – Novak or Delpo? Both have been playing well in this tourney. Before the tournament started I predicted Novak would win the title, and am sticking with that. But this should be a close, entertaining match.

    Am also looking forward to Serena vs Naomi Osaka. The youngster was so impressive, combining power with tennis smarts. I don’t think she will win against Serena, but she looks like she will have a terrific career.

  • catherine · September 8, 2018 at 10:02 am

    Hartt- there’s a tournament in Quebec as I’m sure you know – I was surprised to see Sabalenka entered there. I really hope she and Osaka can have a decent rivalry in the future and just hope she doesn’t play too much. Must be a temptation when you are young and fit.

    I too would be very pleased to if I never saw the word ‘tank’ (except in its military or water storage meaning) ever again.

    And I don’t happen to believe tanking is as common as would appear from some posts on T-P, and if it’s ‘subconscious’, a word with dubious meaning, how could anyone know ?

  • Hartt · September 8, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Catherine, the tournament in Quebec has a good reputation and has had some top players over the years. It began in 1993 and some winners include Sharapova, Capriati, Davenport and more recently, Safarova.

    In 2014 Venus fulfilled a commitment to play there and got to the final, where she lost to Lucic-Baroni. The fans absolutely adored her. She even tried her hand at curling!

    Another interesting thing about the tourney is that it is played on indoor carpet, there can’t be many of those left.

    As you’d expect, there are several young Canadians entered. It gives them a chance to compete against good players without having to travel far from home.

  • Hartt · September 8, 2018 at 11:34 am

    I agree with you about tanking. Outside of someone like Kyrgios, I think top players rarely tank. They have a lot of pride and self-belief. Even when things aren’t going well they could still turn things around.

  • catherine · September 8, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I remember indoor carpet – used to be very common and was used a lot in the old indoor winter circuit. Chris Evert hated those WTA tournaments and used to avoid them. So Martina won them, mostly.

    Also I read somewhere, I don’t know if it’s true, that Kerber grew up living in an apartment above an indoor carpet court where she began the game as a child and that’s why she plays the way she does. This would have been in Bremen I think. Might be just a garbled story.

  • Hartt · September 8, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    Canada’s Davis Cup team has used indoor carpet in recent years because they wanted the fasted court that was officially possible. I don’t know what will be used for the tie this coming weekend. I am counting the days. Today I plan on buying some ear plugs because the noise is going to be insane!

  • Duke Carnoustie · September 8, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    Kyrgios may have tanked against Fed since he didn’t want to lose to a mate like Millman, which would be more embarrassing.



Find it!

Copyright 2010
To top