Many years ago, I had the opportunity to train in the martial arts of Goju Karate and Aikido. These two disciplines were not only very different physically, but their philosophies were also far from united. The structural foundation of Okinowan-based Goju (American Goju is fathered by Peter Urban) is a hard and soft style that uses a soft blocking technique to block or deflect hard strikes rather than meet force with force. However, it also employs hard striking technique against softer targets. Aikido does not contain bone-shattering blows nor head-high kicks in any way. It's master, Morihei Ueshiba, set forth the goal to create a defensive style that would not only protect the potential victim but also cause no serious harm to the attacker. While it requires calmness, relaxation, and inner peace to be most effective, pursuing this art helps develop these very qualities.
Now let's consider Roger Federer and how this relates. Flash back with me to his 2001 win over then 29-year-old defending champion Pete Sampras in the fourth round of the Wimbledon championships at the All-England Club. The two men battled fiercely as they served and attacked the net at every opportunity. As the sets progressed, there was little doubt that this contest was going to alter the course of future tennis history. And history-making it was as the 19-year-old Federer gave us a glimpse of greatness to come.
Throughout his career, the swiss maestro has used his powerful and swift ground-stroking ability to go through opponents like corn stalks to the plow. He found that damage could be inflicted on other players from both wings and he inevitably mostly abandoned the serve-volley charge that brought down the giant Sampras.
But something has changed again. All we need do is look at the recent thrashing "the Fed" gave world number two Novak Djokovic at the 2012 Western and Southern Open championships. This was not the hard-charging 19-year-old who broke past the aging champion. On the contrary, this was the old master who had adjusted his game to more carefully pick his spots of attack and defend. He did not use his forcefulness to obliterate his opponent, and yet he took set one by a score of 6-0. No boards were broken or bricks smashed in the process. And during set two, when Djokovic made his own adjustments and kept it tight, we got to see the relaxed control and internal belief that has become almost as much a trademark as the RF logo itself.
Now I'm not saying that Roger Federer has discovered the remnants of some ancient martial art, nor am I saying that he is channeling the energy or "chi" of Morihei Ueshiba...or am I?