Updated: August 10, 2010, 3:21 PM ET

Can Federer find the right balance?

Garber By Greg Garber
Roger FedererTom Lovelock/Getty ImagesRoger Federer is finally taking steps to get back on track by hiring a new coach.

Roger Federer, an astute student of tennis history, is already busy at work in Europe with Pete Sampras' coach of nearly eight years, Paul Annacone.

Annacone, contacted by ESPN.com, declined to comment on their new collaboration, but added in an e-mail, "Just going to let the process unfold for a bit with RF."

Going forward, that process will be the subject of great scrutiny. The No. 3-ranked Federer, who turned 29 on Sunday, has lost in the quarterfinals of the past two majors. Can Annacone get him ramped up to improve in the U.S. Open, which begins in three weeks?

"It will be interesting to see," said ESPN analyst Mary Carillo. "Has Roger lost a step? Yeah. It could be a function of the back injury or it could be a function of age. Paul Annacone always impressed this on Pete: Make it into as much of an athletic event, especially against Andre [Agassi]. I think he'll try to encourage Roger to do the same thing."

Fifteen months ago, Annacone mused in an ESPN.com story about Federer, "You can't just put anyone in there and have it work. Ultimately, it's up to the player. You have someone who is steel-willed and incredibly confident and incredibly stubborn as well. You have to have buy-in.

"Roger is similar to Pete in so many tactical and technical ways. The first four, five years he killed everybody, but didn't necessarily get any better. If you don't see the urgency, you probably aren't going to get better."

With the news that No. 4-ranked Andy Murray was parting with Miles Maclagan, now two of the four top-ranked men have dramatically altered their coaching dynamic. Although early British reports had the full-time job going to Darren Cahill, the former coach of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, it's more likely that they'll work together sporadically under the auspices of their joint sponsor, Adidas.

"When you talk about the best in the business, both playing-wise and coaching-wise, I don't know if it's as much a fresh set of eyes -- as a fresh set of ears and a fresh voice," said Todd Martin, who after a successful singles career coached both Mardy Fish and, until April, No. 2 Novak Djokovic.

"I really don't think that we as coaches see a lot of different things," Martin said. "We might prioritize differently. The communication of what we see -- and what player feels -- is the most important. How one coach chooses to say it -- and it could be the same exact information -- can make a significant difference."

Nick Bollettieri, who has coached 10 different players who held the No. 1 men's and women's ranking, thinks the Annacone-Federer union will be fruitful.

"Annacone's the type of guy that can get to Roger," Bollettieri said last week from his farm in Vermont. "If I was coaching Roger, I'd say, 'Roger there's nobody like you. My boy, you've got it all. Go out there and show me you're the king.'"

However, Ivan Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam singles champion, isn't so sure a recrafted message alone will help Murray break through with a major title.

"In my opinion, he's not getting enough advice from guys who have been there," Lendl said last week between senior golf events. "He needs somebody who has been [in a major final, as a player or a coach] and he needs to understand that he's got to take his chances.

"With Murray, it's not about getting a better backhand, a better forehand -- he needs to be more aggressive. You can't make a more aggressive player out of Michael Chang, or a less aggressive player out of Boris Becker -- but you give them 25 percent of each other and they're both better players. Murray needs to hit the crap out of the ball and come in when the chance presents itself."

Martin said it took some time to learn how to coach, to sense how quickly a player could digest the information he presented.

"With Mardy, I had a laundry list of things he needed to improve on," said Martin, who will be doing U.S. Open commentary for Direct TV. "I'm really proud of Mardy. He's had certain challenges for duration of his career and within the past 12 months he faced one of those challenges [fitness] head on.

"With Novak, it was very interesting. Here's a guy who's sustained a level of excellence, which is pretty darn unique, but done so in a manner that is hardly flawless. As much as anything, you're trying to inject a new perspective and some new habits."

But is it that easy?

"When Rafa started to play so well, I said, 'Terrific, now Roger has to get better,'" Annacone said. "That's a problem for some people, but not guys like Roger, who have so many tools. Roger feels it, but I'm not sure he knows exactly how to go about doing it.

"His life is more complicated now. … They're components of your life that you have to deal with. Roger sees it, but he just hasn't found the right balance yet."

Federer, who in recent years has been guided by the steady hand of Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi, has looked for outside help before; Jose Higueras, Darren Cahill and Tony Roche have all been called in to tweak the superb engine. Annacone, under contract with the British Lawn Tennis Association through November, could become a full-time member of Team Federer if things work out.

The first action for Federer since Wimbledon is this week's ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Toronto. He's also scheduled to play the following week in Cincinnati.

"I'd be shocked if he doesn't win more Grand Slam titles," Annacone told ESPN.com last year. "If he has any of the same drive that Pete had, I'd be absolutely shocked. They're wired differently than most players. They expect to win -- no matter what the circumstances.

"Look at talent level and what he's able to produce. Take all those ingredients and corral them, manage them just a little better, and he can win again."

5 Questions With …

Samantha Stosur

The Australian star is a career-high No. 5 in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. She reached her first Grand Slam singles final earlier this year, at Roland Garros, losing to Francesca Schiavone. Her big game -- she's second among WTA players to Serena Williams in aces -- translated well in last year's summer hard-court season. She won 12 of 16 matches leading up to the U.S. Open, reaching the final in Los Angeles, the semifinals at Stanford and the quarters in Toronto. This year, she's hoping for another good run, this time all the way through New York.

ESPN.com: How tired were you after losing in the first round [to Kaia Kanepi] at Wimbledon?

Sam Stosur: I took a few days off after the French, then at Eastbourne I scraped through a few tight matches. At Wimbledon, it got to a boiling point. I was just finished there. All that mental concentration and the strain got to me. It's all part of it, learning curve. The greats of the game always back it up. I need to be able to sustain the momentum in back-to-back Slams.

ESPN.com: Why do you think, at the age of 26, you've had your best results, relatively late in the context of tennis?

Stosur: It's funny because people generally expect you to do it as a teenager, if you're going to do it at all. On the whole, that's not a realistic expectation. The [Martina] Hingis' of the world are absolute freaks. Success like that is not the normal kind of thing. Everyone matures at a different age. Australian players have had good success later in their careers; sometime they take a bit longer to develop. I don't see it as a bad thing. I don't think it's a matter of when it happens, as long as it does happen. Your game matures and you actually know why you're a good player. I know what I'm doing now. Over the years, I've learned what works for me, how to practice, the proper nutrition and training. Working on my weapons and using them to best advantage, knowing when to shut things down. I'm much better at reading what's happening in a match, problem solving, too. It doesn't happen overnight.

ESPN.com: You are 2-6 at the U.S. Open. You lost to Vania King in the second round there last year. How is that possible with the forceful way you play the game?

Stosur: [Laughing] I don't know. It's a [venue] that should be good for me. I had a really good lead-up last year and completely bombed there. It was a case of mental fatigue again, another lesson learned. Maybe I need to take a break before I get to New York. I've proven to myself that I can play well in those conditions -- [the U.S. Open Series] is the same weather, the same courts as New York. Hopefully this is a turnaround year for me. Once I get there, I should be fresh and ready to go.

ESPN.com: Are you really playing doubles at the U.S. Open with the player who beat you in the French Open final?

Sam Stosur: I didn't want to play doubles in the lead-up events, that would be too heavy a load with singles. Francesca had the same idea. I asked if she had a partner for the U.S. Open, and she said no. The French was a big moment in both of our careers. It was a great memory for her and for me -- although she probably has happier memories than I do.

ESPN.com: What are your short-term goals?

Sam Stosur: Improving my game -- that's what I want to do. I think I can get better. I'm No. 5, but I think I can get higher if I keep improving. Rankings, winning events -- it will happen if I keep improving. Who knows what number it ends up being? I need to be more consistent with the way I play. Winning a major would be a dream come true. I came close in Paris. If I can get myself in same position again in any of the four majors, maybe I'll get it done. That would be absolutely amazing.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.


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