Wimbledon 2017: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal are old dogs with new tricks

While perhaps the most photogenic, Roger Federer’s backhand was the least consistent part of his arsenal. The loopy serve returns and the defensive slices would get picked on by extreme topspin players such as Rafael Nadal.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt | Published:July 3, 2017 10:22 am
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2017 Wimbledon 2017 begins from July 1.

While perhaps the most photogenic, Roger Federer’s backhand was the least consistent part of his arsenal. The loopy serve returns and the defensive slices would get picked on by extreme topspin players such as Rafael Nadal. Cut to 2017, and the 35-year-old has turned it into a weapon.

Nadal would target Federer’s backhand by serving down the centre. The left-hander would whip the ball, imparting ridiculous topspin which would make the ball kick up high. Federer, playing from way behind the court, will hit a loopy, slow, short backhand which would eventually set up an easy forehand winner for Nadal.

The backhand remains the target, but Federer is taking the ball early, before it kicks up to the awkward shoulder-height. Hitting the ball on the rise allows him to hit the backhand harder and flatter. He also plays on or inside the baseline and hits the ball deep and down the line, leaving Nadal scampering for position.

What’s changed

BIGGER FRAME
While he would try to be aggressive from the backhand before, the racquet head size of 90 square-inches would lead to mishits and shanks and Federer would quickly revert to the defensive backhand slice. According to Federer, the switch to 97 square-inches in 2014 has given him confidence. “I think with the bigger racquet, head size, I’m definitely having an easier time to come over the return, especially, and then to stay aggressive throughout the rally.”

(Source: AP)

FASTER, FLATTER
From their first Australian Open meeting in 2012 to this year, the speed of Federer’s backhand against Nadal’s forehand has increased significantly. Federer’s average speed on serve return has increased from 102 kph in 2012 to 106 kph in 2017 and 111kph to 120 kph during rallies. The net clearance on the backhand serve returns has decreased by nearly 25 per cent while in rallies, the decrease has been 15 per cent.

FRESH ADVICE
Ivan Ljubicic’s appointment as the coach has also helped Federer. During his playing days, Ljubicic was known to step in and attack high balls to the one-handed backhand. Federer says Ljubicic and former coach Severin Luthi “insisted on a simple concept. ‘Take the ball early especially on return. No one is stronger than you inside the baseline’.”

(Source: AP)

SNEAKING AHEAD
While the ‘Sneak Attack By Roger’ started out as a bit of fun, it eventually helped Federer reduce the backswing of the backhand. In turn, even the regular return has become a short blocking stroke. Federer also sat out the second half of 2016 during which he practiced stepping in and attacking high backhands and driving the backhand off the return.

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  1. M
    M Geeta Mohan
    Jul 3, 2017 at 6:51 pm
    Dear Sir, I doubt whether any Editor is there for Indian Express or is it just 'GIGO'. I don't know how all Tom, and Harry can use such lousy words vig., 'dogs' when they are referring to Legends. They don't know how to even hold rackets, leave alone entering into famed Tennis courts as a player. Can he use same words when he is referring to his parents or our political leaders who have all crossed 60 years and they deserve the tag 'old'. People like Guarav Bhatt should realize that knowing English is not sufficient to write an Article. They should learn to know when to use which word. They also should realize that simply imitating Western writers in using bad words is not what we should learn. Jackals, Dogs, Donkeys etc have certain tricks, but let us learn not to use those words, when we refer to Legends, parents and all others who deserve respect, reverence and accolades, we should be doubly sure that the words we are using are appropriate and not derogatory in the least.
    Reply