Federer wielding SABR with devastating effect
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[June 26, 2017]
By Simon Cambers
LONDON (Reuters) - What started as a
bit of fun may just have led to a masterstroke.
It was the summer of 2015 when, on the suggestion of his coach,
Severin Luthi, Federer unleashed the SABR, the "Sneak Attack By
Charging forward as his opponent tossed the ball, Federer would
return serve on the half-volley, rushing the server.
The tactic gave Federer an extra dimension and put doubt into the
mind of his opponents, who were never sure if and when he would try
But it seems that the SABR may have also been the catalyst for the
improvement in Federer's backhand that was so instrumental in
helping him to Australian Open victory at the start of this year,
and looks set to spearhead his assault on Wimbledon.
At 35, after six months out following knee surgery, Federer stunned
the tennis world with his victory in Melbourne, but it was the way
he attacked his backhand, especially in the final against Rafael
Nadal, that was such a revelation.
"Roger did something unbelievable and I believe that it is true that
his backhand is great now," Nadal told a small group of reporters
last month in Monte Carlo.
"But in my opinion his return is one of the biggest improvements."
Craig O'Shannessy, the analyst for the ATP Tour, believes shortening
his backswing to play the SABR helped take Federer’s backhand – and
his backhand return - to another level.
"With the SABR it was the half-volley and insanely short in the
stroke whereas on (the regular) return, he's letting it come at him
but it's essentially a similar, very short blocking rebounding
stroke," O'Shannessy told Reuters.
"The size of the backswing gets Roger in trouble. Now he's removed
that size, it hasn't taken anything away from the speed, he's still
accelerating into contact really well and he's taking the ball a
little earlier so he actually has more speed to work with, taking it
early with that ball coming out of the court."
For so long, Federer's rivalry with Nadal was marked by the
Spaniard's ability, especially on clay, to attack the Federer
backhand, forcing him to slice returns and put him on the defensive.
In the Melbourne final, Federer barely sliced a return at all,
driving backhand after backhand, 14 of them for winners, including
eight in the deciding set as he won his record 18th grand slam
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Roger Federer of Switzerland hits a backhand against Rafael Nadal of
Spain (not pictured) in the men's singles championship of the 2017
Miami Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY
In the 2017 Australian Open, Federer hit 76 backhand
winners in seven matches, compared to 37 in 2016.
He made 80 percent of returns on the backhand side, more consistent
than the forehand (72 percent), which, together with his serve, has
so long been a big weapon for Federer.
While the use of a racket with a slightly bigger head size has
undoubtedly helped add consistency, Federer says practice and
confidence have also been key.
"I think (it has helped) a lot because it's been solid, I can count
on it," Federer told the ATP. "I think I've really gotten confident
through a lot of practice at the end of last year and then in
matches and I was able to drive the backhand more than I did before.
"I'm coming over the backhand return much more, which allows me to
enter the point in a much more aggressive fashion, and it seems to
be working so far."
In Melbourne, Federer consistently focused on going cross-court with
his backhand, exploiting the space Nadal sometimes leaves on the
O'Shannessy said the technique on the return has transferred
perfectly to the backhand in rallies.
"When you commit to that strategy it becomes cleaner, it becomes
simpler and because you're practicing it all the time it's getting
better," he said.
"He's seeing instant results from it, he's playing shorter points,
so then what happens is he has that feel of that blocking,
aggressive backhand from the return, and he simply copies and pastes
it into a rally."
(Editing by Gareth Jones)
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