Without question Roger Federer has been, and still is, a breath of fresh air in the modern game. Although regarded by his peers, even in the formative years, to possess the ability to produce amazing speed of racquet head, Roger has brought an artistry to the game reminiscent of some of the legends of bygone days. We are indeed privileged to witness a game that places great emphasis, not solely on power, but equally on more subtle competitive aspects of the game.
A great tactical thinker, Roger displays perhaps a more extensive range of skills than anyone that has played the game. In an era when the ball is being hit heavier than ever before, Roger has almost single handedly been responsible for the re-emergence of some of the “touch and feel” areas of the game.
Maybe the most obvious example of this shift from uncompromising power is Roger’s slice backhand, used primarily as an offensive option, frequently challenging opponents with a “different look”, a shot with endless variety of flight path, spin and bounce pattern.
Let’s have a closer look at just one of Roger’s variations – a shot that sets up as a regulation slice only to transform into a heavy side spinning backhand, fading and breaking away down the line.
Roger has obviously made an early decision to set up for what appears at this stage to be a regulation backhand slice. There is no evidence of being in a position of disadvantage as the oncoming ball is routine. Roger’s movement pattern is very positive, both laterally and into the court. It is worth noting the wonderfully early backswing preparation as he loads up on the left foot.
Roger’s classic shoulder rotation continues, the racquet arm has been “opened” creating a correspondingly open racquet face with the racquet head above the left shoulder. The right elbow bend established in the ready position has been maintained and the left hand supports the racquet at the throat. Weight transfer into the shot has commenced.
Shoulder rotation continues as the right foot now makes contact with the court and begins to slide forwards (claycourt).
The classic preparation is complete – the hitting shoulder is lined up with the “down-the-line net post”. The right foot slide has almost finished creating excellent weight transference as the ball approaches the hitting zone. Balance is perfect with the head directly facing the ball, maximising eye contact.
Forward and downward swing commences with a slight uncoiling of the shoulders, the left hand releases the racquet throat, the hitting arm begins to straighten – note the slightly unusual position of the left foot which has splayed marginally backwards effectively acting as a brake. At this stage the preparation could still be for a regulation slice.
Captures the moment immediately after contact – perfect balance and head position are maintained. The key factor here is that, with a rapid straightening of the right elbow, the swing pattern has continued downwards and significantly left to right, effectively imparting massive side spin on the ball which has already begun to fade fractionally to the left.
Note: If the stroke had continued as “regulation slice”, the swing pattern would have been significantly more horizontal with the follow -through finishing with the racquet directed down the court. Rather than the racquet face contacting the back of the ball left to right, contact would have been under the ball imparting standard underspin.
Racquet position now is a clear indication of the severe left to right action. The vertical straightening of the arm and wrist, along with the slight leaning back from the ball, suggest drop shot or extreme short corner fade. Considering Roger’s closeness to the sideline, the fade in the air will need to be minimal.
The swing pattern is complete, body weight continues to withdraw, perfect head position – continues to face the ball. A successful outcome to this shot will result in the ball barely clearing the net, landing very short just inside the line, breaking sharply left away from the court. At best, a winning drop shot, at worst the opponent will be drawn forwards and out of court.
Just another example of the Federer artistry and tactical genius – not satisfied with using the slice backhand as a variation, he has gone to another level by developing a string of variations to the variation.
South Australian Peter Smith has 40 years experience as a Teaching Professional. Twice voted Australian Tennis Coach of the year, Peter is most widely known as the long term coach of Lleyton Hewitt. He has, however, worked with a long list of other players including former World Number 1 Doubles player and current Australian Davis Cup Captain John Fitzgerald who says, “There is a great argument to say that Peter Smith has had more influence than any coach in Australia in the past two decades in terms of producing world class players”.
Peter is the Head Coach of the Peter Smith Tennis Academy in Adelaide, South Australia
Peter has recently released an instructional DVD “The Development Stage” (also available to download in individual sections or as a complete set) – details can be found at www.virtualtenniscoach.com. This website also contains FREE 10 day coaching course and interviews with a selection of Peter’s former pupils.