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Something Old, Something New: The Evolution of Roger Federer

( [email protected] ) Sep 12, 2015 12:23 PM EDT
Major tennis championships are grueling tests for the players. The season seems to take forever. Matches can stretch long into the night. The players know each other well to the point that barring injuries or the unusual hot streak by a player, top seeds perform at the highest level, more than in most sports.
How will he do in the US Open Finals? Getty Images

Major tennis championships are grueling tests for the players. The season seems to take forever. Matches can stretch long into the night. The players know each other well to the point that barring injuries or the unusual hot streak by a player, top seeds perform at the highest level, more than in most sports.

Despite these historical realities, from time to time smart players and their coaches either innovate or resurrect older tactics-and, in doing so can achieve giant successes. In the wonderful match between Serena and Venus, Venus changed her entire game plan-and, took a page from her sister Serena and chose to "amp up" her attack and try to force the issue with ferocious ground strokes. She almost stole the match-but, Serena was able to withstand the surprise onslaught in time to recover and win the third set.

Roger Federer has been a huge and enduring champion for many years-to the point that his opponents know his game as well as he knows theirs. His opponents assume that he will play the all court game, serve and volley, and someone will play a little better (or a little worse) and that will decide the match. But, this 2015 US OPEN Tennis Championship is seeing a still further version of "something new."  The announcers are calling it SABR"-an acronym for "Sneak Attack By Roger."  Federer has reached back into tennis' past to the early days of lawn tennis when bad bounces often determined who won the point. Crafty players stepped in on the opponent's serves to take the ball on the rise and to seize the momentum of the point.

Roger and his team realized that this old tactic could be revised in today's hard-court game by an athletic player with quick hands. So, they prepared for the Open with a new tool in his kit-SABR. Roger has several elements in his favor by using this tactic: first, is the surprise. A good chip-and-charge can deflate the server-especially one who relies on a dominant serve. Next, there is a psychological advantage in that the server begins to watch Roger out of the corner of his eye and ends up distracting himself from the smooth rhythm required to smash a serve at 125 mph or more. Roger has the third advantage of practicing this one-two punch in the time leading up to the Open--where opponents may see the tactic but have had no time to practice a counter strategy.

Longtime fans will fondly recall Aussies like Rod Laver attacking the big servers on grass with athleticism and all court play. Those fans who never had a chance to see the great grass court players are in for a tennis treat as Roger makes his move into the semis and may well add another title to his trophy case. If so, it will be not only memorable, but it may even begin a new era for tennis that adds surprise and guile into the mix again.
Well done, Roger!