Federer on the front foot to US Open

Roger Federer will arrive in Flushing Meadows this week with would-be contenders for the US Open crown on notice - he has form and a new tactic in his repertoire.

Coming off a seventh Cincinnati ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title, he beat his two highest-ranked opponents - Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic - back-to-back without the loss of a set. The manner in which he beat the pair had many noting a highly aggressive return approach, particularly off the second serve.

It is risky and requires sharp reflexes and a good read on the opponent’s serve. But in the final against World No. 1 Djokovic, in particular, it was a game plan that paid off handsomely. Cincinnati’s fast hard courts were ideally suited to the Swiss taking the ball as early as possible off the return.

What started out as a bit of a joke, practising half-volley returns, soon became part of an aggressive new tactic to rob his opponents of time, rushing them into playing passing shots where they would typically be getting into position after their serve to take the initiative in a hard-court baseline exchange.

In the Cincinnati final against Djokovic, Federer employed the tactic early and often and again at a critical stage in the first-set tie-break. "I was looking forward to doing it again as the set progressed, but I wasn't seeing that many second serves and didn't feel right in some of the points,” Federer said in his champion's press conference. “So I thought in the tie-break this is the time to do it. I thought he was going to go backhand and he went big forehand. So I had to lunge and had the perfect timing on it. Ended up going in and putting him under pressure.

“That was my plan, to keep asking question after question. I'm happy it worked out very well. On the return I was able to mix things up very nicely, and on my serve I was rock solid.”

Against Djokovic, Federer won seven of the 11 points where he employed the tactic. He did not drop serve the entire tournament, giving him the buffer needed to experiment on return.

“If you don't get broken... you can do whatever you want on the return games,” he said. “I was trying to do that again in the final, but I was happy I took care of my serve throughout the match.”

Constantly swamping the net off the return, Federer had Djokovic’s baseline tactics rattled. He won 20 of the 27 net approaches for the match and played nearly 50 per cent of his shots throughout the tournament from inside the baseline. So will we see more of the tactic at the US Open?

“I'll still go back and return some from far back as well,” he said. “I'll always mix it up and make it I guess uncomfortable for my opponent. I'm not going to play the way they like it.  I'll always come out and make it an athletic match or make it uncomfortable in the sense that they don't know what's coming.

“Can't always do it. Some surfaces allow you to do it better than others, but in Cincinnati it worked out well. Let's be honest, I didn't do it on every single second serve, but I was very aggressive… and I am happy to see that actually it’s also a way forward for me, because for quite a long time my career I was very content to chip it and be aggressive with the forehand.”

Rafael Nadal, who is not in Federer's half of the US Open draw, said this week that he did not believe the second seed would use the tactic frequently at the US Open.

"I saw he was playing fantastic in Cincinnati... He was feeling the ball great. But I don't know if that works. He's doing fantastic without doing that. That's too much. That's something I don't believe he'll be doing that often."

Date: 28th August 2015, Source: ATP


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