During the recent ATP world tour semifinal, I listened with interest to the radio commentary between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Andy Murray came out of the blocks all guns blazing playing aggressively and going after Federer, taking an early break and controlling the match. Federer sounded a bit rattled, not too dissimilar to the start of the Wimbledon final in July. The commentators then got into an interesting discussion where they claimed that Murray was targeting the Federer backhand and Murray thought he could get to it and be almost “dismissive” of it. Federer’s one hander somehow wouldn’t cut it at the very top level they mused.

Roger Federer

My ears pricked up instantly for two reasons, the first was I thought the commentators were taking liberties; and the second was that I have heard it all before. There is no doubt the two hander has major advantages in the modern game, and has done since the 1970s when Jimmy Connnors, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert changed the game with that stroke. However, the way Federer turned the match around confirmed to me what I thought from the moment the discussion was made by the commentators.

For sure, the pundits will look to Federer’s forehand as to why he came out on top in that particular encounter. After all, the Federer forehand is deadly especially when his feet are moving well. However, what changed the match was Federer’s versatility, and his one hander was a big part of that. Federer changed the tempo of the rallies often, using the one hander when stretched to slice the ball and float it, allowing him to get back into position.
Federer also chipped the backhand return on Murray’s 2nd serve, and on breakpoint in the 1st set, used the old chip and charge tactic to great effect, breaking Murray’s serve in the process. Federer also used the backhand down the line whenever possible to stretch Murray.

These were exactly the same tactics Federer used to turn around the Wimbledon final, on that occasion Federer also drove the backhand return often and took to the net more than he usually does. When those tactics work, the forehand is the icing on the cake. The fact that Murray thought he could win the match by attacking the backhand was a mistake, a mistake many players have made over the last five or six years. Nadal’s lefty topspin has always been a big problem but other opponents hit flatter and into his hitting zone.

Roger Federer
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Rafa’s playing style

Rafa Nadal: “My game is to play with the rallies. I don’t want to play serve and volley or serve and one shot or ace. Everybody has to know that. My game is to play with intensity, play good rhythm all the time, and try to play long times without having mistakes.”

Forehand:

Rafael Nadal forehand

His heavy spin forehand is one of the heaviest shot in today’s tennis. It’s the central component of his game, allowing him to dictate the play from the baseline.
Nadal forehand shot rotates at an average of 3200 times a minute (2700 for Roger Federer). Being given that he plays left handed, the spins come onto the racquet different to what players practise all of the time. Lately he tried to reduce the spin in order to win more winners, especially on hard courts.

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