Monday, July 09, 2012

Backhanded complement

When Roger Federer was ruling the roost, his backhand was a fairly simple stroke, harking back to gentler times of serve-and-volley tennis.  While he was quite capable of the top-spin version, he much preferred to set up points by slicing it back with varying levels of spin and then running around it to unleash his forehand, once described by John McEnroe as the "greatest shot in tennis".

Then came Rafael Nadal, who spit that slice back with disdain and forced Federer to work hard on it.  The next time you watch Nadal play Federer you can see for yourself that Nadal does not serve to the Federer forehand on his second serve, especially on the Ad-court.  At all.  It's just a constant dose of backhand, backhand, and more backhand.

There are two ways in which a sports great can respond to adversity.  One, he can stubbornly refuse to change, content in the knowledge that whatever skills he possess have served him really well and brought him to the pinnacle of his sport and, in the long run, it will work more often than not.

Or two, he can decide to revamp that weakness and work on it so long and hard that it becomes a weapon.

Federer's game has always been a thing of beauty, as much for the anachronistic one-handed nature off both wings, especially the backhand, as for the fluid way in which he plays it.  But now, there is a new steel behind that backhand.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Roger Federer backhand of 2012.  Check out this rally from the third set of the 2012 Wimbledon semi-final against Novak Djokovic.  Federer puts on a clinic on the various ways in which the one-handed backhand can be played.  Enjoy!

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