© Getty Images

Roger Federer has improved the way he strikes his backhand and is now the third best on ATP World Tour in 2017 for break points won.

Roger's 10,000 Break Point Chances

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers explains how Federer is converting more break points

Roger’s backhand return. It used to get picked on. It used to misfire and shank and generally underperform relative to the genius of the rest of his arsenal.

And now, all of a sudden, it’s a beast. The most under-rated part of Roger Federer’s game throughout his illustrious career is now the main attraction.

“I am just able to step into the court much easier than I ever have,” Federer said in a post-match interview at the BNP Paribas Open last week, after defeating Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round. “I think by coming over my backhand on the return from the get-go in the point, I can then dominate points from the start.”

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Federer’s 2017 resurgence clearly pinpoints his return game has improved, especially on break points.

Federer is ranked fifth-best in career service games won on the ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS, powered by the Infosys Information Platform, but just 41st in return games won. He drops all the way down to 71st when you look specifically at break points converted in his career, at 41.3 per cent (4321/10,462).

But not so in 2017. Not now with an iron-fist commitment to come over the backhand return.

Federer is all the way up to No. 3 on the ATP World Tour in 2017 with break points won at 50.4 per cent (59/117). This is a huge jump from his 2016 season, when he only won 39.5 per cent (92/233).

Federer won a mind-blowing 64 per cent (14/22) of his break points at the BNP Paribas Open last week. He won 54 per cent (7/13) against first serves, and an imperious 78 per cent (7/9) against second serves.

Federer may never have hit his backhand as well against Nadal as he did in their fourth-round clash last week in the desert.

Federer broke Nadal in the opening game of the match, blocking back a good backhand jam serve, and then forcing a forehand error. With Nadal serving at 1-3, 15/0, Federer raised the stakes with a cross-court backhand return winner from inside the baseline, against a first serve that was equal parts dismissive and nonchalant.

A couple of points later at break point, Federer once again moved forward inside the baseline against the Spaniard’s first serve, contacted the backhand return way out in front of his body, redirecting it straight back down the line for a return winner. Frozen rope. The shot had almost no follow through, but it did elicit seven small fist pumps as Federer walked to his court side chair enjoying a double break of serve.

On match point, with Nadal serving at 3-5, 15/40 in the second set, Federer jumped all over Nadal’s 84 m.p.h. second serve and rocketed a backhand winner straight back down the line. It was lights out for Nadal, as a glow shone brightly on Federer’s backhand return.

Federer won only 24 per cent of his return games in 2016. That’s already up to 29 per cent this year, and climbing.

Federer concedes he is having a lot fun on the court in 2017, exceeding expectations, and overflowing with confidence. Federer leads the Emirates ATP Race To London with 3,045 points - the same amount of points as No. 2 Nadal (1,635) and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka (1,410) combined.

Federer’s backhand return has caught fire, and now he is playing an intriguing global game of “catch me if you can” for the honour of year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, which will culminate at the ATP Finals in November.

More stories like this in: