The Tony Roche Tip Federer Will Never Forget
In order to help maximise his all-court game, Roger Federer once turned to an Aussie with one of the best all-court games in tennis history.
Tony Roche, winner of the 1966 Roland Garros title and 13 Grand Slam men’s doubles crowns, utilised a knifing slice backhand to keep the ball low, often forcing his opponents to cough up soft replies that he knocked off for winning volleys. When Federer and Roche worked together from 2005-2007, Roche showed him how to use the slice as an attacking weapon.
The Aussie would be proud to see the fruits of his labour on Friday at the US Open. Federer used the tactic to perfection in his third-round win against Daniel Evans. The Brit struggled to read the pace and bounce of Federer’s slice, allowing the third seed to then attack with his forehand and control most of the rallies in a dominant victory.
“It's the only shot I could hit when I was younger because of lack of power in my shoulder. I struggled to come over when I was little,” Federer recalled of his slice backhand. “Then as I grew stronger, my backhand started to evolve in terms of my coming over the backhand. But my base, in a way, has always been my slice.
“I was able to lift it up one more level when I started working with Tony Roche, who in my opinion had one of the great slices ever. He explained to me how important it was to punch the ball, how important it was to not have just a defensive slice but also an offensive one, and one with variation that sets up stuff beautifully.”
Being able to adjust on the fly, as Federer did with incorporating more slices against Evans, requires muscle memory to take over and the mind to switch off. But Federer has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal after all of his years on Tour, from how the speed of the court has changed in a particular stadium to how humidity might affect the way a ball bounces. Having too much information can make it difficult not to overanalyse.
Asking a player with as much on-court intelligence as Federer to stop thinking might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a challenge which he is embracing. He hopes that fusing his teenage exuberance with the grounded approach of a 38-year-old can lead to his first title in New York since 2008.
“You start looking into [circumstances] and thinking about it too much as you get older. Where maybe when you're young, you're just like, I'm just going to go out there and smash winners. I'm just going to go for it,” Federer said. “This is where I always try to remain young in my mindset and think back to how I used to think and take the positives out of that. [But] also don't do the things when you were young like underestimate the opponent, actually respect the conditions. Prepare well if it's hot, prepare if it's windy, not to get frustrated.
“But overall, obviously experience is a good thing to have on your side."
Federer knows that adaptability is the key to Grand Slam success. He had a late-night finish to his opening round in New York and won his next two matches in the afternoon. It’s possible he’ll need to flip-flop once again and headline the night session for his fourth-round clash against No. 15 seed David Goffin of Belgium or Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. But after 21 years on Tour, there’s little that will faze him.
“That’s tennis. It’s entertainment and the show must go on,” he said. “But I'm still going to walk out even if they schedule me at 4:00 in the morning.”