Brain Game: Federer's Commitment To Net Attack Pays Dividends
Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy breaks down the Shanghai Rolex Masters final between Roger Federer and Gilles Simon.
Roger Federer’s love affair with the net is the primary reason for his resurgence back to the pinnacle of the sport. Federer defeated Gilles Simon 7-6(6), 7-6(2) in the final of the Shanghai Rolex Masters by putting up almost identical attacking numbers to his impressive semi-final victory over World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
The Swiss did not have it all his own way, saving one set point in the first set and two in the second, but his commitment to come forward was the difference maker in winning his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Shanghai. Simon presented a different, more confusing game style for Federer to unlock, but he ultimately got the job done exactly the same way as his stunning semi-final victory – by turning a possible east-west loss into a defining north-south victory.
The numbers against Simon and Djokovic are strikingly similar, showing Federer is clearly seeing the court well and is unwavering in his game style.
In both the semi-final and the final, Federer won the same amount of serve and volley points on first serves (11), second serves (2), return approaches (3) and hit an identical number of rally approaches (23). It is not a stretch to say Federer has found his winning formula, with the numbers better explaining his success than simply watching him play points.
Getting the mix right of coming forward and staying back is the key, and he is once again making opponents react to what he presents rather than the other way around. It also naturally provides a higher winning percentage, and builds a “short ball hunter” mentality that relentlessly creates pressure at the front of the court.
Federer was immediately challenged by Simon, who presents an unusual, frustrating style of play to figure out. Simon loves the baseline, hits ultra-flat groundstrokes on both sides, and is constantly changing the direction and speed of his shots. It’s a complex, yo-yo game style that feeds off pace, and often leads to the unravelling of the opponents’ game and mind. Federer lost his opening service game with a backhand and two forehand errors. Simon also scorched a flat backhand winner down the line and Federer quickly lost seven of the first eight points, committing five unforced errors in the first two games.
Simon’s weapons of confusion were dominating, and Federer was unsuccessfully rallying too much. The Swiss star only won only 22 per cent (4/18) of baseline points by the sixth game of the opening set. Federer tried to hit through Simon, which clearly wasn’t working, and provided the Frenchman with the raw power to use back against Federer.
Federer hit topspin on 85 per cent (17/20) of his backhands in the first six games, but that dropped to only 57 per cent in the next seven games as Federer used his slice backhand way more to starve power, dragging Simon off the baseline and putting the ball lower out of his strike zone. He dropped the average hit point to only 33cm above the court from this shot. Federer was clearly putting the brakes on the backhand ad court exchanges, and recommitting to the net more to finish points.
As the match developed, Federer was also looking to control the baseline with his forehand to stretch the court and give Simon some of his own medicine. Simon served for the first set at 5-4, but Federer broke back at 30/40 when he ran outside the alley in the ad court to hit a forehand return off a second serve, and then ripped two more forehands to force a backhand error and even the match. Federer won 15 of 18 points towards the end of the first set by slicing more backhands, looking for forehands and pouncing on the short ball.
Federer saved both set points in the second set by going at Simon’s more powerful, but erratic forehand. Federer’s recommitment to the net at 33 years old takes courage, as losing points coming forward always seems to sting a little harder than from the baseline. Now with a healthy body, a clear mind and a ruthlessly efficient strategy, he is once again taking the tennis world for another glorious ride.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.