Federer and Grass: A Special Relationship Part 2
In the previous article, we showed the extent of Federer’s success on the surface. Now, we analyse the mechanics of the swiss superstars’ game to suggest why he plays so well on grass.
The cornerstone of the 20 times grand slam champions game, the potency of Federer’s serve is only accentuated on grass. While Federer does not have the biggest serve, his accuracy, and spin, help it to be even more of an effective motion. The speed of the surface, added to the angles he creates allows for more aces, and simpler points, on this surface for the swiss maestro. This is backed up by the stats. In his entire career, Federer had won 77% of his first service points. On grass, this increases to 79%.
However, more importantly than any of this is the way Federer uses his serve under pressure. How often, with Federer break point down, have we seen him hit an ace? When Federer’s game starts to break down, as his backhand occasionally as in big matches over his career, invariably it is his serve that will keep Federer competitive in a match.
The Net Game
Federer has always been proficient at the net. At the beginning of his career, Federer would serve and volley a lot of the time, but slowly moved back over his career to be more of a baseline player. Under Stefan Edberg however, Federer made a conscious effort to come forward more. He is now reaping the benefits of this tactic now, which is especially evident on the grass.
The fast surface allows for more serve and volleys from Federer, which is a safer tactic on grass. Federer will also hit more old school chip and charge plays, due to the low bouncing slice approach shot that can set up a simple volley.
Speaking of the chip and charge, Federer probably has the best slice on the tour. On grass this is even more effective, as the ball barely bounces off the surface. Federer hits a higher percentage of slice backhands on the grass courts than anywhere else and will often cause a lot of difficulty for his opponents with this shot. It is not the most stunning of shots in the Federer repertoire, and will not get the most attention, but look out for this key shot on the grass courts of Wimbledon.
Hiding the Weaknesses
Although Federer is arguably the greatest of all time, he does have a few weaknesses, which the grass courts helpfully hide, another reason why he has had so much success on this surface.
One of the problems Federer has faced, particularly against Nadal, is with hitting the high backhand. Especially on clay, with the ball kicking up from the dirt, Federer has often been pinned in his backhand side, being forced to hit higher, defensive shots. This is not his game style, and eventually he has been mentally and physically worn down. On grass, this tactic is less effective as a high backhand on this surface will often be at a more comfortable shoulder height rather than head height. This helps Federer to stay aggressive and mentally fresher.
Another challenge Federer has faced, with the other members of the big four especially, is their incredible defensive skills. Although Federer’s defence is strong, it is the weakest of the four. Therefore, when playing on slower surfaces against these top players, Federer will often struggle, as he will lose more of the defensive points than his opponents. On the quicker grass courts however, this element of the game has less importance, as it promotes aggressive play. This means Federer’s rivals cannot show off their defensive skills as effectively.
Finally, the fast surface allows Federer to finish off the points quicker than on any surface. At an age of 36, this means he can save his energy going through a tournament and maintain his freshness.