2014 - 2016: The Neo All-courter
The 2014 resurgence of Roger Federer was almost universally deemed by knowers of such to be due to a new style of play. With a bigger headed racket, Federer has injected a new unprecedented level of aggression an proactivity into his game - so the conventional argument goes. True, there is indeed a drastic change in Federer's game from 2014 onwards, but this is not unprecedented. What Federer is doing since 2014 is to try to shorten the rallies as much as possible, step into the court as much as possible and hit as many angled shots as possible - basically being disruptive as possible from the very start. This is a gameplay that has stuck with him during his most successful years from 2004 to 2009, before the rise of Nadal and his change of approach derailed such period of untouched power. Watching and comparing Federer's matches against Murray in the 2013 and 2014 Australian Open championships would be a good way to have a feel for - if not understand - the difference in approach undertaken by Federer for those two years.
In the 2013 semifinal match, Federer was mainly holding out against Murray from the baseline. The rallies were long, and by playing Murray's game despite his natural gifts, Federer lost a painful five-setter as Murray - being the much younger and fitter one - was able to last through the rallies better than Federer. In 2014, it was a completely different match. Federer played much closer to the baseline. Although this is not very obvious from your television screen, even a few inches or even mini-inches makes a huge difference to the amount of aggression you can bring to your opponent. By standing much closer, Federer was able to take more of the balls on the rise, giving his opponent much less time to get to the ball - a counter-puncher's nightmare. By stepping in and taking the balls on the rise, Federer was also able to hit a wide variety of angles. This is so due to the removal of the effects of the spin and weightiness that would be felt when the ball rises to a certain height. Spin and weight makes it hard for the receiver to receiver to direct the shot in any way but straight back along the path played by the 'sender'. Preempting this would require stepping in and hitting on the rise, doing so on a consistent basis unfortunately requires a level of talent that most professional players (even the Big Four) lack. Though he beat Murray in four sets during that tournament, he did not bring such level of performance to his semifinal match against Nadal. We argued that he could have (if not, why could such a change in 2017 ever happen), and that the problem was mainly psychological (a very Federer thing, in fact). Throughout 2014, he has applied such neo all-courter style to productive effect, reaching the Wimbledon finals and US Open semi-finals. In 2015, we noticed a jump in the intensity of Federer's renewal, again to productive effect. He reached the finals at the Wimbledon and US Open championships of that year. An interesting addition to this renewal is the SABR (sneak attack by Roger Federer), which entails the taking of the serves of the opponent at the service line. We were impressed not so much by the daring required to use this shot in a professional setting, but for the unsurpassable level of hand-eye coordination needed. This is something only talent can give. 2016 was slightly more dim for Roger Federer - he reached two semifinals - and because of the knee injury which he suffered throughout the last half of the season. However, Federer fans at that time did not have to wait long for Roger Federer to drop a massive surprise and feat of resurgence, yet again!
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