The Many Styles of Roger Federer (Part 1)

We all know about the inexhaustible variety of shots that Federer is able to bring to display within a single match. The neat back-hand drop shot, the loopy semi-lob, the inside-out forehand, the inside-in forehand ... you name it. What has gone pretty much unnoticed by tennis critics and amateurs alike is the rich versatility that Federer has displayed across the entire span of his career so far, when his playing style is concerned.. Perhaps human beings are too myopic and that is huge problem for many reasons the subject of which merits another article in another blogspace. Let's explore what those playing styles are.

2001-2003: Serve-and-volley, or baseliner?

The time from 2001 from 2003 was an interesting period for the world of professional tennis. Big changes were taking place in how professional courts were generally surfaced, which consequently led to a significant change in the way the balls typically, which along with drastic racket technology changes during and from that point in time, gave birth to a revolution (if we may) in common playing styles and techniques. For a long while until that time, the balls travel faster and bounce higher. Thus the serve-and-volleyers predominated. In fact you could say that Pete Sampras, Tim Henman, Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic (to name only the most famous ones) were the last bannermen of the serve-and-volleyers. Bucking this trend and leading the revolution were the likes of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt. And Federer, who stayed true then to his ever-versatile nature, is both, depending on the circumstance. On the grass courts of Wimbledon Federer typically adopts the serve-and-volley game style for the reason of the fast and low ball travel favoring such a style. This is most evident in his fourth round match against Pete Sampras in 2001, when his game-style would seem to us alienly un-Federer. Was he not usually a baseliner from what we know. On the hard courts, he typically plays from the baseliner, for the higher bounce would mean that there would be more time to return the ball at a comfortable height, thus disadvantaging anyone who finds most comfort in being around the net. Such gameplay was played to good effect against Patrick Rafter in the quarter-finals of the 2001 Sony Ericsson Open, which although ended up with Federer losing, was a good demonstration of the vulnerability of volleyers in the new era of tennis. The loss, we argue, was more due to Federer's inexperience rather than a fault of his gameplay. What makes this all the more intriguing, or perhaps amazing, is that Federer (according to our study of tennis during that period) was the only top player who actively and comfortably adapts his game style to the situation!

In an era of specialists, you're either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist...or you're Roger Federer. - Jimmy Conners

The above quote from Jimmy Conner can be adapted and applied to Federer too when his changes in game style are concerned. An interesting point to add from us is that it was only this period in Federer's career that there was such ambiguity or amorphousness as to what Federer's desired or core playing style is. As would be seen in the later editions of this article series, Federer took on distinctive styles and stuck on to them for long periods of time before moving on to the next. Perhaps this early amorphousness is mainly a function of his as yet undeveloped game? Or is it more due more to structural forces, in the sense that the serve-and-volley game has gone practically un-viable and thus has been taken over completely by the baseline game? Or is it a combination of both, or is there some other reason? These are interesting questions to ponder. For now though, we end our discussion here for now

To be continued..

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