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by Larry Hall
Switzerland's Roger Federer is a tennis genius. This statement is not new or earth-shattering. Yet it is demonstrably true, and not just in the evidence of an amazing set of career accomplishments. Federer is an amalgam of athlete and artist. His game defies logic and reason, though his superb technique is built on both - and the accumulated wisdom of generations of tennis coaches. His game is predicated on speed, efficiency and variety. Much of his game, even most of it, revolves around the twin secret Federer weapons. These are the feet and the eyes. Nobody has quicker feet, more fluid footwork or a superior ability to watch the spinning yellow ball. It is not about eyesight, mind you, but the habit of really watching the ball and what this does for your anticipation on the tennis court. The other pieces of the Federer puzzle are also important and telling, but let us start with these two vital attributes.
The Swiss legend appears to be gliding when he moves about the court, though he is in fact running, turning and stopping. Federer lacks special jets or platforms. He does not have more energy than other pros, though he is certainly fitter than many. What 'Fed' does is incorporate whole mini-routines of programmed step sequences into his game. Of course, these are all adapted to the situation at hand; he does not push a button and engage Sequence 27. What the great Fed does do is move immediately and swiftly towards the spot where he expects to intercept the opponent's ball. He moves naturally and gracefully, altering his path slightly as his eyes hone in more precisely on the exact landing zone. As he approaches, his steps adjust to establish the correct body position, or 'platform', for his own shot. And then he is there, in position to swing. It may look like magic, but it comes down to: 1) watching the ball off the opponent's strings, 2) moving immediately toward the spot where Federer has calculated the ball will land on his side of the court, 3) running naturally toward the spot, and 4) knowing when to 'cut' his steps and take the final, 'little' steps to set up his hitting platform. Our brand-new e-book “Tennis Unraveled” dishes on the real secrets to excellent tennis: http://bit.ly/d1Uflw
Roger Federer watches the ball. This is a simple and obvious statement, no real insight here. In simplicity there is truth, though, and in watching the ball into his strings on every shot, Federer obeys the first law of sports. What is remarkable is the consistency with which his eyes stay on the ball until his strings have contacted it. Watching the ball facilitates quick reaction and fluid footwork. A player who keeps his eye on the ball is priming his mind and keeping the cranial computer active; it then instructs the body to move and react. The integration of footwork and sight is a critical aspect of advanced play; and it captures Federer's greatness as much as any other factor. Most amateur players remove their sight from the ball before contact, out of impatience and a sense of anxiety. They want to know where their shot is going and they want to be ready for the opponent's reply. This is a mistake. Federer was taught the advantages of lingering sight for clean contact. He knows that a wellexecuted stroke gives him plenty of time to recover for his opponent's next shot. He is superbly trained to follow the ball's path. Physical fitness helps trigger the footwork - without proper conditioning you won't achieve the footwork level needed. Mental fitness is the key to following the ball with your eyes. It produces alertness and awareness. This in turn provokes the necessary relaxation and confidence for great play. More about footwork, anticipation, strokework and a whole lot more here:
Does Roger Federer possess awesome physical and mental fitness? It's clear that he does. It is also obvious that Federer is grounded in top-flight tennis fundamentals. He learned most of these at a tennis academy in his native Switzerland, under the tutelage of top international coaches. His strokes are generally amazing. The forehand is a work of art, hinging as it does on his anticipation (the eyes, again) and footwork. It is a predatory sense that is honed, and gives the forehand its potency. The stroke itself is fluid and powerful: like nearly all top players Federer has the massive forearm muscle going. He has the ability to hit topspin, and the ingrained habit of adding topspin to nearly every stroke. The degree varies according to the purpose of the shot, the phase of the rally, the type of court surface and more. A particular aspect of Roger's forehand is the way he finishes across his body. Though he did not invent this cross-body finish, Federer is probably most associated with it. The cross-body finish is tied to an open-stance forehand and the application of topspin. It derives from the open stance. The old 'finish in front' mantra is from the days of flat strokes, fast surface and wooden racquets. Finishing to the side shortens the follow-through and eases the road to recovery as well. The Federer backhand is in some ways a more interesting stroke. That is because Roger's backhand was once considered weak, and other pros would attack it in the course of a match,
hoping it would 'break down' (a tennis phrase connoting dire things). He would begin to shank the backhand; as with any player, the frustration that misses would bring register with the opponent. The other player then happily capitalizes on the misfiring opponent's misery. Federer knew, of course, that players and critics alike thought his backhand vulnerable. What did he do about this flaw? He played. The great thing about a weakness in tennis is that eventually opponents give you so much practice hitting a shot that it becomes a strength. This happened with the Swiss maestro, whose backhand is now artful, varied and dangerous. The one-handed backhand of any advanced player is nearly by default an interesting stroke. It has inherent variety, especially if the player has a nice slice. Then, the slice - which is primarily an approach shot and a change-up rally shot - complements the topspin backhand. We can see this with Roger and a host of other top one-handed backhanders. Fed's backhand is probably not at the level of those top players who used the backhand as a 'kill' shot. This list includes players like French Open champ Gaston Gaudio. Britain's former top player Tim Henman had a beautiful single-handed backhand. Probably the paradigm for the modern one-hander is the multiple Major winner Ivan Lendl, whose forehand was also a thing of (devastating) beauty.
Get Fit With the P90X Workout System: http://bit.ly/cqYHQJ Federer's Serve
The Federer serve is another unsung component (relatively) of his amazing game. It features the kinetic chain illustrated better by Pete Sampras than by just about anyone in tennis history. Fed arches his back, which promotes the rotation that is a prerequisite to 'unwinding' the chain that Sampras perfected. What is really interesting about Federer's service motion is the first-serve toss location. While most pros and other advanced players toss the first serve ball about 12:30 (if your head is the center of a clock and a toss directly above it is 12 o'clock), Roger generally lays the ball just to the left of his head, or somewhere about 11:45 on the virtual clock. This produces more spin and net clearance, and forces the back arch. It may also account for some of his back problems in 2009. He rarely goes all out on the serve, which is a lesson that Sampras and others taught well. Rather, Federer stays within his margins and emphasizes placement most of the time. This increases his serve percentage and helps avoid reliance on the second serve. The old tennis truism 'you're only as good as your second serve', while basically accurate, is 'trumped' by players who regularly achieve a high percentage on first serve. This is the thing about Federer's game in general. He plays within himself. It is both a measure of his relaxed state on court and a means to maintain that state. The serve is yet another example of this savvy approach to play.
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