Why Roger Federer Should Not Always Come to the Net
Why Federer should not always come to the net
Roger Federer Vs. John Isner
Paris Masters- 2015
This is the first time that I have written a match analysis, or match review. I do not plan on doing this the way most match analyses are done. For instance, I am not going to break down any particular points that were played, or point to net points won, or even winners vs. unforced errors. For me, there are larger themes at play in most competitive matches and I think that is the more interesting topic. And this match-up between Federer and Isner is no different.
As many people are well aware by now, Federer has gone full bore into this new strategy of pushing forward into the net. And as many people have pointed out, this has largely been a favorable endeavor for him, however, there are not so obvious down-sides that many have missed. As someone who was trained to come to the net exclusively, I know a thing or two about the potential down-sides that I believe effected the outcome of this particular match.
When coming forward to the net we as tennis players are hoping for certain scenarios to play out in our favor. One of which being that our opponent, knowing that we are going to come forward and force them to hit a passing shot, will press, or go for too much.
Federer has seen much success with his recent strategy change because many of his opponents are rightfully scared of his new tactics. It is very different for Federer coming forward when he is doing so willfully and purposefully. There was a time when Federer was coming forward often against Nadal because Nadal was just too strong for him from the baseline. That is not a good time to come forward because his opponent could smell the desperation. And even though Federer was coming forward under his own accord, Isner did the right thing and did not freak out. Isner kept his composure and at least made Federer play shots instead of giving away points going for too much, like most players would.
Another thing that a tennis player hopes for when coming to the net is that the timing of their opponent will be disrupted. There is a rhythm to a baseline to baseline rally that can be almost soothing at times. Many baseliners find that they can play their best when they can sink into this tempo and hit lots of rally shots which can help them find their form.
And while this has been true for Federer against most of his opponents, it does not work as well against someone like Isner. Isner is not looking to play lots and lots of shots. Isner is looking to end points quickly. Isner likes to strike hard and as early on in a point as he can. Because of this Isner is very used to playing with no rhythm, and was not at all distraught by the fact that Federer was also trying to shorten points.
One potential downside for Federer moving on in his career if he continues to utilize this net rushing strategy is that he himself will not able to settle into a rhythm. Even though this will hurt his opponents abilities to play well, it may also impede on Federer’s ability to find his own game, say, should he not start out a match in top form, which is more and more likely as he ages.
The last thing that a tennis player hopes for when coming forward to the net is that it will effect the opponent physically in a unique way. Normally, baseliners have a flow to their movements, and are more physically ready to play extended rallies requiring more cardiovascular endurance. By coming to the net and forcing the opponent to track down a volley, a baseliner will be forced to use more quick movements, will be forced to get down lower for shots, and will have to generate more power of their own as a volley does not typically have much power behind it.
I hope by now that it has become abundantly clear that Isner is not a typical baseliner, and that even this aspect ended up helping Isner’s chances in this match. Isner already trains for quick, forceful points. He does so because he cannot and will not be able to out-rally most of the ATP top 100 point-in and point-out. He is forced by his size to end points quickly. Most of Isner’s opponents are aware that they will have a very hard time breaking serve, but that they will also probably have an easy time of holding serve. What typical opponent of Isner will do, is use the time when they are serving to try and wear out Isner. Serve some slow ones out wide and make him run down a shot or two. By coming forward and shortening the points, Federer made no strides at getting to the Isner legs. By the end of the third set Isner was still very much fresh. That is a flawed strategy against someone who is so easily tired simply because of his size.
So as you can see, a normal opponent on a normal day, Federer has a great strategy. But there will always be downsides to having a one-sided strategy. If you are going to come forward, and come forward no matter what, you will need to expect that some players will actually like that, and not loath it like most. There will even be times when someone who is normally petrified of this tactic, will just be hitting their passing shots extremely well, and an adjustment will need to be in order.
The Federer of old was the best at making mid-match adjustments. Federer used to spend the time to figure out what exactly was the best strategy for each individual opponent. By trying to force feed a specific strategy and use it against every single player, Federer will continue to have inexplicable losses such as this one. In my opinion this is a calculated risk that Federer is saying he is willing to make. He believes that while he may end up losing some matches like this one, or he may lose early on in a major here and there, that by implementing this type of strategy on a permanent basis that he gives himself the best chance possible of winning major number 18 (and he was almost right twice this year).
I certainly hope he is right because it is certainly more exciting to see Federer come to the net. One of the upsides of coming to the net is that everyone now-a-days is a baseliner, so if you are a net rusher you get the benefit of not having to adjust to anyone you play, while everyone you play has to adjust to you. I just hope that in the future Federer will be more judicial about when to come forward against those players who might benefit from it, such as the winner of this match, John Isner.