There are inevitable events for which we refuse to prepare. It hurts so much. Roger Federer’s retirement announcement is undoubtedly one of them. No one wants to imagine what tennis would be like without the Swiss. But now we have to face the facts. The Swiss finally called it quits, after 20 Grand Slam titles in a nearly 25-year career. Before the final strokes of the master’s racket, from Friday during the Laver Cup, 20 minutes devoted a series of articles to one who will remain a legend of the game. Fourth and penultimate episode this Thursday, how Federer completely restored the balance of power with Nadal in the last years of his career.
In the twilight of a career, numbers matter. Roger Federer would not say otherwise, from above his 103 titles on the ATP circuit, including 20 Grand Slam tournaments, and his 1,300 victories. This is how they compete with Rafael Nadal, the Swiss will remain defeated. The Spaniard is the great winner (24-16) of this battle contested in 40 rounds, spread between 2004 and 2019. However, and that is the beauty of the sport, numbers are also not enough to tell a story. story, especially if it is written in these heights.
In recent years, Rodgeur has completely reversed the balance of power, after being a martyr for a decade. At the end of 2014, the Mallorcan led 23-10 in the so-called “Fedal”, including a terrible 15-4 in the period 2008-2014, began the most painful defeat of His Majesty’s career, in the garden of Wimbledon. , the scene of one of the greatest matches in history. Next? The Swiss lost only once in eight matches. For Roland, of course.
When attacked, the Empire strikes back
Having established these statistical bases, we will continue with what interests us. HOW?’OR’ WHAT? Because anyone who has played a little sport in their life knows this feeling of helplessness in front of an opponent who has the gift of destroying our lives. And knowing that we are not going to end it with a snap of the fingers. Let’s start with how Nadal rolled with Federer. No need to go far, the Spaniard summed it up himself in his autobiography, “Rafa”, released in 2012:
With Federer, the only thing to do is not to let go of his backhand, forcing him to hit the ball high, the racket at neck height, putting him under pressure, lowering him, thus looking for wrong and weakens his morals. »
In other words, the left-handed Rafa used his big forehand topspin to knock backhand diagonally from the right-handed Roger, who struggled to manage the length of the rebound and spin the ball through his one-handed grip.- try controlling a washing machine drum with one hand, you, too.
Unable to solve? Not for Federer, whose strength we can salute in passing, he who found the resources of 34 sweeps to disturb the whole side of his game. When the Swiss said that Nadal, with “his shots like no other”, is the player who pushes him more than anyone who questions his game, these are not words in the air. In short, the Master’s attack rests on four pillars:
In 2014, he dropped his historic 90-inch screen to switch to 98 inches. Not a small revolution, because it is necessary to manage an additional weight and new benchmarks, especially in ball control. But in the end, a power to be gained is immeasurable. “I really believe that my backhand has improved,” he said with a little glance, in 2017. “I now feel more comfortable with the racket, and I think I’ve gained confidence to get into the ball. »It should be required for the following.
- One shot earlier
In order not to suffer permanently and to give Nadal a little time to prepare his famous “lasso forehand”, Federer began to take the ball closer to the half volley. Easy to say, but extremely complicated to do. The evolution analyzed by Patrick Mouratoglou in 2017, for Eurosport: “Against Nadal, Roger played with more impact, length. Since the start of the season, he plays tighter backhands, closer to the net and his ball is faster. And by playing shorter, Federer leaves less time for Rafa to squirt his shots. That makes all the difference. He plays perfectly in tone. »
- DO NOT cut back (or in any case as little as possible when Nadal passed his first)
To discover the new attitude of Federer to his best enemy, the specialists released their most beautiful palettes of Doudouce, in NASA engineering mode. Also in 2017, Andy Murray’s former coach, Mark Petchey, made a long demonstration on the set of Sky Sports. He shows how much less Federer uses the slice to return Rafa’s serves than the other players (49% slice on the other’s first serve, 29% on the second serve vs 10% on Nadal’s first serve … and 0 % of the latter). This is called playing aggressively. For practical application, we allow you to look at this small anthology of the most beautiful points at the end of the Australian Open 2017, monument dedicated to the continuation of the power of the Swiss.
Who says offensive tactics says risk taking, and therefore unforced errors. The temptation is great, when things don’t work out the way we want, to step back to get a little rest. This is where the mind comes in. Example in Melbourne: Nadal leads 2-0, then 3-1 in the 5th set. The rest is the Swiss who speak best about it. “I tried not to forget the plan. I said to myself “Play free. Play the ball, not the opponent. Free your head, free your shots”. I should have given up but I kept fighting and believing. That’s what made me play my best tennis at the end of the match, which surprised me a little bit. »
Only clay resists this change. In all other faces, Nadal did not see the light of day, until the last Fedal in history remains, in the semi-finals of Wimbledon 2019. A true masterstroke. After paying tribute to Federer through the prism of his greatest defeat, we owe it to him to put his rivalry with the Spaniard into perspective.