Making Roger Federer hit a backhand is not as simple as hitting a ball to the Ad court. In fact it is more likely to result in a Federer forehand, which is exactly what happened in Federer’s victory over Novak Djokovic in the final of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati Sunday.
Federer dominated Djokovic 6-0, 7-6(7) and it was his persistence to turn backhands into forehands in the Ad court that orchestrated his stunning victory. Djokovic directed 108 shots to the Ad court in the match - all intended for Federer’s backhand wing. What seemed like common sense for Djokovic was actually a beautifully disguised trap set by Federer, whose forehand is more lethal when standing in the ad court than the deuce court.
Federer turned 58 shots in the Ad court into forehands, leaving him hitting only 50 backhands for the match. It makes it hard for Djokovic to attack Federer’s backhand if Federer simply refuses to hit it. Overall, Federer hit more than two out of three (67%) groundstrokes as forehands for the match.
Federer hit more forehands standing in the Ad court (56%) than he did in the deuce court (44%) for the match. It’s often hard to pinpoint the genius of Federer but that stat is as good as any to understanding why he has spent more weeks at No. 1 than any player in the history of the game.
Federer hit three of his 10 forehand winners for the match standing in the Ad court but, more importantly, was able to control the flow and direction of the rallies and apply the most amount of pressure to Djokovic’s formidable groundstrokes.
Djokovic’s normally feared backhand produced only two winners and contributed 11 errors for the match. Six of the errors came from a Federer forehand, five of which were runaround forehands from the Swiss in the Ad court.
Djokovic’s forehand returned seven winners and 12 errors and also felt the pressure of Federer’s runaround forehand. Nine of the errors came from a Federer forehand and again the majority (five) were when Federer was standing in the Ad court.
Federer looks for three immediate benefits when he turns a backhand into a forehand in the Ad court.
Federer understands these concepts as well as anyone on tour and effectively only plays half a court (the Ad court) while the opponent has to respect and play the entire court. It’s almost impossible to take a backhand down the line against Federer with a neutral to defensive backhand and not be on the run on the next shot.
In the second set of the match Federer hit more runaround forehands (42) in the Ad court than deuce court forehands (27) – which were both more than the amount of backhands he hit (26).
This was not one of Djokovic’s best matches, especially in the first set where he did not win a game. He hit 17 backhands and 14 forehands in the opening set – including only five runaround forehands in the Ad court. Everything was off for the former No. 1.
Even though Djokovic relies more on his backhand than Federer does, he too looks to upgrade to hit forehands at every opportunity in the Ad court. Djokovic hit seven forehand winners and only two backhand winners for the match but was not nearly as relentless at turning backhands into forehands as Federer was.
While Federer hit 58 run-around forehands for the match, Djokovic only managed 20 – giving Federer close to a 3-1 ratio with this key tactic. This greatly impacted the number of backhands both players hit in the match.
Federer hit 53% of his forehands standing in the Ad court (58 forehands 50 backhands) while Djokovic only managed 19% in the Ad court (20 forehands – 81 backhands). This gives Federer more control of the rallies, better court position closer to the baseline, and much more use of a bigger weapon from the back of the court.
Look for Federer’s forehand, particularly hit from the Ad court, as a key tactic in his pursuit of a sixth US Open title in New York beginning next week.
Craig O'Shannessy is the founder of the Brain Game , a tennis analysis website that uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game.