To the casual tennis audience, it may seem as if a tennis shot is a product of the arm, to swing the racquet and hit the ball. Given how this is the sport’s very foundation, it’s a fair assumption.
Yet in the world of professional tennis, the shot starts from the bottom up or, rather, from the feet up. So, for this week’s #SaturdayNightShots, TTI will be looking at looking at the foundational footwork of one of the most noteworthy and acclaimed arsenals of shots in the history of the sport.
When it comes to Roger Federer, very few compare at all, let alone in the footwork department. All of the aesthetic comparisons and clichés have been exhausted on the “Swiss Maestro” and his “graceful”, “artistic”, “dancer-like” footwork.
Federer’s movement, particularly in aggressive, dictating positions, is exceptional both technically and visually. When he’s not in that aggressive, dictating position, his footwork gets him there. The artsy words often used by commentators to describe his footing may become tiresome, but they aren’t inaccurate. Contrasted with a player like Djokovic, whose exceptional movement around the court resembles that of a gymnast, Federer glides on court like a figure skater.
If the Swiss’ most devastating forehanded weapon is a bullet, his footwork is the gun that shoots it. With quick and nimble steps, he’s able to step around his relatively weaker backhand with more frequency than most of the tour and dictate with one of the most technically sound and overwhelming shots in the game. Federer’s feet have been at their swiftest this week in London, particularly in his 6-0, 6-1 dismantlement of Andy Murray in the group stage – one of many dismantlings in the tournament.
But when he does have to play a backhand, he rarely gets jammed up as, say, a player like Milos Raonic might on his. Hitting a one-handed backhand typically requires a closed stance. The pace and placement of Federer’s feet are so adept that it allows him to hit the sharpest of slices and most stylistic of backhands.
Roger will always be looking to hit a forehand, and he can do so with ease. As plenty of analytic graphics have shown, short attackable balls allow him to set up for point-deciding forehands. But the main difference between the Fed and the rest of the tour – save , perhaps, Rafael Nadal – is that his exceptional footwork stretches the boundaries of what is considered short and attackable. Even when a ball lands even just a meter inside the baseline, he is able to run around and hit forehands in an effort to sway the point his way.
It seems pedantic to try and find at the negative aspects of one of the most lauded aspects of one of the most lauded player’s game, yet, as is customary, here is the list of hits and misses for Federer’s footwork.
| HITS |
-Quickness. Fast footwork makes his movement easier, allowing him to hit more forehands and dictate more than the average player. Better movement as a result of fast footwork also contributes to a greater defensive game and – most importantly – turning defense to offense.
-Precision. The placement of Federer’s feet is near perfect, and is the foundation upon which he builds his extremely technical groundstrokes off of. It’s not just that his footwork lets him hit forehands, it that it lets him hit good forehands.
-Aesthetic. It just looks nice, doesn’t it? He’s light on his feet and the whole “gliding” comparison isn’t without merit.
| MISSES |
-I think Federer has tripped maybe once in his entire career. So there’s that.