Believe it or not, Roger Federer has surpassed yet another milestone in his endlessly illustrious career.
In his otherwise straightforward 6-3, 7-5 victory over World No.1 Novak Djokovic in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Swiss legend hit his 9,000th ace – making him just the fourth player to accomplish such a feat in the Open Era.
ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) February 28, 2015
While Federer lacks the key traits of his fellow “9000 Club” members – the raw muscle mass or service pace of Andy Roddick and Goran Ivanisevic, or even the towering height of Ivo Karlovic – he has somehow managed to find his way in history’s elite company of ace-makers.
What is it, then? that has made one of tennis’ greatest ever players also one of tennis’ greatest ever servers? This week’s #SaturdayNightShots takes a look.
Roger Federer saves set points to beat Novak Djokovic 63 75 for 7th title in Dubai. Serve, as usual, was there when needed.—
Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) February 28, 2015
As noted by above by TENNIS’s Steve Tignor, Federer’s serve has been there when needed it more often (see: 2003-present) than not (see: 2013) throughout his career. It would be redundant to list his long list of tennis achievements, but every achievement starts with a point. Each of those points starts with a serve. Federer has predicated his distinctly elegant attacking game on a serve whose effectiveness comes from its technical perfection.
Federer’s serve is a fluid, powerful and utterly hitch-less delivery. The take back of his racquet follows the motion of his medium-height ball toss. As he brings the racquet back, he places a heavy portion of his weight back onto his legs. As he swings to hit the ball, he launches his weight into it to generate high pace, while his swing is compounded by a gentle flick of the wrist to add shape to the shot.
A full follow-through completes what is arguably the most efficient service motion in the game.
To be sure, the serve is the one shot of which a player is in complete control. Unlike when hitting a forehand, he doesn’t have to adjust his stroke to account for an opponent’s spin. Unlike a volley, the pace of passing shot doesn’t play a role. A serve is grounded completely in technique and mental strength, which is why it is arguably one of the most important shots in the game.
Federer’s mastery of the shot manifests itself in his results.
The 33-year-old father of four’s longevity is a testament to his relatively faultless first serve delivery; there is so little that can go wrong that he doesn’t need to compensate physically. The shot that has undergone little transformation over the course of his career. Only in 2013 – when social media spelled out Federer’s inevitable retirement in big bold letters – his lower back issues caused service struggles; unable to lean weight back and into his shots hindered both first and second serves, he was suddenly disabled from fulling imposing his game.
Post-injury, however, the current World No. 2 reestablished himself on the back of his peak serve and forehand patterns, allowing him to reach another Grand Slam final and claim several more tournament wins. His win over No. 1 Djokovic on Saturday is evidence of the ageless efficiency of his game, punctuated by his 9000th ace.
The numerous hits for Federer’s ageless ace-maker are as follows:
Placement: Federer’s natural feel of the ball off his racquet factors into his serve. He can hit any corner of the service box with ease. He can also draw an opponent out wide or surprise them down the T, allowing him to put a foot forward in dictating rallies or to put away a weak return with a volley winner.
Variety: Flat, slice, kick – the Swiss Maestro can do it all. Kick serves make it difficult for one-handed backhanded opponents to return, while his taller opponents struggle with flat body serves. The slice on his second serve is of particular asset, protecting his service even in the tightest of moments.
Pace: Federer may not clock 140 mph serves as other tour “servebots” may, but the speed of his first and second serves are well above the average, and is a key ingredient in the formula of his world-class service.
Disguise: Perhaps the greatest aspect of Federer’s serve is that he can hit approximately nine different serves off of the same ball toss. While most players tend to toss the ball in slight deviations to facilitate the spin they wish to employ, Federer’s are all almost identical, making it extremely difficult to read until the ball leaves his racquet. Given the placement, variety and pace of the shot, disguise furthers the great effect of the serve.
Technique: Because Federer is so technically sound, there are less pieces that can fall apart, particularly in tense moments. The ball toss is at a medium height and the motion is the same almost every time; nerves – if Federer still gets them at this point in his career – rarely undermine the serve’s mechanical parts.
Too many options? (Is this even a thing?)
What do you think of Federer’s serve? Sound off in the comments!