Birthday Post – Should Federer be More Aggressive on the Return?

Hi friends. I hope you are all well and not too bored due to Roger’s absence in Montreal. I tried to get into the action yesterday but it just wasn’t the same without Roger. I was trying to think of something to blog about to keep us busy, but it wasn’t until today when I received a comment that I thought of something. Before I continue, you will see that I added a widget where you can now rate my posts. I like it because you can rate my post according to how trustworthy, objective, complete, and well-written it is. I’d be very interested to know what you think of my posts in these areas so please vote. It will help me to improve as a writer. As for the topic of this post, Sakhi remarked on my previous post how Haas is aggressive on his backhand and asked me whether I think the new racquet will help Roger do the same with his backhand.

Personally I think that has a lot to do with confidence, because when Roger is playing well he is pretty aggressive on that side, especially when he starts hitting down the line winners. I thought in Hamburg that he was hitting his backhand pretty well, but it was too early to tell whether it was because of the racquet. That is not what this post is about however. In my reply to Sakhi I said that I’d rather see Roger be more aggressive on his returns. To me this is a much bigger issue. For as long as I can remember Roger has chipped his returns on the backhand side. Not on every backhand return but on a majority of them. You won’t believe it but this is something I did myself when I was playing. It was probably the most brainless thing I ever did on a tennis court too. Why? Because it is a nothing shot. There is no purpose about it.

It was a lazy shot. It was also a safe shot. The chances of missing it was slim so it would keep me in the point, but I would have gained no advantage with it whatsoever. If a guy is serve-and-volleying it can be a good shot if you chip the ball low to his feet, because it has no pace and it would set you up nicely for the pass on the next shot. But how many guys are serve-and-volleying these days anyway? Tennis has become a base line game due to slower courts, coupled with racquet and string technology. So what does a chip return achieve? Yes it is a safe play that says ‘now we’re equal’ as one of my readers put it. And that is exactly what it is. It would appear as of it makes sense, because once you are on equal terms you have cancelled out the server’s advantage, right? Unfortunately it is not that simple.

The first problem with that is that today tennis is a a base line game as I’ve said earlier. The best players have very good base line games. Players like Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, and many others. Roger on the other hand falls in another category as the ones I’ve mentioned. He is much more offensive minded. Therefor it makes even less sense that he chips on the return. He is the most defensive returner of the big four. What he is in fact saying when he makes these chip returns against the base liners is ‘lets start a base line rally’. It’s the old stubborn Roger who wants to beat these guys at their strengths. These guys are simply too consistent and powerful for Roger from the base line these days. It would be much better for him to make an offensive return and try to keep the point short. Play the point on his terms.

Roger is missed in Montreal

But in fact for me the chip return never makes sense, unless the conditions are really fast and you are chipping-and-charging. Even then it’s risky with how good the guys are from the base line these days. Let me explain why I say it never makes sense. The server is expected to hold serve. As a returner you are already at a disadvantage. Why just try to get on even terms with a chip return? It is actually a very negative play. It makes a lot more sense to try and take the advantage back with an aggressive return. Sure it is a lot harder and more risky, but what do you have to lose? That’s right: absolutely nothing. The server is expected to hold serve anyway. Therefor you have nothing to lose by taking a few risks. If you keep being aggressive it will already put mental pressure on the opponent, even if you don’t break right away, because you are showing him your intentions.

And eventually your aggression is bound to pay off. Sure you will miss more returns, but you just need to string together a few good returns and boom, you have the all important break. You can keep missing and suddenly connect with a few. It only takes one game. The fact that Roger has a one-handed backhand puts him at a disadvantage on that side, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be aggressive. I found even a mishit backhand return that lands short is better than a chip return, because it shows the opponent your intentions. It makes a huge difference in the mentality of your opponent when you sit back and float the return back, compared to stepping in and coming over the ball. He is already expecting a good return by the way you set up. If you don’t connect as well as you wanted to it is still better than a negative chip return.

At the very least it puts doubt in your opponent’s mind. I saw Roger chip some more returns in Hamburg or Gstaad again and this issue has been on my mind for a long time. He actually did it when he had break back points. I understand that his confidence is low but he was already a break down. He then makes a negative chip return, not putting any pressure on his opponent. I can sort of understand him making that play when things are on even terms and he doesn’t wana take a risk on a break point, but when he is already a break down? Just too negative. For the chip return to even get him on equal terms it has to be deep in the corner or very short. If it lands somewhere in between it gives the opponent a chance to attack. Or even he worse he misses the chip return. That’s what happened at Gstaad. He either chipped it back short and the opponent took advantage, or he missed it.

I mean that is just unacceptable. Roger is not in his prime anymore where he can chip the return back and dominate from there on. His footwork and ground strokes are not what they used to be. He needs to find ways to make the points shorter, and taking more risks on the return is such a way. It is a habit he kept from his prime and it has now become a liability. This is a small thing that can make a lot of difference. Roger really needs to try and avoid those long base line rallies with these base line grinders. I am surprised Annacone has not been successful in helping Roger change this habit. I think sometimes he is looking to be more aggressive on the return but I still see him reverting to his bad habit way too often. Coupled with the new racquet, I think this is another small but significant way in which Roger can reinvent himself and become relevant again.

Should Roger be more aggressive on the return?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Last but not least, today is Roger’s 32nd birthday. So happy birthday to the GOAT and may he have good luck with his back, so that the next year is yet another memorable one in tennis for him!

Posted in Uncategorized.

31 Comments

  1. Terrific assessment, Ruan. I agree with your analysis, though I would add that being aggressive on his backhand goes hand in hand with having an aggressive return. I think we’re saying the same thing, except you’re more of an expert, since I’m just a club player! Given that 90% of players serve to Fed’s backhand, my sense is that if he had confidence in the shot overall, he is more likely to be aggressive on the return as well. I’d also like him to run around the backhand and take a big cut at the ball. That’s clearly a more risky play because you open up the court for your opponent, but on a weak second serve, that is the best offensive option. Also, he is practicing in Cincy with his new racket (look at Denis Kudla’s twitter page–he had a pic of him and Fed practicing and we see that familiarly mysterious black wilson wand on fed’s side!), so I think your comments may bear fruit sooner than you think. The bigger racket head will give him that added stretch and space to be aggressive on the return. Thanks again for your thoughtful response.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Sakhi. Yes I suppose they go hand in hand, but I think even when Roger is confident he likes to play that chip return. I’d like to see him making a clear change where he very rarely or never uses that chip return. I know it’s a big change but he is now at the point where he can afford to experiment, just like he is experimenting with the new racquet. I seriously doubt it will hurt his ability to break. It will just be something new which he will show opponents. I really believe it could make a big difference.

    [Reply]

  2. Yes, happy birthday to Roger. Heared that he is already in Cincy !!! And yes, he should continue with the bigger racquet. He shouldn’t change it back to the smaller one. He needs time with the bigger racquet. And Ru-an, whatever you think is right for Roger to win, I agree. I don’t know much about tennis, but I do know that you know how Roger should play better. Hope he does.
    And sorry to hear that both Roger and you have played with backpain.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    :-)

    [Reply]

  3. Many many happy returns of the day Roger Federer the GOAT. Wish him a long happy life and also many more birthdays to come. I also wish him an even longer tennis career!! He is really a poetry in motion or can say a magician on the court! He is Tennis God :-)
    And agreed about that chipped return and I too have felt the same as you Ruan. It was effective back then in his prime but now it has become a shot with no advantage due to the baseliners.
    I also feel he should emphasize on attacking every 2nd serve of his opponent, as that will put even more pressure on his opponent to come up with a great serve. Here’s hoping for his back ache to disappear and he comes back and plays well. Get well soon Roger as u are the greatest and grandest gift to us. It will take some time for him to adjust to his new racquet and if his back is still not in shape, its better he skips Cincinatti and comes directly to the US Open and the first few rounds should not be a problem as I feel he can get used to the courts in the first few weeks. Even if he gets knocked out early, I feel its ok as we need to see him get rid of his back problem as his confidence will be back if his injury is healed and he ll begin playing the 2012 way. What is your say here Ruan?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes Hari he needs to step into the second serve. The first serve is faster in the return is more of a reaction shot. Here I think Roger should block the ball flat instead of floating it with a slice. It’s harder to control but if he makes it he has a better chance of being in control of the rally compared to floating it back. The second serve is really where he should look to attack like you rightly say. He should make his intentions clear to his opponent. I feel sometimes he is looking to do it but it is too half-hearted, like he is just experimenting. It is the right play so he should implement it. Period.

    [Reply]

    Hari Reply:

    He executed this very well in the Wimbledon final & also in the Aus Open SF vs Murray in that 4th set tie breaker. Just needs to do it more often. And agreed with that blocking the ball flat. Djokovic and Murray are amazing returners as of now

    [Reply]

  4. You’ve aptly debated a most pertinent question, Ru-an. Yes, of course he should be more aggressive on his returns like he was before. One that Federer and team may also be thinking seriously about. I have commented here a few posts back how unbelievable his returns were at Wimbledon in 2009; both in practice and matches. We can be assured that Annacone and the others are well aware of this as is Roger. They go through performance metrics at a very granular level and statistically break down every component of a player’s game. I believe IBM has pioneered the software technology for this and a demo can be viewed at their stall during Wimbledon. On courts 3-18, which have open access to all ticket-holders, you can see the IBM computer hooked to a camera feed and translating data to actual numbers. Fascinating to observe if you have the patience to squint at the monitor for hours. On a slow and high surface, the chip return does become somewhat of a liability when not returned with sufficient depth. However, It is lethal on grass that has not aged beyond a week’s wear and tear. While useful to break-up rhythm, it has been my experience to consistently hit harder, topspin returns that do not allow the server to press forward. This of course depends on the quality of the serve and the ability itself to return. What Roger is working at, I would assume, is unhindered practise sessions on this aspect of his game. We will see how it works out later this summer. If all goes well, back and all, Roger’s return to Cincinnati- his favourite surface outside Wimbledon should also see a return of his long-lost return of serve!

    [Reply]

  5. hi
    very good point.
    his returns are very big problem for him nowdays.
    but you have to understand that the main issue with returns its anticipation and this is something he lost (with alot of other things)
    in his prime he was much more aggressive on his backhand returns just due to a good anticipation , but now ,unfortunately,everything collapse.
    and, ruan,
    belive me , im considering my self as federer no 1 fan,
    as you all.
    and not “so-called fan”

    [Reply]

  6. Hi all! Happy birthday to our Roger and many happy returns! He’s practicing so hopefully his body will allow him to come back full force in Cincy.

    Good post about the return game. I think it depends a lot on the server. For someone like Nadal, who is a consistent and fairly predictable server, being very aggressive on second serves is a good play, if Federer finds Nadal’s backhand on the return he gains a huge advantage. The chip return is ineffective against Nadal, he is so fast that he can quickly get to a neutral ball and wallop it with his forehand.

    Against big servers like Isner or Raonic, the chip return is useful because it neutralizes the power of the serve and forces the server to generate his own pace during the rally, which he may not always be able to do.

    Sometimes a return with a lot of slice can be useful to force the opponent to bend down and pick up the ball. This can be useful against Djokovic, for instance.

    And then sometimes he uses those dink returns that land very short in the opponent’s service box, these are useful against players who don’t like coming forward or tall players like Isner who have limited mobility in the front court.

    I think the key for Federer is not to always swing for the fences on returns, but to always be mindful of the opponent and mix up his return game accordingly to take advantage of the opponent’s patterns.

    Hope he can play Cincinnati and do well there!

    [Reply]

    jason Reply:

    Excellent analysis, Steve. Indeed, he found lots of success with the chip return against the big hitters. Roddick & Karlovic are prime examples for that.
    I think the chip return is the response from his natural instincts when the serve is aimed at his BH. In his prime, there is no problem with that, with the exception of one player: Nadal. But at these times, he can’t just rely on only instincts anymore. While playing by instincts can and at times will produce some otherworldly displays of greatness, a measure composure is needed — now more than ever.
    At these times, he needs to find the balance between composure and instincts. He will find this balance is and when his confidence returns.

    [Reply]

  7. Happy birthday Roger Federer, the greatest player that ever lived and of all time!! Thanks for the birthday post, Ru-an. Spot on, every word! You couldn’t have said it any clearer or better, Ru-an! Oh, how I wish Roger reads your blog! For me, I am more concerned that Roger be more consistently aggressive at least on 2nd serve returns. If I remember correctly, Roger was jumping at (especially when the roof closed) everyone of Murray’s 2nd serve and winning a lot of them. Murray was under constant pressure and started pressing and couldn’t make a lot of his first serves. That’s what aggressive ROS can do to the opponent. It makes them press too hard and lose their first serve. I’ve noticed that when Roger is aggressive on return of 2nd serve, he generally wins matches. So if Roger wants to play it safe by chipping the first serve, he should at least be aggressive on the second serve. Roger can’t be on equal terms anymore chipping balls back as you say, Ru-an. He does not have the edge anymore in baseline rallies. I don’t get why he is still so stubborn playing opponents’ game. In my observations, I notice when Roger is feeling confident, he will be aggressive on the 2nd serve. But he has to learn to be aggressive even when he is not feeling confident. He has to make things happen. Risk it. As you say, Ru-an, it is risky and may take quite a few tries but what is there to lose anyway; as you say, Ru-an, the server is expected to keep his serve. All you can do is to try to take it from him; and chipping it back ain’t doing anything but helping the server along to keep his serve!! I just love how aggressive Murray/Djoko are in their returns. Hasn’t Federer learned anything from them?!! (They sure have learnt a lot from Roger!). If I see a more consistent aggressiveness in 2nd serve return, I would be more confident that Roger is working on his ROS. But if he is not even aggressive on 2nd serve, I don’t see him being aggressive on first serve. The thing that also puzzles me is that he doesn’t do it consistently enough. Sometimes you do see some aggressive returns within a match but it comes….. and then it goes! And I don’t understand why this is so. The worst thing is watching him play the important points and he gets a really weak 2nd serve and what does he do? He chips it back! – sometimes right in the middle of the court!! Ru-an, during those moments, I am not Roger’s fan. I am cursing him left, right and center! How can he play like that?!! Or rather, how can he afford to play like that during those moments!!! He is an offensive player. Everything about his game is offensive and risky BUT his ROS which is so defensive and safe!! He didn’t need to change this part of his game as he never needed to. It’s different now. Adjustments and changes must be made to keep up. He has never been great in BP conversion, even in his peak; but nowadays, that poor stat is hurting him big time. I can’t imagine Anacone has not looked into this aspect of Roger’s game. He must have but it is not happening. But I suppose ROS is always more challenging for a SHBH. And what Udi said maybe right, I think. It’s a lot to do with anticipation. Roger may have lost some of it. But you wouldn’t have thought he lost any if you watch last year’s Wimby final, would you?!!! He was magnificent!!

    [Reply]

  8. The Roger Team needs to read your blog, Ru-an. MHO. Know he would do better in his game. Am not able to discuss the techy part of tennis, but you know I love reading your blog and all the comments that follow.
    Greetings to you Ru-an.
    Yes, Happy Birthday Roger! Wishing Roger good health and good tennis to come. He is the BEST.
    Got a good chuckle from the picture of “Roger missed in Montreal” on your post.
    Also want to tell you that I like Delpo, too, he is my second favorite to watch.
    Kindly,
    Dolores
    Dolores

    [Reply]

  9. Roger definitely needs to be more aggressive on the return, that is without question. He cannot start the rally on even terms and win it from there like he could a few years ago when he was faster, stronger, and had better endurance. I do think the chip/slice return can be effective against the right opponent though.

    [Reply]

  10. Correct analysis steve. thank you for explaining it so well. i agree totally with you and Kyle that certain returns work for certain players and roger is the master at this and having a most versatile backhand alllows him to do this. But watching his matches last few years, how many of us would say that a more aggressive outright kinda winner would have been a better choice and could have won him more matches; that a more aggressive returns mindset could have borne more fruits? IMHO, it would help his game a lot and certainly win him more matches if he has a more aggressive mindset in his returns whilst maintaining his variety. If he can mix it up in his returns, just as he mixes it up in his game playing all court tennis, he would be a real force again. As of now, roger is too predictable and too safe on his return to do much damage or break a player.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Something else I didn’t mention is Roger’s abysmal break point conversion rate. This totally debunks the notion that playing it safe with his chip return on break points works. If that doesn’t prove that he should take more risks on break points nothing will.

    [Reply]

    Pryzm Reply:

    Coming from an true neophyte who has played only a little tennis, but has a lot of love for the beautiful game and who loves learning from Ruan’s great posts and the insightful comments from the excellent crowd here:

    I suppose that a chip return can be useful against a server who’s preparing to volley, because if the return is deep enough the server will actually have to take a step backward to return it. And if that happens, then the situation could be reversed so that the returner might actually be able to assume the offensive immediately. It seems that it could be a good way to play, but only if you know the server plans to try a volley. If the server plans to play a baseline game, though, the chip return seems a lot less effective.

    So if we always knew what the server would do after serving, I think we could have a strategy to chip returns deep to the baseline and try to assume the offensive against volley-ers, but to step in and try to put some power behind the return against baseliners (actually, with forehands, I think it’s sometimes possible even to step backwards and have a big swing on a return, timing the arc of the ball, etc. but I’m not sure that’s possible w/ a backhand. I’ve noticed some players, even Roger, stepping back to rip a forehand when returning second serves).

    What do we do when the server is equally capable of playing a baseline game or serve/volley game? I’m definitely talking about first serves here. If we can’t guess what the server will do, then it seems to me that we shouldn’t let him guess what we’re going to do either, i.e. we should vary our return strategy to keep the server off balance. I suspect I’m preaching to a choir far more educated than I am when I say this. And I think we need to keep the server guessing by varying our return plans in any event, even if his playing style is well known and fairly predictable.

    But when it comes to second serves, whether it’s a step back or forward on a forehand return, or a step in to rip a backhand, I agree completely with the consensus here that Roger needs to take a few more chances on his returns. As of now, though, everyone will probably serve to his backhand almost every time he has a break point, and with his current back problems, I think this is a big reason his break point conversion rate has been so poor lately. So he should be ready for that!

    I have to mention something else I’ve seen Roger do only once, and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. I don’t remember where it happened, but I think it was at a major last year. Roger was playing against Raonic, and returned a big serve from Milos effortlessly, with a backhand drop shot that landed just over the net. Raonic had no chance of returning Roger’s drop shot return, and the crowd went wild. It was definitely one of the many amazing shots Roger has made in his career; at least, I’d be voting to put it in his vast gallery of amazing points. And he made it look so easy! But Roger, calm as always, just walked to the deuce court for the next point.

    I don’t know if playing like that could ever be a part of a comprehensive return strategy, but I’d love to see him do that more often!

    Finally, it’s been a busy week and I’m sorry I haven’t had time to look at the other posts carefully enough to see if I’m just repeating what’s already been said – but if I am, it isn’t the first time I’ve done that here. :-)

    Best Regards,
    Pryzm

    [Reply]

    Hari Reply:

    That drop shot return was at its best vs Jose Acasuso in French Open 2009 2nd round and that execution was tailor made perfect and that too when Acasuso had a set point to make it a set all!

    [Reply]

    Veronica Reply:

    Those rare drop shots are sick, Hari!! They just drop over the net and always the opponent is taken by surprise. Just breathtaking!!! Problem with this shot? Why do it ONLY once or twice??!!! What’s the point of having this shot in your bag and hardly ever using it?! I think we all agree here that all 2nd serves should be RIPPED. You’ve been given a second look which, in today’s tennis, is hard to come by. Rip it for goodness sake! It’s common sense. It’s the right way. It’s the best way. It’s proven.

    [Reply]

  11. The Cincinatti draws are out:
    http://tennisconnected.com/home/2013/08/09/cincinnati-masters-2013-mens-and-womens-singles-draws/

    Federer has Nadal in his quarter half and Murray in his semis half. :-(
    Federer can still win but its gonna be immensely difficult!!
    Give ur say Ruan

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I’ll make a post tomorrow probably Hari. Thanks for posting the draw.

    [Reply]

    Alex Reply:

    Hi Ruan,

    Please include in your post your thoughts on Nadal beating Djokovic. As far as I can see this monster that is Nadal cannot be slain. His will to win is just unlike anything that I have ever seen. Having watched the third set, I can say that Nadal was very aggressive. This is not your usual Nadal who is just content on being defensive all the time. He has definitely stepped it up a level. And for me it’s very sad to watch.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yeah sad stuff indeed Alex. He seems to have broken Djoker’s deadlock over him. The guy is unplayable and unbeatable.

    [Reply]

    Veronica Reply:

    Ru-an, Did you watch that??!!! OMG!! I am so nervous already for Roger!! Please give us your thoughts and your expert opinions on the unslayable Spanish Monster. Is there anything the guy cannot do?!! He is aggressive, stepping it up and playing closer to the baseline! Hate to say it but I am in awe. The guy’s will and calmness is unmatched. He is always improving, never rests on his laurels; his back hand and serve have improved so much, it is unbelievable. And just how well does he thinks and strategises and adjusts on court??!! Can’t call him 1 dimensional anymore!! Is this an omen of things to come?! That the Clay Monster could evolve into HC Monster?!! He hasn’t lost on HC yet since his come back!! (My only consolation is his knees would not be able to keep up with what he is capable of doing) Waiting for your post, Ru-an!!!

    [Reply]

    Dolores Reply:

    Hi Veronica, am with you entirely, this guy, Nadal, plays with utter determination and aggressiveness, Djoko looked almost helpless at times. Will be anxious, too, to get Ru-an’s opinion, what to expect for the future?
    Best,
    Dolores

    [Reply]

    Alex Reply:

    And to believe that I actually woke up at 5 in the morning to see Nadal win.
    We still have not seen the new and improved Murray against this Nadal. Should be interesting if that ever happens.

    [Reply]

    Bharata Reply:

    It has sadly become the case that due to the financial/media interests that control the sport, if Federer and Nadal could possibly play earlier than a final, they will always meet from now on. It’s very frustrating but I am knew Fed would end up in Nadal’s side for the QF. We will see this again at the US, just so these people can get their stupid TV ratings from casual fans.

    I Federer with a sore back would be in tough vs Nadal. Which is annoying because in years past I have no doubt FEd would crush Nadal on the fast and slick hard courts on Cinnci.

    Watch highlights of the 1st set of the finals last year vs Djokovic. It was an utterly dazzling display.

    Any thoughts on Nadal-Djokovic later today?

    [Reply]

  12. Belated birthday to the GOAT and hey ruan I missed commenting in the previous posts.Anyways,happy to be back.
    Great post as usual and you have made very many valid points which if happens,may bear more fruit than waht we could ever imagine.
    If you remember,in a post after he lost in hamburg,I mentioned that his confidence and shot making and dominating opponents go hand in hand.When he is confident,his shots will have more zip on them and he will be aggressive and his total flow will be magical to watch.
    I agree that the chip return is literally useless to say the least.Like you said,it’s like giving the point to the grinders on a platter.May be in his prime,he would have neutralized their strengths but now when his game has declined not in terms or talent but in terms of speed and consistency,it would definitely be wise for him to dispense with that nothing of a chip return.
    But to expect him to attack every 2nd serve is may be asking a bit too much I think.It’s because as you know,the problem for roger in tournaments is stamina towards the latter part and especially he is in danger if he gets into long 3 or 5 setters in the early part of the tournamnets.Now if we expect him to attack 2nd serves,he needs to put extra effort which will undoubtedly have an influence on his stamina.So I think yeah he should be aggressive on the return and try to the extent possible avoid the chip return and then we’ll see how it goes.

    [Reply]

  13. Pingback: Federer Defeats Kohlschreiber in Cincinnati » peRFect Tennis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *