Roger Federer is the most successful tennis player in history – not to mention the most stylish. Greatness flows from his strings. Many of his most memorable moments have come on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Whether or not, at 34, he wins that golden trophy this year for an astonishing eighth time, he will always be one of the greats of the sport.
In celebration of his unsurpassed seven Wimbledon singles titles to date, here are six reasons why Federer is a tennis genius.
1. He doesn’t run as far as his rivals
Federer’s balletic movement has always been central to his tennis – some believe he has the quietest feet in the game, others think he floats above the grass – but now it’s as important as ever. Until this year’s French Open, Federer had played every grand slam tournament this century, but he missed Paris through injury – and in August he will turn 35. Just as crucial as the way Federer moves is the distance he travels across the grass. The data shows how Federer, with his attacking game, doesn’t run as far as his rivals.
2. He switches his serves
Federer’s fellow players say he has “no patterns” on his serve. The reality is that he likes to serve wide on the opening two points of a service game, and if the score reaches 30-love, his opponent will be expecting another ball out wide, and consequently will lean that way. This is when Federer will hit the serve down the “T”, and there’s a strong chance that ball won’t come back. Sounds simple but, as one leading analyst told me, no one in the locker room appears to have picked up on this – or on how Federer has favourite serves. Perhaps that is because if Federer is in command of a service game at 40-love, he will create the illusion of a mix by hitting serves that aren’t among his favourites, such as swinging faster for additional power or “jamming” his opponent with a body serve.
3. The revival of his old-school game
Serve-and-volley tennis was supposed to be dead. From 2006-12, it had even appeared as though Federer believed that, because in every Wimbledon tournament in those years the percentage of points that he served-and-volleyed was in single digits. One summer, it was as low as four per cent. But in recent years, he has been much more adventurous, starting with the 2013 Championships when he came forward after 12 per cent of his serves. That figure was at 22 per cent in 2014 and then 16 per cent last summer. The last two years, Federer has made it to the final.
4. He calculates his string tensions
Late into the evening, Federer will send a text message to his racket stringer. Contained in that message are two or three numbers: the string tensions he has selected based on the conditions he has seen on Centre Court for his match the next day. For each appearance, Federer will take eight or nine rackets on court, with the tensions rising for greater control and dipping for more power. Half a kilogram here or there could be the difference between victory and defeat. Let the numbers stand as examples of the detail that goes into Federer’s preparation.
5. He has the fastest backhand spin
In an age when many players spend all afternoon clumping the ball from the baseline, someone once likened Federer’s game to “whistling Mozart at a Metallica concert”. And there is nothing classier in tennis than his single-handed backhand. The shot earns Federer plenty of style points; it also generates great amounts of spin.
6. He does the maths
On top of everything else that is happening on Centre Court, Federer is keeping track of numbers that other players wont have even considered. He switches his racket at every ball change. That is, after the opening seven games of the match and from then on every nine games. Although if Federer is about to serve, the change will come a game before or a game after the ball change. He does not want to be adjusting to new balls and new strings at the same time.
Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Fedegraphica: A Graphic Biography of the Genius of Roger Federer