Roger Federer is soon to come face-to-face with arguably the toughest test in tennis: playing Rafael Nadal on clay at Roland Garros. With an 0-5 record against the Spaniard on Parisian dirt, Federer will not only need to combat playing against a left-hander on Friday, but also consider whether he will continue to attack the net.
Nadal’s heavy topspin is notoriously difficult to volley against, but Federer’s impressive form at Roland Garros this year has been underpinned by his success at net. In his first four-set match of the tournament against Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals, the 20-time Grand Slam champion ventured to net 60 times, making almost double the number of approaches than in any of his three prior matches.
Federer showed on Wednesday, in battling past Wawrinka 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 that he is capable of coming to the net and beating a big, heavy hitter. Federer won 41 of 60 (68%) net approaches against his countryman.
Federer averages a 74 per cent success rate in his points at the net during this year’s clay-court Grand Slam championship, including a high of 83% (25/30) against Lorenzo Sonego in the first round. Overall, Federer has trusted his attacking instincts and won 129 of 175 points at the net (74%) in five matches.
“When it comes to the crunch like this, when you do come to the net, you have to do it with a purpose,” said Federer. “You can’t just do it because somebody told you to do it and you think it’s the right thing. You have to come in there believing.”
FEDERER AT THE NET AT 2019 ROLAND GARROS
|1R: Lorenzo Sonego (ITA)||25/30 (83%)||6-2, 6-4, 6-4|
|2R: Oscar Otte (GER)||23/31 (74%)||6-4, 6-3, 6-4|
|3R: Christian Ruud (NOR)||21/27 (77%)||6-3, 6-1, 7-6(8)|
|4R: Leonardo Mayer (ARG)||19/27 (70%)||6-2, 6-3, 6-3|
|QF: (24) Stan Wawrinka (SUI)||41/60 (68%)||7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4|
In the 15 clay-court matches of their legendary 38-match rivalry, Federer has won only two clashes on red dirt in the 2007 Hamburg final (2-6, 6-2, 6-0) and in the 2009 Mutua Madrid Open final (6-4, 6-4). Both times, the Swiss won 67 per cent of his net points in the ATP Masters 1000 title matches – 18 of 27 in Hamburg and 24 of 36 in Madrid.
Speaking to Eurosport, a few days ago, the 37-year-old provided his tips for volleying success on clay courts.
“You have to have an idea of what you’re going to do, you don’t want to rush to the net without a plan,” explained Federer. “So you want to be able to figure out where the return player usually returns to and where you are going to serve. I think for those first two shots the anticipation is really important.
“The second point is the first step after the serve. Don’t hit the ball, look and run, you hit the serve and you run immediately. That is to gain that extra metre or two to get close to the net, because if you’re close to the net you have an easier volley. And then once you’re at the net you have got to be like a panther at the net! You want to be hungry and up there to win the point and not thinking ‘it’s a good idea to be at the net, but we’ll see what happens…’ No. You want to be up there trying to win the point.”
On Friday, Federer will need to draw upon all of his experience against left-handed Nadal, the 11-time champion with a 91-2 record at Roland Garros.