Roger Federer’s Gift to Tennis: A Shot That Players Love to Hit

WIMBLEDON, England — “Times have changed,” Roger Federer stated this week as he appeared again on his early days at Wimbledon.

Serve-and-volley was the rule then for the boys, not the exception. Points had been shorter, however the pictures usually slower. Modern string and racket know-how and fashionable coaching strategies have helped all skilled gamers generate extra tempo and spin from excessive positions, and no shot higher exemplifies the shift than the one the 39-year-old Federer has popularized over the course of his 23-year skilled profession.

It is finest referred to as the squash shot, partly as a result of Federer performed squash in his youth, and it’s a lunging forehand slash, sometimes from an open stance.

It is a spectacular shot to watch and, as Federer as soon as instructed me, “a very fun shot to hit.”

But it’s not sometimes excellent news when you might have to use it.

“Honestly, it’s your last-resort play,” stated Mackenzie McDonald, a 26-year-old American. “Maybe your only option.”

But in tennis, gamers regulate to the problem and the chance. As professional tennis has accelerated, they’ve created new methods of defending, and the squash shot has change into a staple via the years, maybe much more within the ladies’s sport than within the males’s.

“For me, that’s a sign of the influence of Fed across the whole sport,” stated Brad Gilbert, the ESPN analyst and former top-five participant, referring to Federer.

Barbora Krejcikova, a flexible all-court participant, put the squash shot to frequent and glorious use on clay in her shock run to the French Open title final month. The French veteran Alizé Cornet deployed it in profitable an acrobatic match level within the first spherical of Wimbledon towards Bianca Andreescu, who likes the squash shot, too.

On Friday, Ons Jabeur, maybe the craftiest of all the brand new ladies’s stars, used it on match level in her third-round victory over Garbiñe Muguruza on Centre Court. Muguruza, a relentless hitter, struck a backhand down-the-line with authority. Jabeur stretched to her proper and chopped a forehand crosscourt to get herself again right into a rally that she ended up profitable.

“So many players are doing it now,” stated the ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez, a two-time Grand Slam singles finalist and former Fed Cup captain. “It’s a great-looking shot and effective most of the time, because it’s a hard, good slice and it stays low. It’s an added shot. It’s definitely one I didn’t have and one I don’t think my generation had. But it’s a way to sustain the point, and more often than not, it works.”

Players additionally use it as a change-of-pace passing shot. Anastasija Sevastova referred to as on it usually in her victory final month over Elena Rybakina within the quarterfinals of the grass-court Eastbourne International. Rybakina repeatedly made volleying errors off the shot.

“It throws players off guard,” McDonald stated. “I feel it’s actually harder to hit a volley off a slice than a ball with topspin.”

The forehand slice has been round for the reason that starting of garden tennis. It is the easiest way to hit a forehand drop shot, after all, but it surely additionally was lengthy the favored technique for approaching the online. The forehand slice stayed low and infrequently skidded away from the opponent, making it troublesome to hit a strong passing shot, notably with the wood rackets and intestine strings of yore.

But the racket frames are carbon-fiber weapons now and, most necessary, the strings are made from polyester, permitting gamers to take enormous cuts on the ball, even when off-balance, and nonetheless create the spin essential to drop the ball at a web rusher’s ft with topspin. The know-how can even assist them hit a low, firmer slice with each the backhand and the forehand.

“Good luck hitting that shot at full stretch with gut string and a wood racket,” Gilbert stated of the squash shot. “You are making that once a Christmas.”

Alizé Cornet hit a squash shot in her first spherical match at Wimbledon.Credit…Julian Finney/Getty Images

Though professionals usually lobbed from that prolonged place in Gilbert’s period, gamers did use a model of the squash shot prior to now. The Australian greats Roy Emerson and Rod Laver defended with a sliced forehand from time to time. Paul Annacone, a former top-20 participant who coached Federer, stated he recalled the Swedish professional Mikael Pernfors hitting forehand slices on the run within the 1980s and the early ’90s.

But Pernfors was an outlier. The distinction now could be how a lot firmer the shot feels and appears and the way nicely it may be managed. Even with super racket head pace and with a necessity to generally regulate the forehand grip on the stretch.

“Every time I hit it, I am amazed that it actually stays in,” Federer as soon as stated.

The shock issue has clearly worn off, and skeptics have change into believers.

“When I first saw Fed do it, I thought it only works for a genius like him,” Gilbert stated. “But after seeing Daniil Medvedev and so many others use it, I had to re-evaluate. It works much better than I thought, and it’s the poly strings that allow players to make that tomahawk swing and still be able to hold the ball and keep it in the court. It’s an even harder slice than the one-handed backhand.”

Gilbert sees gamers reconfigure factors with it, turning an excessive defensive place into one thing nearer to an offensive one.

“I’m cured, it works,” Gilbert stated with fun. “You see guys in control of a point suddenly asking, ‘What just happened?’”

Gilbert stated he remained unconvinced about one other newly fashionable shot, the between-the-legs, back-to-the-net “tweener” that gamers usually use after monitoring down lobs.

“It looks brilliant, but I still don’t think it’s as effective as throwing up a lob or running around it,” he stated. “But the squash shot is a lot more viable. I think it is here to stay.”

McDonald, a former U.C.L.A. star within the midst of a resurgent season, has practiced usually with Federer, even touring to Dubai to practice.

“It’s funny in practice because he’s always playing, working on those shots that wow people,” McDonald stated. “He’s always practicing those hand skills that wow you. When you see him hit a squash shot or a drop shot winner off a return, he actually practices those things, sometimes just for fun. But that’s why he’s come up with those shots through the years, because he’s always testing things out. He’s different in that sense than a guy who is just banging out a bunch of forehands and backhands in practice. He’s always sharpening his hand skills.”

But although the rise of the squash shot will probably be a part of Federer’s legacy, McDonald stated his inspiration for making it a part of his arsenal was really not Federer. It was Steve Johnson, a 31-year-old American participant at the moment ranked 74th on the planet.

“I might have used it some in college, but being on tour, you are trying to find that one percent difference and having that squash shot is maybe part of that one percent,” McDonald stated. “Stevie Johnson was one of the guys who really hit it well. I’ve seen him hit dart-like winners off it. When you see that, you want to do it, too.”

So it goes in tennis because the instances and the ways change.