Video of the Week: Federer @ Miami 2002

With the dust settled on Roger Federer’s drubbing of Juan Martin Del Potro at the Australian Open quarter finals and the hype mahine already working in overdrive for his semi final clash with Rafael Nadal, TennisNiche shall make use of its powerful nostalgia chip to bring the kind readers back ten years to 2002, when Fed was just a young whip with dreams of grand slam glory in his eyes.

There are few sights in tennis as dazzling as Roger Federer fully imposing his will on an opponent: at his best, he possesses an arsenal of shots superior in both variety and potency to perhaps any player to ever step on a court.

This clip shows Federer at the age of twenty, before he had reached even a grand slam quarter final. What enabled Federer to accumulate sixteen grand slams in the following ten years was not so much that he added something new to his game or improved on any one shot, but that he learnt how to utilise his many weapons and to manage his decision making.

To witness Federer before he came to full maturity is to see the raw building blocks of an all time sporting great, but still a tennis player who had not yet learnt to rein in his emotions and impulses on the court. While he is certainly a less polished product here than he is in say, 2008, he is in some ways more fun to watch for it. It is easy to forget just how rapid Federer was around the court in his youth, an explosive combiation of his raw athletic speed and graceful, efficient footwork. He was also perhaps more risky with his forehand, resulting in a ridiculous number of improbable winners from that wing. I would like to draw attention to two rallies in particular in the clip:

The first is a stupendous bit of flexibility and improvisation. Federer hits a drop shot, drawing Andre Agassi to the net, where after an exchange of five shots he punches a volley to Federer’s forehand side. The Swiss moves to the shot but the deeply struck volley is already behind him when he gets to it – where most players would desperately lunge at the ball, just hoping to get it back into play, Federer somehow manages to contort his arm behind and around the ball to hit a perfect topspin lob which Agassi does not even reach for.

The next point against Hewitt is even more perplexing. After a long rally, Federer wrong foots Hewitt with a backhand down the line. Rushed, Hewitt only has time to prepare a squash shot in reply. In a split-second Federer has recognised his opponent’s grip change and has himself edged forward, anticipating a weak reply- Hewitt obliges and floats a deep forehand slice down the line. Faced with this situation, the attacking player (Federer in this case) has three conventional options: continue to move forward to the floating ball and hit a conventional volley; stand your ground, wait for the ball to come to you and hit a drive volley; or acknowldege that your opponent has hit a deep shot by moving backwards and waiting for the ball to bounce.

Federer, of course, chooses the fourth option, the type of shot only he can pull off: he stands his ground roughly three quarters of the way up the court (traditionally known as ‘no man’s land’, being too far from the net to hit an effective volley and too far from the baseline to allow the ball to bounce and hit a groundstroke), but instead of drive volley, Federer decides to hit a sliced drop shot volley, one which leaves Hewitt totally stranded, not even running for the ball. I will not waste any more words trying to do this shot justice – just watch and marvel at the flair.


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