Roger Federer’s New Racquet: How it Affects Every Aspect of his Game

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Roger Federer has been competing with his new 98 square inch Wilson Racquet for about five full months now, and the results have been nothing short of outstanding for the 32 year old. But rarely do we see or hear an explanation on how the racquet is helping. Well, I’m here to break down how the racquet is impacting each and every part of Federer’s game. It’s almost all positive, but there are some things that Federer has had to adjust in his game to adapt to the racquet. Let’s get into it.

Serve–For the most part, the larger racquet head size and lighter frame has allowed Federer to put a few more MPH on his serve. However, it’s not that big of a difference. He peaks around 205 kilometers per hour(127 MPH), and that’s about the same as when he was using the old racquet. This biggest thing is that Federer is getting a consistent increase in pace AND spin. The spin here is the key. He’s now hitting kick serves as first serves, and they’re extremely effective. His wide serve is also getting excellent width with the added spin.

His second serve was starting to get eaten at up in 2013. What used be one of the best second serves in the game was not getting punished when he played good, attacking players.(See matches against Nishikori, Berdych, Stakhovsky, Robredo) The new frame is getting just a little bit more kick, and it’s made a difference. In 2013, Federer won 55% of his second serve points, and in 2014, he’s winning 57% of those points. While that may seem like a minimal gain, it actually is huge. When he’s consistently defending his second serve, Federer is very tough to beat.

Return–This is probably the toughest aspect to analyze. Federer’s return has always been the weakest part of his game, even though it’s really not that weak at all. He’s winning the same amount of first serve return points as he did in 2013, 33%. He’s doing slightly better on second serve returns though, where he’s gone from 53 to 55% points won. He is able to attack second serves more effectively because he can generate more pace with the larger frame.

What we see is that Federer is about the same on first serve returns on his forehand side, but slightly better than before on the backhand side. He’s mishitting fewer, and putting more in play. That allows for him to get into points and really get the most out of the racquet–at the baseline.

Forehand– It’s interesting, because Federer is one of only a handful of players in the top 100 to still use an eastern forehand. Everybody talks about how the racquet is giving Federer more power and spin, but nobody really goes further than that. Players with eastern forehands, such as Roberto Bautista Agut and Radek Stepanek, often hit very flat strokes, and rarely ramp up the spin. But Federer is an exception. He uses so much wrist just before contact that if he wants to hit spin, he can. Watch below.

So with the new larger frame, he has more margin for error during that wrist action, therefore limiting the number of balls he mishits. He’ll still shank an occasional forehand, but far less than when played with the 90 square inch frame. He is hitting the ball with more power and spin, but that’s predominately because the sweet-spot on the racquet is larger, and he has more margin for error.

It also doesn’t hurt that he can generate more racquet head speed with the lighter frame.

Backhand–This is where we really start to to see a difference. In 2013, Federer was shanking balls left and right. He was leaving the ball short and making numerous unforced errors off of his weaker wing. The new frame has added a couple dimensions that have really helped Federer. First, he’s able to hit over his backhand WAY more than he used, especially when he’s on the run. The larger head size is allowing Federer to get more easy pace, and therefore he feels more comfortable driving through the ball, even when he’s in defensive positions.

This video is a great example of that.

The slice is getting more spin and bite than before, and he hasn’t lost any control in the process. One concern when Federer switched was that with more power at his expense he would lose some of the precision that his game is based around. Well, that concern is gone. In fact, he is able to be just as precise if not more accurate, due to the consistent increased spin rate he is putting on the ball.

Volley– This was my biggest concern when Federer switched. Bringing in Stefan Edberg, everybody talked about Federer’s increasing desire to get to the net. Often times larger and lighter frames lack the stability and feel needed to excel at the net. But it turns out that Federer’s volleys have IMPROVED with the new racquet. He’s getting a little more stick on the standard volley, and a ton of slice and bite on the low volley.

And don’t worry, his drop volley’s look just as good as they used.

Here’s a video of some of Federer’s best points of 2014 thus far.

 

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Reflections from Roland Garros: Day 1

The French Open is back, and so are we! It’s been a long layoff for The Tennis Nerds. I had a lot on  my plate over the last few months, including school, college tennis, and figuring out plans for the future. But I have some exciting news that I’ll be sharing very soon, but first, let’s begin our daily series from the French Open, where I reflect on anything and everything that I found interesting from the action of that day.

Roger’s Racquet is STILL Blacked Out– Okay, this isn’t exactly breaking news, but it still baffles me that Roger Federer, the most recognizable and marketable tennis player on earth, has a tennis racquet with no design on it. Wilson has had something like 6 months to design and name the new weapon that has treated the Swiss star so well this season, but they are still painting the frame all black, and simply stenciling the Wilson “W”. Think about how much money they could make if they offered Federer’s frame to the public? People would go crazy over that thing. Even Federer’s old racquet, the Pro Staff 90, which should not be used by anybody other than a professional, sells off the charts. Go to your local tennis club, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The 5 Set Warrior: Mikhail Youzhny– It seems like every time I look at the live scores of one of Youzhny’s matches, it goes the distance. Seriously, the guy plays 5 set matches ALL THE TIME. Check out his ITF Tennis page, and see for yourself how often he plays these types of drama filled matches. Today, he went down two sets to none on the youngster Pablo Carreno Busta. He only won 4 games through the first two sets. And that’s when the comeback began. As he was clawing his way back, the crowd started to really embrace the unpredictable Russian. He won 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-0, and finished with his classic Soldier Salute. I still believe it’s the best celebration in tennis. Also a word for Radek Stepanek, who himself came back from 2 sets down to defeat Facundo Arguello on Sunday.

It’s Not The French Open Without Scheduling Controversy– When it was announced that 8-time and defending champion Rafael Nadal was to begin his 2014 campaign on Suzanne Lenglen, there was a lot of questioning of the decision from fellow players such as John Isner, to the outrage of media members and fans on social media. It’s very interesting to me, because the French Open is different than any other major when it comes to scheduling. Because they don’t play under the lights, only 4 matches(2 men’s, 2 women’s) are scheduled  per day on the big show courts. Tournament organizers decided that Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka would serve as better options than the 14 time grand slam champ. At any other slam, Nadal would have been an automatic for Center Court.

But when I thought about their reasoning, it sort of makes sense to me. Roland Garros, more than any other slam, aims please their fans. The Paris crowd has never really loved Rafa. Sure, they have a ton of respect for him, but his style of play is not the type that the French really love. They appreciate a little flair, and almost anybody who speaks their language. Roger Federer is treated as one of their own during his fortnight in Paris. Even Novak Djokovic, who over the years has become pretty fluent in the French language, is now getting serious support from the Parisians. So think about it. Do you think the French Crowd would rather watch Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic? The last two times the two met at Roland Garros, it was Djokovic who had the crowd slightly behind him, especially last year. Now, Nadal or Wawrinka? The French love Stan. He has the one handed backhand, throws in the dropshot, and is fluent in French. While it’s probably not right that an 8 time champion isn’t put on Center court, it does make sense if you think about from the tournament organizers eyes.

Speaking of the French Crowd– They show their players more support than probably any other country, except for maybe the Fanatics of Australia. Alize Lim held in first service game, and the Paris faithful was already rocking. They were incredible for Tsonga, and I can only imagine how loud they’ll be for their favorite player; Gael Monfils.

Sidenote– How awesome would it be if Monfils made a deep run into the tournament this year? I, for one, am completely behind that notion.

The Clay is Playing Slow, like Really Slow– It’s wet, it’s cloudy, and it’s slow. The red clay is already the slowest of the four surfaces, but when it’s cold and rainy, it is nearly impossible to hit through the court. I really noticed this in Federer and Lacko’s match on Chatrier. The show courts are tended the best, and for that reason they are also usually the slowest. Combine that with the moist conditions, and you get the idea. They say the weather is supposed to be just as bad if not worse for at least the next 5 days, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the tournament. Nadal actually likes the hot, fast, high bouncing conditions much more than the slow clumpy stuff that will be out there this week. However he should roll through his first few matches.

That’s it for day 1, but I’ll be back tomorrow! Also, if you missed it, here are my analysis and picks for some of Monday’s best matches: http://wp.me/p2TliK-2tL

Roger Federer Using New Racquet in Hamburg

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Federer practicing with a blacked-out racket in Hamburg.

After having one of the worst seasons of his career, Roger Federer is making a big change at a crucial time. After using the Wilson Pro Staff 90 for just about his entire professional career, Federer has decided to experiment with something new. The picture above was taken just a couple days ago in Hamburg, where he is playing in the field for the first time in 5 years. After losing in the second round of Wimbledon, Federer said he waited 48 hours, and then decided that he needed more match play.  “I knew I wanted to play more matches, so I decided to enter both Hamburg and Gstaad to prepare myself for the hard-court swing.”

Now if you’re  a long time follower of this blog, you’ll know that we hinted that Roger might try some new equipment. To be honest, I was just saying that out of hope at the time. But now that he really is making a change, I think it’s great news for us Federer fans. This tells me that he wants to play for many years to come, and he still believes he can beat the best. But what difference can a racquet make, you ask? Well, let’s break it down.

First, lets take a look at Rogers old frame.

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Roger’s frame has been play tested by many, including myself. It is one of the last rackets out there that still uses the old-school 90 inch frame. To be honest, I couldn’t play with it. I’m a 4.5-5.0 player and the frame felt impossible to menuever. The sweet-spot is tiny, I mean tiny. Brad Gilbert has said that he no longer sells the frame in his shop, because,”you have to hit the ball flush, I mean flush.” It’s also on the heavy side, weighing in at just over 357 grams. Keep in mind that might not be the exact racket Fed used, because nearly every player customized their own racquet a little bit. In recent months we’ve seen way too many mishits from the Swiss star, especially off of the backhand side. My friend David Keltz even said that Federer was “the king of mishits.” And while that is obviously an exaggeration, he has a valid point. Everyone in the top 5 in the ATP rankings uses at least a 98 square inch frame, except Federer. With his age getting up there he could use an assist from today’s technology.

The big debate, however, is exactly which racquet Federer is using. Yesterday I tweeted that it was possibly a Wilson Blade BLX 98. (And if you don’t yet follow us on twitter, here’s the link! https://twitter.com/TheTennisNerds) After reading some comments from experts, I’ve come to the conclusion that his new racquet is a slightly modified version of the Blade 98. The head-size is likely to be anywhere from 95-98 square inches. If this is true, the racquet will also be significantly lighter, with the Blade 98 strung-weight at 317.15 grams. You can also notice in the picture that is a 16×19 string pattern, the same as his old racquet. This open string power gives players easier access to power and spin.

Unfortunately, in his first few interviews in Hamburg, not one journalist has asked him about the racquet. This is why I want to get into the field, to ask the questions everybody wants to know the answers to. Roger plays his first match tuesday against the big German Daniel Brands, and with his new racquet, everyone should tune in and check out how he fares!

Let me know what you guys think in the comments below, and please share this with your friends!