These 5 components will decide Roger Federer’s run at French Open

Roger Federer discovered himself down match level in his tussle towards Gael Monfils earlier this month within the Madrid Masters, simply his second match in his first clay-court event in three years. At that time, Federer remembers telling himself, “Panic mode is switched on and we’re coming in.”

Though Federer missed his ensuing first serve, he rushed the web behind his second, catching Monfils — and possibly everybody watching — abruptly. He went on to win the purpose and, finally, the match.

It was an apt image of the type of dangerous, aggressive tennis that makes some imagine that, regardless of his lengthy absence from clay, his age (37) and formidable rivals (together with “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal and top-ranked Novak Djokovic), Federer can contend on the 2019 French Open. He has received the Grand Slam occasion solely as soon as, due largely to the dominance of 11-time champion Nadal.

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Federer has often stated he got here again to the clay circuit for the sheer pleasure of taking part in on the floor on which he developed his sport, and partly out of nostalgia for sure occasions and cities. He says he has set no objectives, however this isn’t a person prone to really feel glad with one or two wins on the French Open.

“[It’s] a little bit of the unknown,” Federer stated in his pre-tournament information convention in Paris on Friday. “I really feel like I am taking part in good tennis, however is it sufficient or is it sufficient towards absolutely the prime guys when it actually involves the crunch? I am undecided if it is in my racquet. … However I hope I can get myself in that place deep down within the event towards the highest guys.”

Federer withdrew from the Italian Open, the final main tune-up for the French Open, a day after taking part in two matches because of a rain-induced washout. However he stated Friday the leg ache that pressured his withdrawal was gone. “There has all the time been little issues happening, like in Rome,” Federer stated. “However that was additionally precautionary. I wished to ensure I used to be 100 % going to have the ability to play the French Open.”

So, utilizing the 4 matches he performed in Madrid and Rome to scout his return, what have we realized in regards to the state of Federer’s clay-court sport? And what probability does he have of constructing a significant impression over the subsequent two weeks at Roland Garros?

As Federer will get set to play his first French Open match since 2015 on Sunday towards Lorenzo Sonego, listed here are 5 key areas the place the reply will probably be decided.


Federer’s first-serve proportion and talent to serve and volley could possibly be key to his French Open success. Clive Brunskill/Getty Photographs

It is a truism, however extra related to Federer’s fortunes than to these of others: You reside and die by your first serve. Though his ace depend is comparatively modest, Federer mixes and hits his areas with nice precision. That first serve retains opponents off steadiness. As Dominic Thiem, who needed to rebound from shedding the primary set and received in three units over Federer within the quarterfinals at Madrid, stated after the match: “He was serving very properly. I had huge troubles with the return till the third set.”

Solely three gamers — John Isner, Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey — can prime Federer’s 80.Three-percent success charge on first-serve factors, but Federer is ranked a lowly No. 17 in aces per match (eight.Three).

Within the important second-set tiebreaker of that Madrid quarterfinal, nevertheless, Federer was unable to hold on to an early mini-break and likewise offered Thiem along with his first set level as a result of Federer could not put his first serve into play. That was additionally his undoing within the last level that gave Thiem a 13-11 tiebreaker win after Federer was unable to transform both of two match factors.

Not like so lots of his friends, Federer is snug taking part in serve-and-volley tennis on all surfaces, together with clay. However the effectiveness of the tactic can range from occasion to occasion, and even day after day.

“It’s an choice for use on a sizzling and sunny day in Paris too,” Federer stated of his willingness to comply with even second serves to the web. “I all the time thought that serve and volleying on a sizzling day on clay nearly has extra reward than on a grass courtroom typically as a result of the ball jumps out of the strike zone slightly bit extra and it is tougher to press it down once more into the ft of the attacking internet participant. So I believe serve and volley can work very properly on the clay.”


The concept that “consistency” on clay means the flexibility to play interminable rallies is outdated. The floor would not dictate the character of the sport — the intentions and types of the gamers do. That is why so most of the greatest clay matches function thrilling five- or six-shot exchanges relatively than 18-shot rallies.

Paul Annacone, the Tennis Channel analyst who coached Federer by means of lots of his greatest years, informed “[Federer] would not play the quintessential clay-court tennis sport, and I do not suppose he ever did. Even when he was making these RG finals.”

Deep into the third set of his Italian Open third-round win over Borna Coric just lately, Federer had received each level that had him six ft or extra ft behind the baseline. His downside wasn’t shedding the rally sport, it was in his unforced errors — notably on the backhand facet. The extra aggressive, drive model was breaking all the way down to the purpose the place he was making two errors for each winner he hit off that wing.

Actual consistency means hitting purposeful pictures whereas avoiding unforced errors.

Courtroom positioning

As Roger Federer makes his return to Roland Garros, listed here are among the most attention-grabbing numbers from his profession play in Paris, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Data:

• He has 65 profession match wins at Roland Garros, second most by any man within the Open period behind 11-time champion Rafael Nadal (86).

• Federer has reached not less than the second week in every of his previous 11 French Open appearances.

• Federer averaged 87.Three % serve factors received between 2009 (the yr he received at Roland Garros) and 2015 (the final yr he performed there).

• Federer has a 65-16 profession report at Roland Garros and he’s 55-Four general there when he wins the primary set.

To be best towards probably the most harmful opponents, Federer must take management of factors. The best option to obtain that’s to play up on or contained in the baseline. It is a powerful task on any floor due to the response time and focus it calls for. Federer had loads of vitality in Madrid and Rome.

“Roger has been popping out arduous and quick, the way in which Andre [Agassi] used to do,” Gilbert, a former coach of Agassi, stated of Federer’s willingness to take the sport to his opponents. “He is maintaining rallies brief, utilizing the drop shot slightly extra and — greater than something — taking part in a sport that makes his opponents uneasy.”

Federer got here out blazing within the first of the 2 matches he received on that rain-induced double-up day in Rome, a one-hour, 20-minute win over Joao Sousa. Federer’s forehand was particularly devastating, and due to Sousa’s penchant for hanging again, Federer was capable of run round his much less harmful backhand freely and often. Except Federer is making a boatload of unforced errors, it is tough to beat him if he has set himself up contained in the courtroom.

Gilbert put it this manner: “An opponent has to make him do various things to have an opportunity. If an opponent is not placing him on the stretch or making him play an excessive amount of protection, Roger goes to have the ability to play his kind of tennis and make opponents uncomfortable.”

In opposition to the very best gamers, although, extra will probably be required of Federer. He’ll want the flexibility to soak up punishment and transition from protection to offense with higher alacrity to not get sucked into lengthy factors.

The backhand

Federer’s extra harmful, drive backhand let him down in his slender escape towards Coric. However the oft-heard concept that the one-handed backhand is a legal responsibility on clay is being demolished as of late. As Thiem stated in a information convention in Madrid: “I believe if in case you have an excellent one-handed backhand, it isn’t an issue. It is possibly even slightly benefit on clay. Like [Stefanos] Tsitsipas or me, we will return and we will actually play a lot spin with the one-handed backhand.”

As anticipated, Federer endorsed that opinion. When dialed in, his flat or topspin backhand has been an efficient weapon. But it surely’s the slice choice, together with the chopped or blocked service return, that is available in so useful on clay. It is a fallback, for one factor. However slice additionally serves as a reset button for altering the tempo of a rally. It buys Federer time to get into a greater courtroom place, and typically it is the safer choice for threading the needle down the road.

Federer bought the primary break in his Rome match with Sousa because of a cross between a chop and blocked backhand serve return. The ball took eternally to journey down the road and land gently proper in Sousa’s backhand nook. The shot, so unfamiliar in tennis as of late, put Sousa in an uncomfortable place, and after a quick rally, Sousa made an unforced backhand error.


As Gilbert stated, “Roger does every little thing nice.” The important thing for Federer is execution. Someplace in all of the hype about Federer’s return to clay and Nadal’s superiority on the floor, some have forgotten that for a very long time Federer was clearly second solely to Nadal on clay.

Since these days, Federer has gotten older, however he has additionally grown wiser. He is taking part in extra aggressive, high-risk, high-reward tennis — partly as a result of swifter factors imply much less fatigue.

“He is up on the baseline,” Annacone stated. “He takes the ball early, varies his assault technique and makes use of the drop shot. That is what makes him a lot enjoyable to look at, and that is what’s type of been lacking at these tournaments.”

Federer’s serve, whereas all the time wonderful, has aged properly and grow to be extra exact than ever. Early in his profession, Federer held the drop shot in contempt. Now it has grow to be a great tool. Tactically and strategically, Federer is perhaps at his peak as a participant on clay.

The problem within the days forward will lie within the space of execution as a result of veterans are extra prone to arising flat than the younger. Federer additionally should keep away from lengthy, knockdown, drag-out battles.

“Roger is taking part in wonderful,” Annacone stated. “The most important problem for any over-30 participant is the best-of-five format, particularly on clay. And that is notably magnified by the character of the competitors, that means Rafa and Novak.”

Sustaining his health looms as one other crucial on Federer’s must-do record. “If you happen to can keep away from powerful, lengthy matches to start with, it may enhance your possibilities for the event in a while,” he stated. “Being wholesome solves so many points. In fact, profitable solves every little thing.”

These do not sound just like the phrases of somebody who’d settle fortunately for a second- or third-round exit.

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