Tennis Superstar, Roger Federer’s Gift to Tennis

Roger Federer has changed the game of tennis, and it’s safe to say that quite a few people are not happy about it.

Aug 12, 2021 | By LUXUO
Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2021
Image: Roger Federer

While the discussion over who deserves to be called the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in men’s tennis will undoubtedly linger on for some time, there’s little doubt that Roger Federer is a “genius” and the “best player,” according to the 23-time major champion, Serena Williams. It seems Williams is Federer’s top fan and voted him as king above rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Let’s look at why everyone loves Federer. Is it just the squash shot or a combination of factors?

The Iconic Squash Shot

For years it was all about the serve-and-volley, nothing else. The points were shorter, and the shots were lower. That was all until the GOAT Roger Federer came along. 

Professional players have been able to generate a faster pace and spin from more extreme positions thanks to the evolution of the racket. The modern-day string and racket technology may seem normal to most modern-day players, but things were different back in the day. 

Throughout his 23-year professional career, Roger Federer (39) has pushed tennis boundaries. Best known for his squash shot, Federer is not one to back down from a challenge. 

What is The Squash Shot? 

Federer played squash in his youth, resulting in squash techniques making an appearance in his play when on the tennis court. 

The squash shot is a lunging forehand slash done from a wide-open stance and usually done as a last resort as it’s quite a risky move on the player’s side. It’s typically bad news if you see a player using this move. But not if it’s Federer. 

Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2021
Image: Roger Federer

Users of the Squash Shot

As pro tennis evolved, so did the style of play. Over the years, the squash shot has become a staple, appearing more often in the women’s gameplay than the men. One female player, in particular, was known for this style of shot. 

Kim Clijsters trademarked the sliding forehand slice and would use the move to hit out of a near split on more than one occasion. The powerful and bendy Belgian player is yet to make a comeback, but she will go down in history as one of the few tennis players to ace the iconic squash shot. 

Another well-known user of the squash shot is Barbora Krejcikova. This versatile player proved the effectiveness of the squash shot by using it to get to the French Open title last month. 

The first round of her Wimbledon match saw the French veteran, Alizé Cornet, use the shot against her opponent Bianca Andreescu (another lover of the squash shot). 

In her third-round victory over Garbiñe Muguruza on the centre court, Ons Jabeur, perhaps the craftiest of all-new women’s stars, used it at match point. Muguruza, an unstoppable hitter, hit a backline with authority later on in the game. Jabeur extended the right to her and smashed a forehand crosscourt to get back on a rally she eventually won.

Players also use this as a shot to switch up the pace. In her victory last month over Elena Rybakina, Anastasija Sevastova often called upon the move in the quarter-finals of the Eastbourne International grass court. Rybakina made volleying mistakes off the shot repeatedly.

The Evolution of the Squash Shot

The forehand shot is no stranger to professional tennis players. This shot has been around since lawn tennis became a thing. It is undoubtedly the best way to hit a forehand drop shot, always a favoured move when approaching the net. This move enables players to keep the ball low and sneak it past their opponent’s reach. With wooden rackets and gut strings of yore, the forehand slice was the way to go. 

As racket technology evolved and the wood turned into carbon fibre, players started to find that they could take massive cuts at the ball, even when slightly off-balance. The rackets enabled them to create the perfect spin to drop the ball with a graceful topspin. 

The combination of carbon fibre technology and polyester strings opened up the world of tennis, allowing players to make lower, firmer backhand and forehand slices.

Brad Gilbert is a veteran player who took a while to come around to the squash shot. As a pundit, he was unconvinced about the sneaky, almost unbelievable move. That was until he saw Federer perform the squash shot so elegantly, time and time again. 

In Brad Gilbert’s time, players would typically lob the ball from an extended position, but there was a version of the squash shot on those wooden, gut-stringed rackets. Grandes Roy Emerson and Rod Laver from Australia occasionally defending with a sliced forehand.

Circa 1980s-1990s, many remember a Swedish player named Mikael Pernfors using the move. Pernfors, however, was an outlier. Now the difference is how much firmer and controlled the shot is. Even if the ratchet is rapid and the player must adjust the grip on the forehand on the stretch.

Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2021
Image: Roger Federer

Modern-Day Tennis

Over the years, the surprise factor has worn off, and spectators and veteran players have all come around to the almighty squash shot. Gilbert himself has spoken about his admiration for a player’s ability to reconfigure points with it, turning an extreme define into an offense to be reckoned with. 

Federer changed the game with his squash shot move, and many tennis players out there would surely love to thank him for it. He pushed the boundaries of tennis and gifted the sport with some spectacular play. 

Tennis went from a stiff game using wooden rackets and gut string to a fast-action, mental, and physically challenging game as players such as Federer started to push the boundaries, and new racket technology started to emerge. 

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