AO Expert: Federer's tactical masterclass

There were five key tactical aspects to Roger Federer's win at Australian Open 2017, as AO Expert Craig O'Shannessy explains.

Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal, F, Rod Laver Arena, 29 January 2017.
Photo by: Luke Hemer/Tennis Australia

Roger Federer’s 18th career Grand Slam title at Australian Open 2017 serves as a global blueprint for coaches to teach and players to copy.


His game feels both the magnetism of the baseline and the net, focusing on high percentage  primary patterns run about eight times out of 10 that he can rely on in the big moments. His less used secondary patterns of play allow for creativity and the element of surprise, particularly when he is ahead on the scoreboard.

The secondary tactics are used sparingly, and sometimes just the threat they exist creates a mental advantage. The following five elements of his game are broken down to provide a better understanding of the metrics that powered the Swiss maestro to a fifth title Down Under.


1. Rally Length

Tennis is easier understood when you break it down to the following three rally lengths, comparing the tournament average to Federer’s body of work.

Rally LengthNicknameMen’s Tournament AverageRoger Federer
0-4 ShotsFirst Strike68%71%
5-8 ShotsPatterns Of Play21%21%
9+ ShotsExtended Rallies11%8%

When you see our sport cut up like this, it’s easy to see how “front end loaded” it is in the first four shots. Almost seven rallies out of 10 at the Happy Slam only required each player to hit a maximum of two shots in the rally (serve and return are included).


Federer played 71 per cent of his points in the First Strike category, which was three percentage points higher than the tournament average. He was exactly the same in the mid-length Patterns of Play category, and slightly less in extended rallies, playing just eight percent of points there.


2. Where The Winning Happens

Federer played a lot more of the short points, and his winning performance was much better there as well. He won 106 more points than his opponent in the 0-4 Shot range, providing the lions share of his competitive advantage.

Rally LengthPoints Won/LostPoint AdvantagePercentage of Advantage
0-4 Shots637 /53110678%
5-8 Shots178 / 1641410%
9+ Shots70 / 541612%


3. Losing Record At the Baseline

Federer used a clever mix of baseline points, approach and volley, and even some serve and volley to win seven matches and take the title. What’s amazing is that three of his seven victories were in straight sets, yet he still could not generate a winning record from the back of the court.

StrategyTournament AverageFederer
Serve & Volley64%70%


4. Groundstrokes

Federer’s forehand was what he relied on most to hurt opponents with from the baseline. His backhand did over-achieve in Melbourne, especially in the 5th set of the final against Nadal, where it contributed eight winners. Overall, Federer’s forehand contributed 61 per cent of his baseline winners (120 to 61), while committing 16 more errors than his backhand.

 WinnersForced ErrorsUnforced ErrorsWinners Minus Errors


5. Federer Serving

StrategyTournament AverageFederer
1st Serves In61%63%
1st Serve Points Won72%78%
2nd Serve Points Won50%55%
Unreturned Serves32%37%
Service Games Won79%88%
Break Points Saved62%65%


As you would expect, Federer was above the tournament average in every single serve category. His ability to hit his spots is unparalleled, helping drive a nine percentage point advantage in service games won over the tournament average (79% to 88%) - winning 117 service games and losing only 16.


One of the beauties of our sport is the remarkably wide range of playing styles players can employ to achieve greatness. You would be hard pressed going past the all-court brilliance of Roger Federer if you were picking a model.


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