AO Expert: Federer's serve the key

Roger Federer's serve has been the key to his march into the quarterfinals of Australian Open.

Roger Federer, R4, Rod Laver Arena, 22 January 2017.
Photo by: Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia

To know Roger Federer is to know his first serve patterns.

His first serve primarily goes out wide in the deuce court, and out wide in the ad court, looking to pull the returner past the singles line to make contact, which then instantly creates a huge hole to attack on the other side of the court. It’s a classic bait and switch strategy, and it has served Federer well throughout his career.

Federer defeated Kei Nishikori 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in yet another scintillating result Down Under, sticking to his favorite serve patterns under the bright lights of Rod Laver Arena.

Federer First Serve Patterns

Deuce Court

  • wide = 26
  • body = 5
  • center = 20

Ad Court

  • wide = 26
  • body = 3
  • center = 20

The symmetry produced by the Swiss star saw 26 first serves out wide in both the deuce and ad court, and exactly 20 first serves down the center in both courts as well.

Does he keep track of that? Not consciously, but the subconscious logs everything that happens in a tennis match, and you have got think his attention to detail is off the charts.

Federer was rock solid in the deuce court, winning 75 per cent (38/51) of his first serve points, and that elevated to a ridiculous 86 per cent (42/49) in the ad court against Nishikori. Those kind of numbers have placed Federer back into the Australian Open quarter finals, where he will play unseeded Mischa Zverev, who shocked number one seed, Andy Murray, today with some “old school” serve and volleying.

Federer is making 63 per cent of his first serves so far for the tournament, which is one percentage point about his career average. When he makes it, he is winning 82 per cent of those points, which is two percent above his career average.

It must be nice to be getting better on the court at 35 years of age.

Federer is tied for fourth best at the Australian Open 2017 in first serve points won, and is the second highest behind Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of players still alive in the tournament.

Federer had his best serving match of the tournament so far against Nishikori, hitting 24 aces, while committing six double faults. A huge benefit of hitting his spots is that the Swiss maestro has a significant 41 per cent of all his career serves unreturned - which was exactly his average against Nishikori.

Federer crushed the short points against Nishikori, being +34 (131 points won / 97 lost) when either player had to hit a maximum of just two shots in the rally.

When the rally length extended past that, to at least one player making a third shot in the court, Federer had a losing record, winning 39 points and losing 45. The problem for Nishikori was simply that the longer points were not a significant enough part of the match to exert any real influence.

Once the point was developed, Federer looked to get to the net as much as he could instead of staying back and trading groundstroke blows with Nishikori. Federer won 74 per cent (89/120) of his points at net, while only winning 49 per cent (206/417) from the baseline.

Federer is playing very smart tennis Down Under this year, regularly maneuvering rallies into his wheelhouse, creating clever opportunities to finish points at the front of the court.

Make no mistake about it - Federer is a legitimate shot at the title this year.

With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray now gone, Federer knows the significance of not having to go through the two top seeds in order to win the title. It’s one match a time, but the dream of another Grand Slam title becomes more real by the hour.

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