BRAIN GAME: FEDERER RETAKES THE NET
Roger Federer doubled down on the key tactic of getting to the net to win a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title. Federer defeated Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 by coming forward to finish points at twice the rate that he did leading into the final.
Federer won 53/68 (78%) points at net from a combination of serving and volleying, approaching in a rally and attacking the net directly off Murray’s second serve. It didn’t matter how he got there or if he was approaching to Murray’s forehand or backhand. What mattered for Federer was to keep the points short, pressure Murray with his aggressive court position and rob the Scot of time to get organised for a passing shot.
Getting to the net is always part of Federer’s game plan, especially at Wimbledon, and you can see from the following tables it played a much bigger role in winning the final than it did getting to it. Federer averaged 8.8 net aproaches per set leading into the final and 17 net approaches per set in the final itself.
You can see from the following table below that Federer’s net attack played a much bigger role in winning the final than it did getting to it.
Round Opponent Approaches Won Winning %
1st Albert Ramos 25/34 74%
2nd Fabio Fognini 21/23 91%
3rd Julien Benneteau 22/39 56%
4th Xavier Malisse 34/39 87%
QFs Mikhail Youzhny 24/34 71%
SFs Novak Djokovic 14/22 64%
F Andy Murray 53/68 78%
Federer’s remarkable success with getting to the net even delivered a higher winning percentage than points won on his first serve (78% to 76%). You know you have a winning strategy when it trumps getting your first serve in the court.
Federer made 68 first serves for the match - exactly the same number of points he came forward to attack Murray at the net. Federer actually combined the two tactics superbly, winning 31/35 (88%) points when he made a first serve and then ventured forward, either by serving and volleying or approaching later in the point.
Mixing It Up
A crucial part of Federer’s attacking game plan was mixing in serve and volley points, where he was almost perfect winning 11/12 (91%). Federer used the tactic to keep Murray guessing whether or not he was immediately coming forward to begin the point. Sometimes Federer did not plan on serving and volleying but quickly changed his mind to take advantage of a high defensive floating return. Other times it was pre-meditated and only once did he have to hit his first volley below the height of the net.
Federer also chose to sporadically employ a chip and charge tactic when returning, coming in immediately off a second serve. He went 3/6 (50%) with this strategy and it was always with a backhand in the deuce court down the line to Murray’s backhand. Federer did it twice with the score at 0-0, twice with Murray leading 40-15 and twice at deuce. It was a tactic designed to create uncertainty and break Murray’s rhythm.
The bigger the point in the match, the more likely you were to find Federer applying pressure at the net. In the second set, with the match in the balance and the possibility of Federer going down two sets to love, he came to the net 19/25 (76%) times for his largest set-by-set total. In the fourth set, when the match was there to won, he went a near-perfect 12/13 (92%) coming forward.
Federer was ruthlessly efficient attacking the front of the court, finishing with 24 winners and making only six errors at the net. He finished with eight forehand volley winners, six backhand volley winners and eight overhead winners for the match.
Federer converted 4/12 (33%) of his break points for the match and it should come as no surprise he was at the net for two of them. The more important the point, the more Federer was hunting the short ball.
Picking His Moments
Federer broke Murray at 5-6 30-40 to win the second set when he hit a backhand volley winner at the end of a 20-shot rally. Federer patiently prowled the baseline looking for the right ball to come in on, and then had the crowd cheering wildly as he hit a heavy sidespin drop volley that Murray could not run down.
Approaching on break point also helped Federer get the crucial break in the third set. With Murray serving at Ad out at 2-3, Federer ran around a second serve directed to his backhand and crushed a forehand return deep down the middle. Two aggressive forehands later he was at the net and Murray missed a difficult pass down the line and the famous Federer fist pump was quick to follow. This point really signaled the beginning of the end of Murray’s chances to win.
Federer faced seven break points for the match, surrendering only two of them. Of the other five he saved, he finished at the net three times – two of which he put away with overhead winners and Murray missed a desperate forehand pass down the line on the other.
Murray also had success in the match when he came forward as well, winning 24/39 (62%), but his game style does not have the same urgency as Federer’s to finish at the net. Federer won 35% (53 of 151) of his total points at the net while Murray was less than half of that, winning 17% (24 of 137).
Federer’s commitment to finish at the net enabled him to play the match much more on his terms and force Murray to defend more than he wanted. It also stole valuable points that Murray needed to attack Federer in bruising baseline rallies.
This match provides a blueprint for Federer’s continued success on the other side of 30 as it enables him to impose his attacking game style on his opponent in the most efficient way possible.