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‘Think offense’ movement in tennis could make life difficult for Roger Federer

Now that one other clay-court season dominated by Rafael Nadal is over and it is secure for Roger Federer to go exterior once more, the all-time Grand Slam singles champ is fired up for the grass-court season.

“I’m super happy to be back on tour,” Federer mentioned in his on-court interview following his 2018 grass-court debut Wednesday in Stuttgart, the place he logged a crisp, three-set win over Mischa Zverev. “It’s been a great start. It feels good to win again.”

The Wimbledon champion left the tour 81 days earlier with back-to-back losses caught in his craw — the primary to Juan Martin del Potro in the Indian Wells last, then a Miami Open first-match catastrophe in opposition to 21-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis. The losses blunted one other gravity-defying liftoff this season by Federer (the 2017 champ at each Indian Wells and Miami), who began the 12 months with a 17-match win streak, together with an Australian Open last.

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A mere March glitch or one thing bigger?

Federer took his candy previous time answering the query, placing his ft up for all the clay-court season whereas Nadal & Co. knocked themselves out grunting, sliding and vamos-ing their method via pink dust wars. They performed some units that lasted longer than Federer’s 92-minute win over Zverev — and that was a match that went the space.

That’s the character of grass-court tennis; it is extra shouting match than clay-court dialog, with the factors flying by in a blur of serves, volleys and passing pictures. Finally taking the recommendation Pete Sampras and others provided him over a decade in the past, Federer has develop into in latest years a slashing, dashing, attacking grass-courter.

Federer’s evolution has paid such nice dividends that he is been capable of stay a Euroclay refusenik and nonetheless retain his No. 2 rating, just some unforced errors off Nadal’s tempo, regardless of these March failures. And now comes his happiest season.

“On grass, my expectations are high,” Federer informed reporters early this week. But Stuttgart can also be one of many only a few locations the place his hopes have been stymied. He’s by no means gained the title, whereas he is toted off the trophy simply down the autobahn in Halle a Nadal-esque 9 instances.

Federer was knocked out in the third spherical in 2016 by rising Dominic Thiem. Then final 12 months, Federer, 35 on the time, truly misplaced to an older man, 39-year-old Tommy Haas.

This could be a bellwether event for Federer at a time when the sport could also be shifting below the gamers’ ft as soon as once more. For concerning the final decade, protection, and notably the power to transition from protection to offense, was the ruling ability. It lifted Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray into full membership in the Big Four.

Now, thanks partly to Federer’s success, extra gamers appear targeted on pre-emptive ball-striking and offense. Zverev is an instance, however so what? He’s ranked No. 54 and has never gained a title. Well, his brother Alexander traits that method, too. And at 21 and already the proprietor of three Masters titles and a No. three rating, Alexander seems to be so much like the way forward for the ATP.

A bevy of offensive-minded gamers could put Roger Federer on the protection this grass season. Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Federer could meet any of two proponents of the “think offense” movement if he hopes to lock down the Stuttgart trophy. A quarterfinal win by Federer on Friday could pit him in opposition to No. four seed Nick Kyrgios, with No. 7 seed Milos Raonic penciled in as a possible finalist. A matchup in opposition to the latter could be a reprise of the 2016 Wimbledon semifinal gained by Raonic.

Things have not gone so effectively for the lanky 6-foot-5 Canadian since then. Laid low by a sequence of accidents, he is respiratory via his nostril proper on the .500 waterline at 56-28 since that landmark conquest of Federer. Raonic has performed simply two finals, each in minor ATP 250 occasions, successful neither. His rating has dipped from No. three to as little as No. 38, however he seems to be wholesome once more at simply the appropriate time for his whopper of a serve to do utmost harm.

Kyrgios has woven himself an analogous plot. The newest is a sore elbow that saved him off pink clay for a lot of the spring. But when he is wholesome, there is not a extra harmful instance of a participant who can slash in addition to crash, mixing rocket serves with swerving slices and flat forehands.

There are at all times energy gamers round, however loads of them — together with del Potro, Kevin Anderson, John Isner, Lucas Pouille (whereas a Frenchman raised on clay, he clocked the second-fastest serve at Roland Garros this 12 months), even Thiem — appear to be doing particularly effectively recently. Maybe the trick to beating Federer’s jazzy offense is not nice protection however superior offense and firepower, as del Potro and Kokkinakis demonstrated.

Kokkinakis was only a qualifier. But he has an outsized sport and large serve. He put loads of strain on Federer all through their three-set conflict in Miami. When it was over, Federer mentioned, “Wrong decision-making by me, good decision-making by him. It’s disappointing.”

Federer is usually well-known for his smart decision-making, however the court docket is one place the place it is attainable to strain him into making a poor alternative and even an error. He has his work minimize out.

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