Roger Federer, the Swiss Maestro, one of the greatest players to ever pick up a racket. His strokes are the epitome of grace and poetry in motion. What comes to mind when you think of Federer? Is it his flowing hair, his sense of style, or his lethal yet effortless forehand?
Federer’s forehand is undoubtedly one of the sport’s most elegant, complex and effective shots. On television, it appears to be a simple and easy shot to imitate, though that is of course an illusion. It is also a shot that has changed significantly over time. Here’s a look back his forehand technique through the course of his career.
Roger Federer: His Forehand Evolution
These were the first years in which “Pony Tail” Federer rose to prominence, particularly after defeating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. During this time, his swing was primarily shoulder oriented. More torso rotation, lower body loading, and a flatter swing were all part of his technique. His take back was significantly larger and more circular, which generated more power and less racket-head speed. He used an “extreme eastern grip,” which means his hand was halfway between a semi-western and an eastern grip. But despite his big loopy backswing, he never lacked consistency and timing.
These years might be referred to as “Prime Federer”. His forehand was much more established, feared and dangerous. He had the ability to create angles and winners that no one could have predicted. Federer won eight Grand Slams during this illustrious period in his career and his forehand was his go to weapon. His technique was focused on depth and power rather than spin, with minimal wrist lag. His take back from previous years was pretty similar, with minor differences in variety and pace.
Here’s where things started to change. 2007 marked a successful year for Federer, but one thing became clear, his forehand looked different. First and foremost, he changed his racket and grip. He switched to the Wilson K- Factor 90 and adopted a conservative eastern grip. Most importantly, he shortened his backswing and began to generate more racket head speed, leading to increased wrist lag resulting with more spin. His use of the ‘windshield wiper’ motion became more pronounced.
His swing began to resemble a vertical rather than a horizontal trajectory. Compared to previous years, when his arm was slightly bent, his arm began to straighten upon contact. To compete on clay, where he wasn’t having much success, his flatter swing began to become more spin oriented. Some fans might wonder why Federer changed his forehand, but it ultimately proved crucial in helping him win the French Open to complete the Career Grand Slam in 2009.
This period marks the end of Federer’s prime, with Federer only winning only two Majors as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic established themselves as the pre-eminent forces in the men’s game. He began to shorten his forehand take back even more and adopted a prominent ‘Pat the Dog’ position. It generated a lot of spin, but lacked power. Federer was still able to use his forehand as an offensive weapon, one most players would have gladly added to their arsenal, but it didn’t have depth or raw power that his old forehand technique had.
During these years, Federer’s forehand was compromised due to a persistent back injury which affected his game and his confidence in his shots. 2013 was perhaps his worst season with his technique having become choppy and less than fluid. He couldn’t use his forehand aggressively due to his physical limitations, so he used it more as a neutralizer than a weapon. One of the most significant changes was Federer’s switch to a 97-inch racket-head size in 2014, which became known as the ‘RF 97 Autograph’. That brought him more power, at the cost of some control.
After switching rackets, it was clear that the decision was sound. It greatly helped his backhand by reducing mishits and shanks, but it also compromised the precision of his forehand. Federer’s take back started to begin closer to his body and became more compact as time went on. His ability to create winners from anywhere on the court was hampered, but still delivered when it mattered most. Federer also used his forehand was much more aggressively for a brief period in 2017.
Throughout the season, he relied on that shot frequently as a weapon alongside his famous ‘neo-backhand’. After he had some back issues at the end of 2017, it once again was adversely affected. His forehand now resembles more of a whip like motion with immense wrist lag and racket head speed. Itʼs not the shot it used to be, and has arguably been supplanted by his serve as his biggest weapon, but it is still is one the of best strokes in tennis history.