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Brain Game: Federer's Resilience

London, England

Brain Game© AFP/Getty ImagesJuan Martin del Potro congratulates Roger Federer after their final Group B match on Saturday afternoon.

Dismiss Roger Federer at your own peril.

Federer produced another magical performance to remind the world that the king is still alive and kicking in defeating Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5 at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on Saturday.

Federer’s resilience was displayed in every set as he clawed back from 1-5 in the first set to narrowly lose it 6-4. Then he came back from 3-1 down in the second set and 3-0 down in the third set to triumph in the winner-take-all battle and advance to Sunday’s blockbuster semi-final against Rafael Nadal.

It was vintage Federer from the back of the court as his forehand dominated with 16 forehand winners (del Potro had 8) while only coughing up 26 errors in the almost two-and-a-half hour encounter.

Federer hit nine forehand winners from the deuce court and seven from Ad court as he constantly hunted the short ball to attack. The even offense was helped by del Potro’s deeper court position allowing Federer to rule the baseline and move the Argentine side-to-side throughout the match.

The evenness of Federer’s baseline game was also reflected in his errors as he committed 13 forehand errors standing in the deuce court and 13 in the Ad court.

Federer’s backhand only produced one winner, which was a drop shot at 3-5, 15-0 serving in the opening set, but more importantly it only yielded 18 groundstroke errors in three sets under heavy fire from del Potro. Federer switched tactics with his backhand late in the first set and sliced it a lot more to gain better depth and remove the raw power that his opponent was feeding off.

Federer quickly fell behind 5-1 in the opening set and only hit six slice backhands to that point of the match, representing a third of his total backhands. But he switched tactics and after two sets of play he had hit almost half (49%) of his total backhands as a slice, directing it deep to del Potro’s backhand where it would stay low out of the strike zone and not deliver the pure speed that could be used back against him. It was a masterful switch of tactics that helped him be more consistent and go deeper in a lot more rallies.

Federer’s superior court position around the baseline also allowed him to dominate the front of the court as well where he won 72% (26/36) of all points coming forward to the net. Federer also hit eight drop shots, winning five, as he aimed to keep del Potro off balance and guessing with his varied shot selection.

Federer also mixed his first serve location well, directing 23 at del Potro’s forehand and 29 at his backhand to stop the Argentine getting the upper hand at the start of the rally. But on second serves he directed 28 to del Potro’s backhand and only five to his forehand to avoid the bigger forehand return of serve.

Federer hit 66% forehands with his “Serve + 1” tactic, winning 62% (25/40) when starting with a serve and a forehand and only 35% (7/20) when starting the point with a serve and a backhand. 

Del Potro really went after Federer’s backhand when serving, but Federer counted well with deep, slow slices to neutralise his opponent’s power. Del Potro directed only 11 first serves to Federer’s forehand but a massive 41 towards his backhand. Federer hit 35% (14/40) second serves as forehands but could but could only manage to win 21% (3/14) with his more favoured wing.

The confidence from coming from behind and pulling out such a big win will be just the tonic he needs as he takes on the No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, Nadal, in today’s semi-final. Federer will be primed to once again to show the world he has still got what it takes to get the job done on the world’s biggest stage.

Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at

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