Brain Game: Federer Charges His Way To Australian Open Title
The analytics of Roger Federer’s dramatic victory at the Australian Open fly in the face of what we think matters most to succeed in our sport. Federer manufactured a stunning 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Rafael Nadal, despite having a losing record from the back of the court.
When you look at practice courts all over the world, the baseline is king. Federer won only 44.6 per cent (70/157) from the back of the court in the Melbourne final. But he thrived in the less popular front of the court, winning 73 per cent (29/40) at net.
Serve and volley is basically a forgotten tactic, but Federer won a substantial 77 per cent (10/13) to enjoy one of the sweetest Grand Slam titles of his career.
Nadal is widely acknowledged as far superior in longer rallies than pretty much every other player on tour, but Federer got the upper hand in the short, medium and long rallies against the Spaniard.
Rally Length Won / Lost
0-4 Shots Federer 95 / Nadal 89 (+6)
5-8 Shots Federer 37 / Nadal 34 (+3)
9+ Shots Federer 18 / Nadal 16 (+2)
The first four sets were a tantalising entree. The fifth set was the main meal and Federer was sitting at the head of the table.
Federer won 80 per cent (12/15) of first-serve points in the fifth set and a resounding 57 per cent (8/14) on second serve. He also made more returns – 82 per cent (31/38) – than he had during any other set in the match. When the ball needed to go in the court, that’s exactly what he made happen.
Federer didn’t back into the fifth set victory. He grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and willed it out of the balmy summer Melbourne evening.
Federer hit 23 winners in the deciding set, which was the most of any of the five sets played. What stood tall under the spotlight of potential Grand Slam glory was his backhand.
Federer had accumulated six backhand winners in the first four sets, but he crushed eight in the deciding fifth set. Traditionally, the Nadal forehand had 'owned' the Federer backhand. Someone simply forgot to tell the Swiss legend how the story was supposed to end.
Federer also hit eight forehand winners in the deciding fifth set, adding to the 20 he had already struck in the first four sets.
Federer targeted Nadal’s backhand return in the deuce court, serving 27 first serves out wide and 20 down the middle. In the ad court, Federer went more with the centre serve, hitting 21 down the middle and 16 out wide to Nadal’s forehand.
Nadal’s slight edge came when Federer hit a second serve, with the Spaniard winning 59 per cent (20/34) of baseline points when Federer started the point with his second-serve delivery.
Federer also struggled from the back of the court against Nadal’s second serve, only winning 39 per cent (11/28) of baseline points when the Spaniard started the point with a second serve.
Our eyes want us to believe that Nadal runs around the back of the court far more than Federer, but their distance run in the final was almost identical. Federer averaged 11.14 metres per point to Nadal’s 11.44 metres. Federer ran a total of 3,218 metres to Nadal’s 3,306 metres. That equates to the Spaniard running just 88 metres more over the three hours and 38 minutes.
When Federer won the first point of his service game, he won all 14 of the games. When he lost the first point of his service game, he won just four of eight, which was similar to Nadal’s five of 10. It was these small margins on big points that contributed to the victory.
Federer was magnificent on all levels. He has now 18 Grand Slam titles. After not playing a tour-level match since Wimbledon, this is possibly the sweetest of them all.