Roger Federer has cemented himself in tennis history as one of the greatest players of all time.
Not only does he have 20 grand slam titles, he is one of the most recognisable and commercially valuable athletes in the world.
The grace with which he plays the game has won him millions of fans all over the world, as his fluid style makes tennis look so easy!
However, perhaps one of the most underrated but important shots in Federer’s arsenal is his single handed backhand.
Arguably one of the prettiest shots in tennis, the Federer backhand is one of the main reasons that fans consider him one of the most effortless players ever.
He swats balls away with such ease, flicking his Wilson racket at the ball and placing it wherever he wants.
He has an unbelievable amount of control on his backhand and it has evolved to become one of the best in the world.
But, there is actually a lot more to the Federer backhand than meets the eye.
Since he makes things look so easy, recreational players may be fooled into thinking he just stands and swings at the ball without a care in the world.
However, Federer is very tactically astute and uses his backhand to great effect.
Not only does he use various backhand shots to set up his powerful, heavy forehand, but he has developed a technique that allows him to step in and hit winners with his backhand just as easily.
So, let’s dive deeper into how Roger Federer’s backhand has evolved over the years, what makes it so great today and what you can take from the Swiss superstar and implement into your game!
How Roger’s Backhand has Evolved
Back in 1998 when a young Roger Federer turned professional, it was easy to see how his backhand was a bit of a weakness compared to the rest of his game.
He had a powerful forehand and a consistent, accurate serve, but his backhand left a lot to be desired.
Sure, he had a reliable slice backhand that could get him out of trouble and help him approach the net, but his topspin backhand lacked power and consistency when put under pressure.
As Federer started to have more success on the biggest of stages, his backhand came under more and more scrutiny from critics and players started to realise that they could exploit this weaker wing.
Rafael Nadal used this to great effect, whipping his lefty forehand into the Federer backhand.
This would consistently produce a weaker, mid court ball that Nadal could use to gain control of the point.
Federer had no choice but to improve his backhand. It was clear in the early 2000s that he had developed his body and fitness to add more power to his game overall, which of course spilt over into his backhand stroke.
This proved very effective on the slick grass of Wimbledon and the lightning quick hard courts of the US Open, as Roger was able to flatten out his backhand and hit winners from both sides of the court.
However, Federer became unstuck on clay and against heavy hitters that would expose his backhand and then dominate him with insane topspin.
This led Federer to defeat at the hands of his great rival Rafael Nadal multiple times at the French Open.
Whilst the Federer backhand has always had a lot of variety, his consistency and easy power generation were somewhat lacking up until around 2014.
In this year, Federer was coming off a few sub par results by his lofty standards, including a 2nd round loss at Wimbledon and a 3rd round loss at the US Open the previous year.
It was at this point that Roger started trialling new rackets. He opted for a larger headed Pro Staff model that gave him a much bigger sweet spot and more stability when striking the ball.
This in turn gave Roger more forgiveness on his shots, particularly more consistent power on his serve and a much larger hitting zone on his backhand.
This made a world of difference. Federer was able to stand up to the heavy topspin his opponents would throw at his backhand and strike through the ball with a lot more confidence.
He could hit over his returns more and was able to generate more power even when he was off balance or in a defensive position.
Despite injuries in the 2016 season, Federer was able to improve his backhand even further and developed a technique that allowed him to hit through the ball more, much like Stan Wawrinka.
This meant he could take on high balls aggressively and dominate his opponents from both wings.
This was used to great effect in the 2017 Australian Open final, where Federer defeated Nadal in 5 gruelling sets.
Federer was the 17th seed at the time and was able to hit through Nadal’s whipping forehand strokes with his new and improved backhand.
So, we have established that Roger Federer’s backhand has gone through a lot of changes over his 20 year career, but what exactly is it that makes it so great? Well, let’s find out!
What Makes Roger’s Backhand so Great?
There are a few key factors to the Federer backhand being such a weapon these days.
From his technique to his timing to his tactics, there is a lot more that goes into this beautiful stroke than you may realise.
From a technical perspective, there is now very little wrong with the Roger Federer backhand.
He has mastered the art of the single handed backhand to perfection and he is able to place the ball wherever he wants on the court.
More specifically, Federer utilises a high racket take back to increase his power generation and take a longer, fuller swing at the ball.
This is a fundamental part of the one handed backhand that helps maximise the advantage of having one hand off the racket.
Federer is able to use this leverage over the ball to drop his racket well below it, then drive up very quickly as he uncoils his body.
This also stems from a strong, complete unit turn that allows him to unleash his racket on to the ball with ferocious but effortless power.
Another area of the Federer backhand that stands out above the rest is his footwork.
He uses large steps to cover a lot of ground, ensuring he gets behind the ball nic and early.
But, once he is in the right position, Roger takes a few smaller adjustment steps to get his racket in the exact position he needs it to strike the perfect backhand.
Finally, one of the other areas in which Federer excels technically on the backhand is his relaxation through the ball.
He is one of the loosest players out there and strikes almost every ball effortlessly. But, one of the key elements to this fluidity is how relaxed he is able to stay.
Now, this is both a physical and mental thing, as he has to stay present and have a relaxed mindset in order to release tension from his body and swing freely through the ball.
But, from a physical point of view, he still needs to keep his upper body (torso, shoulders, arms and wrists) relaxed in order to generate as much momentum as possible as his racket penetrates the ball.
Federer does this by using the unit turn we mentioned earlier, along with having a balanced stance to hit from, that gives him a solid base.
He can then focus on swinging freely through his backhand, safe in the knowledge that he can use his legs for stability and to help with power generation.
Another key factor which makes the Federer backhand so great is his timing.
He is able to judge his contact point to perfection (something that his larger headed racket has made a lot easier), helping him to take the ball on the rise and take time away from his opponents.
This is something Federer has used to great effect throughout his career, as he is able to time the ball so well off both the forehand and the backhand side.
But, this is particularly important when he hits his backhands, as this tends to be the place that most players will target in matches.
Therefore, if Roger can step into the court and strike his backhand early, this will leave his opponent exposed and out of position, whilst allowing him to advance his own court position by stepping inside the baseline.
Roger also has the ability to push back and give himself more time to take a longer swing at the ball, something that he uses when returning high bouncing kick serves and when playing on clay.
This helps mix things up and keep his opponents guessing, whilst keeping him in the points for longer.
Another unique aspect to the Federer backhand is the amount of variety he has at his disposal.
He can use power, heavy spin, angles, short slices and drop shots to bamboozle opponents and keep them off balance throughout a match.
We have seen Federer hit drop shots when returning second serves, hit short, knifing slices to lure his opponents into the net (only to pass them with ease), as well as the famous SABR, where Roger takes a serve on the half volley to rush his opponent.
This amount of variation keeps his opponents guessing and can actually force them into errors down the stretch, as they never know what to expect from Roger’s racket.
Not only does Federer have a wide range of shots at his disposal at any one time, but he is also very good at knowing when to use these in any given situation.
He is able to stay solid and rally consistently when he is under pressure, but can also toy with his opponents when he is leading, making him a great front runner.
More specifically, a tactic that Roger likes to implement is using his short slice to draw opponents inside the court.
This isn’t a drop shot exactly, it is more of a low, fast slice that will land around the service line and goad the opponent to either come into the net when they aren’t comfortable, or play a slower, higher shot back that Federer can then pounce on.
Since the reply from the opponent is often a softer, more central one, Federer is able to run around his backhand and unleash his fearsome forehand, or even step in and crush the backhand down the line, taking charge of the point.
What You Can Learn From the Federer Backhand
Of course, when you watch Roger Federer play tennis there is always so much you can learn. His strokes are straight out of the textbook and his success on the court speaks for itself.
When thinking about the Federer backhand in particular, one of the major takeaways we can learn from the great man is about his footwork and relaxation.
It is obvious that his technique is pretty much perfect, but what is less obvious is how much time Roger gives himself by getting his feet, body and racket into position so early, time after time.
This is the real reason he makes the game look so effortless.
He is able to strike the ball cleanly and powerfully because he is almost always ready to hit before the ball has even bounced.
What’s more, if you can try and stay relaxed mentally during points, this really helps you with power generation as you hit all your shots, especially your backhand.
Try to focus on the process of hitting the ball rather than the outcome and you’ll feel a lot more confident as you play.
There is always a lot to say about Roger Federer’s tennis. He has graced the game with an elegance and majesty that we have never seen before.
His single handed backhand is one of the best shots ever in tennis and has been refined over his long career as a professional.
He has worked tirelessly to improve his backhand and has responded to the challenges from his rivals, carving out a shot that has withstood the test of time and has helped him reinvent his game into his late 30s.
So, if Roger spends all that time working on his backhand, so should you!