#12 Return Approach

 2012 Wimbledon Final: Roger Federer def. Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 

Roger loves to sneak in to the net. 

Federer chose to sporadically employ a chip and charge tactic when returning, coming in immediately off a second serve. He went 3/6 (50%) with this strategy and it was always with a backhand in the deuce court down the line to Murray’s backhand. Federer did it twice with the score at 0-0, twice with Murray leading 40-15 and twice at deuce.  It was a tactic designed to create uncertainty and break Murray’s rhythm.

Applying pressure through court position is a key factor in the outcome of matches at all levels of the game and nowhere is it more underused than rushing the net off a second serve return. This forgotten tactic is a perfect first strike weapon for the returner to shorten the point, hide a weakness, instantly become the aggressor and rob the server of time to get prepared for their first shot after the serve.

Federer used this surprise strategy as a shock tactic to attack quickly in the point and instantly raise his opponent’s heart rate. Often with this tactic, you get the benefit of increasing the pressure on your opponent even if you don’t win the point. The first time Federer raised the stakes with a chip and charge off Murray’s second serve was the initial point of the 3-4 game in the opening set. Federer chipped a backhand return deep down the middle of the court off an 85-mph second serve that forced Murray to instantly lob, and Federer won the point with an angled overhead winner.

The play was an aggressive statement as much as it was about winning the point. Federer would get two break points later in the game, but was unable to convert.

#W/LScore ReturnDeuce / Ad CtWhat Happened
1Won1st Set 4-3, 0-0Backhand MiddleDeuce CtMurray lobs BH – Fed overhead winner.
2Lost1st Set 4-6, 1-0 deuceBackhand LineDeuce CtFederer nets a tough BH volley
3Won3rd Set 3-2 40-15Backhand LineDeuce CtMurray rushed into 1st shot BH error.
4Lost3rd Set 3-2 deuce #9Backhand LineDeuce CtMurray rips FH pass down line.
5Lost3rd Set 5-2 0-0Backhand Line Deuce CtFederer misses tough, wide FH volley.
6Won4th Set 0-0 40-15Backhand Middle Deuce CtFederer hits 1st shot BH volley winner.

It was the only time in the first set that Federer chipped and charged, but it established a question in Murray’s mind for the rest of the match – will he or won’t he be coming straight in?

Federer mixed up chipping and coming over the backhand return (three each) to instantly get to the net, but he always did it in the deuce court and always came in to Murray’s backhand.

Federer came forward immediately off the return only once in the second set, but used it three times in the third set, including twice in the crucial 2-3 game where he broke Murray on his sixth break point and essentially ran away with the match from there.

 2000 US Open Semi: Pete Sampras def. Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (5) 

Pete Sampras was always a threat to come straight in.

Sampras defeated Lleyton Hewitt 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the 2000 US Open semi-final and came to the net seven times immediately off Hewitt’s second serve to pressure his more consistent opponent. Sampras won four of the seven points, including two down the line winners.

#W / LScore ReturnDeuce / Ad Ct What Happened
1Lost1st Set 4-3, 0-15Backhand Cross Ad Court Hewitt hits FH pass cross from Ad court.
2Lost 1st Set 6-5, 30-40Backhand Cross Ad Court Hewitt hits 2nd shot FH pass through Ad.
3Won2nd Set 7-6, 1-1, 30-40Backhand LineAd CtHewitt missed FH pass cross court.
4Won2nd Set 7-6, 3-1, 15-0Backhand Cross Ad CtHewitt missed BH pass in net.
5Won2nd Set 7-6, 4-2, 15-15 Forehand Line Winner Deuce CtSampras bunted FH moving in.
6Won2nd Set 7-6, 4-2, 15-30 Backhand Line WinnerAd CtSampras stepped way in & blocked.
7Lost3rd Set 7-6, 6-4, 5-5 0-15Backhand Middle Ad Court Sampras hits it in the net.

 2013 Dubai Semi: Roger Federer def. Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 

Roger Federer is one of the best on the planet at hunting the short ball.

Federer’s comeback was built around attacking the net in several different ways so that he would not have to bang from the back of the court against Djokovic.The match was played in two halves with Djokovic dominating the first part and Federer taking control to claim his first victory over Djokovic in 18 months.

 Return & Approach – won 25% (1/4).

As weird as it sounds, this tactic is less about winning the point as it is about rattling the cage and extracting double faults at a later stage. It’s an audacious play that shocks the server and lets them know they are under full attack without a word being said. This was crystal clear at the start of the third set when Federer approached on the first two points of the set, winning the first and losing the second. The pressure meter instantly skyrocketed for Djokovic and the plan worked perfectly for Federer as he got handed the game with a double fault at 30-40. Federer could not have drawn it up any better.

Go Do This

A fantastic shock and awe play that raises the pressure level through the roof.

Coming in down the line to rush your opponent  works well. Ball gets there quickly.

Approaching deep middle gives no angle for the pass – another great option.

A perfect tactic if your opponent is winning too many points at the net. Take it away from them.

It’s okay to lose at this tactic earlier in the set to build pressure for later in the set.

This tactic can force a lot of double faults as it messes with the mind of the server.