Henman: Federer’s serve is the best in the business

This reminds me of the most unreturnable serve I’ve ever seen, Ivanisevic, where the returner used to crouch & wiggle and then just stand up and walk to the opposite service box without even having twitched as the ball whistled past. The point is that he served fast, but wasn’t the absolute fastest, so it must have been the disguise.

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Henman: Roger Federer’s serve is the best in the business
Mark Hodgkinson
22 Jun 2011

Judging someone’s serve simply by looking at the speed-gun is too simplistic, Tim Henman has said, with the Englishman arguing that Roger Federer’s placement and variation makes his delivery the trickiest to return in the men’s draw.

Henman, who appeared in four Wimbledon semi-finals, contended that Federer’s serve was the most underrated part of his game. “The foundation of Federer’s game, and the first strike, is his serve, and at times people don’t quite give Federer’s serve the credit it deserves,” Henman said.

“Someone like Andy Roddick, who’s serving at 10mph or 15mph faster than Federer, is probably easier to return. I’m not saying that someone like Roddick should look for variation. Speed is one of the biggest assets for him, but with Federer, his variation and placement are second to none. People look at the speed-gun, and they don’t see 135mph or 140mph, but it’s his variation and his placement which is important. I watched a lot of his matches at the French Open, and so many times on big points he was cleaning the lines,” said Henman.

Federer’s unpredictability is hugely important. “There isn’t one serve he always goes for on big points, and that’s the best thing about it. There are no patterns. He hits so many different serves with so many different ball tosses.

“Maybe on the deuce box, if the ball toss is a little bit further to the right, you might think he’s going to go out wide. But it doesn’t work like that. He might throw it out to the left, and you might think he’s going to hit it down the middle, then he hits it wide. He might not serve the most aces, but the reply that he gets often sets up his forehand, and his forehand would be the one I would have,” Henman said of Federer, who plays Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the second round today.

When Federer is serving well, the rest of his game tends to work. “It opens up a lot of opportunities. When he is hitting his spots, it’s very difficult for his opponent to be aggressive on the return, and if you can’t get the ball away from the middle of the court, Federer is going to be dominating with his forehand on the second shot. That is his classic one-two punch,” Henman said.

“With his serve, the motion and the technique are so sound. He’s got amazing elevation, he uses his legs so well. I would like to see him incorporate serve-and-volley a bit more. Maybe once a game, just to put some more doubt into a returner’s head. He has so many options. He’s looking pretty good.”

Henman said that the conditions under a closed Centre Court roof would help Federer. “Roger plays well in the wind, but when the roof is closed and the conditions are still that favours him more. It helps all parts of his game. He’s able to play more aggressively and closer to the lines. When you’re playing in the wind, you have to give yourself more margin for error, and that’s not his game. He likes to take the ball on and go for it,” said Henman.

“The one thing that really helped Federer in Paris was the ball. The Babolat ball there definitely seemed as though it was quicker through the air, and the Slazenger ball used here is heavier, so he might not get the same penetration with the serve. But the surface helps him a bit. I don’t see Federer having any real problems against Mannarino. The Frenchman is a solid baseline player, but he hasn’t got the weapons to hurt Federer.”

In Henman’s opinion, the best approach when returning Federer’s serve is to be aggressive. “If you get into the mindset of chipping and blocking it back, you’re being too defensive and you’re going to let him dominate.

“You have to try to attack any second serves. When you get that second serve, you have to take advantage. You won’t get many of them, as his first-serve percentage is high, but you have to look to put the pressure on.”

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