The ‘tweener’, as the name suggests, is a shot played between a legs to return a rival’s lob. It’s a difficult – and risky – shot, and one that not all players will attempt given the risk associated with it.
Played by a number of big names in the 1970s, the tweener has enjoyed a resurgence in the past few years courtesy Roger Federer, who features quite prominently on this list!
James Blake vs Feliciano Lopez, Davis Cup 2007
Relatively ‘older’, this match saw Team USA pitted against Team Spain for the team tennis Davis Cup – a tournament Spain is more than successful at. Former top 10 player James Blake, playing to home crowds, was up against clay-court specialist Feliciano Lopez, and the right-hand/left-hand combination made for some interesting tennis.
The two played on hard courts, Blake’s territory and a surface he had found significant success with even at the Davis Cup.
Lopez led Blake 3-2 in the opening set, with the American looking slightly tired early on, and the Spaniard played some fast shots to respond. Standing at the tramlines, Lopez pummelled a backhand into Blake, who chased after it – and responded with a shot between the legs, which landed just inside the baseline.
Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic, Madrid Masters 2011
It’s no secret that clay is Rafael Nadal’s favourite surface, and he has won the ATP Masters Madrid Open four times, of seven finals in addition to his many other clay wins. This time, Nadal was up against one of his arch-rivals, Novak Djokovic, on clay, with the Serb up a set.
At 30-0 (this seems like a popular score for players to pull off tweeners at!), Nadal raced in a quick back-and-forth volley with Djokovic, sending some big shots in and even running to the net.
Although his game is beautiful to watch, Nadal is not known to routinely attempt trick shots. On this occasion, however, Djokovic returned Nadal’s shot at the net by rushing the net himself.
Racing to the baseline to return, Nadal turned only for a moment to judge Djokovic’s position on the court, following which he sent a shot between his legs, one that appeared only closely to almost nip at his ankle – and it lands well in, with Djokovic unable to get it.
Already behind their favourite player, the home crowds erupted in cheers for the former No. 1, with even Djokovic stopping to applaud.
Despite some brilliant shotmaking, however, it was Djokovic who would end up winning that title.
Roger Federer against Brian Dabul, US Open 2010
Seeded second at the 2010 US Open, Federer was up in the first round against Argentine Brian Dabul, and had won the first set 6-1. Leading 5-1 in the second, Federer looked all but finished with Dabul pulling out some desperate shots, one of them not unlike the attempt Feliciano Lopez made on James Blake years prior.
Running in towards the sidelines, Dabul sent a forehand almost from the baseline – but had a lot of spin on it, with Federer running to return as the Argentine stood at break point.
The result? Federer took the tweener almost blind, sending it across the court as it kissed the line – and brought him back to deuce. The shot had been so big even Federer was surprised, and the Swiss took a moment to celebrate before racing to a quick win.
The Swiss eventually lost in an epic five set semi-final to runner-up Novak Djokovic.
Fabrice Santoro against Roger Federer, US Open 2005
For once, Roger Federer was on the receiving end of a tweener – and a brilliant one at that, at the 2005 US Open. Faced with French ace Fabrice Santoro on the opposite side of the net, the Swiss had held an early service game, with Santoro beginning his own.
Locked in a regulation rally, the two volleyed back and forth as Santoro reached high for some big forehands, with Federer returning in a quick rally that did not give.
Sending a big backhand across the court, Federer may have hoped for quick points – which unfortunately was not the case. Running down the court, Santoro sent a clinical tweener, and almost exactly precisely down the line at Federer, who did little else but marvel at the shot.
For all we know, this might have been the shot that ignited Federer’s own subsequent penchant for the shot – but the precision of this particular one was a marvel.
Roger Federer against Novak Djokovic, US Open 2009
Defending his title, Roger Federer drew Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals this time around. The pair were locked in a tight match, with the first set going to tiebreak that Federer eventually won. Not one to give up, Djokovic held on to fight in the second set but yet again, it was Federer who prevailed – this time, 7-5.
With the third set poised at 6-5 in favour of Federer, Djokovic was the one on serve – and could well have sent the match into a fourth set.
But Federer had other plans. Up 30-0, Federer saw a couple of backhand lobs from Djokovic at the net, returning effectively. The Serb then scooped an inside-out forehand long, with the ball barrelling towards the baseline, and quickly.
With that speed on the ball, Federer’s pickup needed to be almost instantaneous. Racing towards the ball with his back to Djokovic, Federer sent the ball between his own legs, as it landed comfortably inside the lines – with Djokovic nowhere near it to pick it up.
Perhaps no one on court was as happy as Federer himself – the tweener had brought up match point for the Swiss. Djokovic followed with a fault, with Federer sending a simple forehand winner to the beleaguered Serb.
Although Federer would eventually lose the title to Juan Martin del Potro, the shot was perhaps one of the best he has played over an ongoing, long, illustrious career.