Indian Wells 2017: Roger Federer reveals how he solved the Rafael Nadal code
Federer next meets Nick Kyrgios for a place in the semi-finals.
What’s the story?
Roger Federer produced a masterclass performance that totally left his greatest nemesis Rafael Nadal suffocated in one of the most one-sided encounters ever contested by the two legends at the Indian Wells Masters fourth round on Wednesday night. What left the tennis world stunned in that 6-2, 6-3 win was how he was striking his backhand with relentless abandon even on the slower hardcourts of the season's inaugural Masters tournament.
Six weeks after edging the Spaniard in a thrilling five-setter final at the Australian Open, there was no hesitation or stutter from the Swiss maestro, proving that the exhibition at Melbourne Park was no aberration.
It is a farcry from the days when the Swiss struggled mightily against the southpaw that led to their skewed head-to-head record which had Nadal leading 23-12 prior to their latest showdown. The single-handed backhand had been his biggest liability and the ineffectiveness of it would be routinely exposed by the heavy topspin forehands raining from the Spaniard’s racquet.
But not anymore.
The 18-time Major winner Federer had an answer to what brought about this remarkable turnaround. After his 68 minute dominant display over Nadal, Roger told the Tennis Channel: "By coming over my backhand on the return, from the get-go of the point, I can dominate points right away”, adding, “It's important to keep your opponent off-guard and know that he has to be careful."
Clearly, the tried and tested formula that used to work for the 14-time Major winner is not paying off anymore and that is very much injecting doubts in Rafa's mind as he desperately keeps on searching for answers.
By robbing Nadal's freedom and his power to control the match, he has been successful to make dents in Rafa's confidence. And the results were for all to see in Australia and at Indian Wells.
In case you didn’t know...
Out of the 36 times these two legends have met, this was the first time that Federer got the better of Nadal in three consecutive matches. The Swiss prevailed over his biggest rival at the 2015 Basel final in three sets. This year, he made his backhand do the talking at the Australian Open final and then earned his third straight win at Indian Wells last night.
The heart of the matter
It's not just the way he is going for his backhands that have helped him to solve the Nadal code after being plagued by the Spaniard’s game for years. This change has been a process in the making ever since he switched to larger racquets. Three years ago, the Swiss had decided to let go of his 90 square inch racquet head in favour of a new 98 square inch model. That clearly was where it all began.
The effort to add more bite to that weaker backhand wing paid rich dividends, as is evident nowadays.
Federer has admitted himself that even though he comfortably sliced with his earlier racquet, it did have the disadvantage of making shanks at the most inopportune moments. But with the new racquet, he can produce easy and effortless power which, in turn, is giving him the much-needed confidence to step in and be thoroughly aggressive.
Federer next meets the super talented, yet volatile Nick Kyrgios, who caused a major upset by sending the three-time defending Novak Djokovic home in straight sets. The young Australian did beat Federer in their only meeting so far.
There’s nobody better than Federer in the tennis world when it comes to reinventing one's game. That only establishes further his passion for the game and his insatiable hunger to still keep on chasing the sport’s biggest titles.
And for that, he is not afraid to venture into areas that he hadn’t been to before. That itself is a lesson for his peers and for the upcoming new generation.