Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Makes Federer's Game "Classic"?

Many writers describe Roger Federer's game as "classic," but what exactly does this mean? The word itself means "something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality" (Wikipedia).

With video analysis, we can easily compare Federer's style of play with previous generations' players by viewing them side-by-side, looking at stillshots of key positions, and synchronizing the video to a particular event (e.g., impact). Below we have a video comparing Federer's game to a champion of the past, Bjorn Borg.

The key positions shown here are: Preparation (a.k.a. Loading Phase), Contact, and Follow-through. During the Preparation phase, both players bend their knees and rotate their upper bodies, building up potential energy. They're also using an open stance, meaning their front foot is not positioned across their body. The second key position shown in the video is Contact; and it's noted that both players impart topspin on the ball by brushing up the back of the ball from a low to high position. The final key position is the Follow-through. Because they swung from low to high, both players' racquets end up across their bodies from somewhat of a windshield wiper motion.

What makes the similarity between these two players' styles so interesting is how different their racquets are. The physical properties of the racquets are quite different, including the size, weight, material, and string; and these differences undoubtedly affect the types of shots a player can make on a ball. But despite these differences in racquet technology, Federer's technique on this forehand is extremely similar to Bjorn Borg's, and that is one of the things that makes his game classic.

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