The book on Roger Federer always boiled down to a single, simple mantra – attack the backhand.
If there was ever a way to bring the Swiss legend to his knees, that was the most likely way to achieve it.
It’s a tactic that’s worked for years for Rafael Nadal, whose entire game plan during matches against Federer was to hook his heavy, kicking forehand into Federer’s weaker, one-handed wing.
Federer’s Australian Open final victory over his Spanish nemesis was notable for how free-swinging, confident, and ultimately effective his backhand was.
It was much the same story on Wednesday at Indian Wells.
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Federer, facing Nadal in the fourth round, played several forcing backhands on his way to a break in the opening game. He played a return winner down the line off the same shot to break for 4-1 in the first set.
And he capped his triumph with a backhand return winner on match point.
“I think with the bigger racquet, head size, (I’m) definitely having an easier time to come over the return, especially, and then stay aggressive throughout the rally, as well,” Federer said of his backhand.
“Clearly because (the racquet) has more power, I have to be careful how I manage that because the ball flies out of the racquet faster than with my previous racquet, before (20)14, that I had for a few years there.
“I think it was the (pre-season) work that I had in November/December. Because I hit so many balls at practice, you go much more rhythm, rhythm, rhythm … eventually they are engrained in the system and you feel way better.
“I think the backhand has gotten better because I have been able to put so many hours onto the racquet now. And really, since this year, I feel super comfortable with the racquet, and I think I have also gained confidence stepping into (the backhand).
“Obviously you have to take it on the rise, and for that you need good footwork, because if the footwork is not right, you won’t be on top of the ball.
“All my coaches throughout my career have told me to go more for the backhand, but I used to shank more. So maybe deep down I didn’t always believe that I had it in the most important moments.
“But I think that’s changing little by little, which I’m very happy about.”
After beating Nadal in 68 minutes for the loss of just five games, Federer will in the quarterfinals face Nick Kyrgios.
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