by Mauro Cappiello
A few years ago, Stefan Edberg used to regret the disappearing of serve and volley in every interview. Coaches and analysts answered smiling and shrugging their shoulders in disbelief, saying tennis has changed over the years, surfaces are slower today, racquets are bigger and more precise and give baseline players a huge advantage against the volleyers.
Now Roger Federer, newly crowned Wimbledon champion for a record 8th time after a two-year partnership with Edberg, is repeating the same mantra as his former coach. More, he connects the lack of style variety and poor volley skills to the gap that still separates the new generation from the top level of men’s tennis.
“I have played almost every player here that wouldn’t serve and volley, - Roger said about his Wimbledon opponents in the media conference the day after his triumph. “It’s frightening to me, to see this at this level. I look at the stats and go into whichever round it is and see that the guy I’m going to face is playing 2 per cent of serve and volley throughout the championships. I’m going, ‘OK, I know he’s not going to serve and volley’, which is great.”
Last July 18th, The Times dedicated a page to Roger Federer's dressing-down to the new generation
The Swiss thinks this strategy is limiting the growth of young players and proved to be not valid not only against those few net players still left on the Tour, but also against those who play a top baseline tennis, like Murray, Nadal and Djokovic. “If you are No 50 in the world, it is not so simple to take them out (from there).”
Even before becoming his coach, Stefan Edberg used to suggest to Federer to apply a more offensive game plan to improve his record against his nemesis Rafael Nadal. “Against him, Roger should go to the net five times out of ten.”
Edberg blamed coaches for not teaching kids how to volley, preventing them to develop this skill since a very young age, like the serve and volley art requires. In the Swede’s opinion, this trend is now reflected in the lack of style variety and in the predictability of the return game. “A player who would start to go to the net today would have a huge advantage, because his opponents would be surprised. Keeping the ball in on the return would no longer be enough.”
Roger seems to have appreciated Edberg’s advise. A more aggressive strategy, plus some adjustments on the backhand made under his new coach Ivan Ljubicic, led him to four straight wins against Nadal. And now he’s also passing this message to the young, with this Wimbledon wake-up call to the new generation.