by Mauro Cappiello
As the US Open starts on Monday, Team Fedberg approaches the event with the best preparation possible. Between the two Masters 1000 events held this summer, Roger Federer played a lot of tennis, being able, at the same time, to keep things short. Of the ten matches played after the Wimbledon final, five were decided at the third set, but only two of them went past the two hours (the third round in Toronto against Cilic and the second in Cincinnati against Pospisil).
This is a clear sign of the fact that Edberg's influence on Federer's game is becoming more and more effective as time goes by. Since last May, when Stefan got back to Rome for the first time since his last competitive appearance in 1996, what had started as a ten week partnership for major events has gradually become a sort of symbiosis.
Actually, in the last four months, Stefan has left Roger alone only to follow his son Christopher's matches in two junior tournaments, the first in Sweden (during Halle, but he had been in Germany for the first three days) and the second in Portugal (when the Swiss was having a break after the Championships).
In the last two events, Edberg has in fact been the only coach in Federer's corner.
Many have noticed that if Roger's results have remarkably improved right in this range of time it can't just be a coincidence. An influent tennis analyst like Peter Bodo has repeatedly praised Stefan's coaching efforts, highlighting the fact that Roger's idea of shortening rallies was brilliant and Edberg the best person he could address for the task.
Watching the 7-time Wimbledon champion play recently is a different experience than it's been in the past, even in his early days, when serve and volley occurrences were not as rare as they became in the years of his Tour dominance. As the ESPN commentator stated during Federer's Toronto final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer has never been so confident at the net as in the last month.
Moreover, you can now see flashes of Stefan's style of play not only in his strategy, but also in his moves, in the way he reads and anticipates the opponent's choices, in his coverage of the net (especially on the second volley). His position at the net, that has been all but perfect in the past, has also improved. And many of his mistakes from the baseline can be seen as a result of his urge to take control of the net, just as it was for Stefan in the old days.
Edberg and Federer will always remain two different players. The Swede used to base his game on sliced serve and dominance of the backhand side. The Swiss likes to dictate with his forehand and has in his serve a weapon to win the point straight, rather than open the court for an easy volley. Stefan was a serve & volley machine, Roger owns a larger variety of shots and a more complete arsenal that allows him (better than possibly any other player in the history of the game) to decide a different strategy point after point.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, one can safely say that coach Edberg is working to turn his pupil's game into the kind of tennis he would have liked to play, had he been on the Tour today. And the interesting fact is that Roger, as a 33-year-old promise, has still got margin for improvements from this point of view.
Several times in interviews released since his retirement, Stefan has stated that playing pure serve and volley today is no longer possible, but an intelligent use of the vintage net game can be an effective strategy on a percentage basis and benefit tennis in terms of style variety.
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