Allen’s latest analysis of the Federer/Zverev quarterfinal, where Zverev’s constant net charging got off to a slow start, but unquestionably got under even the great Federer’s skin. Is there a place for the fearless net charger in tennis’ future?
Roger Federer/Mischa Zverev Quarterfinal Match.
The Federer – M. Zverev match supplied further evidence that the persistent net attach may be a viable tool at the top levels, even though Federer won rather handily.
In the first set, Zverev, as usual, served and volleyed and came forward at the first opportunity, hustled, dived, and scrambled for every ball, but it was all hopeless. Fed brushed him aside like a pesky insect and was up 5-0 before I had time to get a coke from the kitchen. (a diet coke) He did get a game, which barely caused a ripple for Fed, who gracefully rolled forward to a 6-1 win. Fed simply played his highest brand of magic tennis and butchered Zverev. It looked like the match might turn into a total rout.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout. Zverev started to serve a bit better, but more importantly, he started to anticipate some of Fed’s extraordinary passing shots and knock them off with stab volleys or diving gets. This started to get into Fed’s head, and he began to press and miss passing shots. In fact, he also began missing in the groundstroke rallies because he looked uncomfortable with the constant threat of Zverev’s net attack, who came in every chance he got, including, occasionally, off of Fed’s second serve. It was very unnerving, but Fed managed to limp through with a shaky 7-5 victory. Fed stabilized in the third and re-imposed himself for a 6-2 finale.
This match showed me there is a great difference between hitting a passing shot after a 10 shot rally and hitting it when an opponent has been serving and volleying or dashing forward on your second serve or jumping you at net early in the rally. In the first case you have a chance to get into the point and develop some rhythm. In the latter, you have to hit your passes under emergency conditions with little or no opportunity to develop feel.
There is also a valuable accumulated pressure bonus that a volleyer gets from imposing a persistent net attack. Passing shots are difficult to hit over and over. The problem is that they have very little margin. They must be hit within inches of the net and line, so the slightest inaccuracy leads to an error. In addition, you have to fool the volleyer lest he or she anticipate your shot and reach it, even if it is hit to a line. This leads to pressure, uncertainty, and stress on the opponent.
Of course becoming a proficient volleyer takes years of practice to master technique: moving forward to close off the volley, volleying off of sideways lunges, controlling off-pace balls, etc. It also requires years of experience using it in competition, so you can learn to read the passing shots as well as play position if you can’t put the first ball away. This is complex, time-consuming, and physically demanding, and few players are making the commitment to master this skill. They are not certain that they will get value for effort because they do not see the big players doing it.
The jury is out as to whether the persistent attack, including the serve-volley, is viable at the very top levels of the game. A few larger, nimble athletes with bigger serves would make a better test.
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