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June 04, 2014

Jim Courier Questions Nadal's Serve- and Fed's Return-Tactics

A precious-few nuggets emerged from the endless TV blather. A pair of interesting exchanges occurred from pointed questions by former great Jim Courier. First, Courier said that Nadal should go back to hitting big first serves, as he did in his first, US Open victory, instead of relying entirely on his left-spin serve. 

Nadal Serve PalmUp Final BNP ATP tennis  1104

Caption. The only player I've seen get more, internal arm rotation on his serve than Nadal is Isner. Look at Rafa's palm, it's facing almost straight up. My pic from BNP IW. \
 
Courier said that Nadal particularly needs that against Djokovic. "Nadal needs some easy points. If he misses, he simply starts a rally with his second serve anyway {implying that's all Nadal is doing vs Djokovic with his first serve.)" Earlier Courier had said, "Nadal changed rackets to get more firepower against Djokovic, he should aim for more on his serve, too." 
 
Martina Navratilova countered that Nadal uses his first serve to get in position, to set up his ground strokes, and that when he goes big he doesn't have his rhythm. She's right IMHO. 
 
I saw the last match where Rafa went big with his first serves, doing pretty much what Courier suggested, a final against Djokovic at BNP Indian Wells. Rafa hit 130+ MPH first serves repeatedly, but only got 38% of them in. Result: Djokovic dominated the match. Rafa never served big again. 
 
Similarly, Courier asked Fed's recent coach Paul Annacone, "Did you ever try to get Fed to vary his return position. To change it up against a big server like Gulbis? {During Fed's loss to Gulbis}"? 
 
Annacone: "We discussed that, but Roger is comfortable absorbing pace." In other words, Fed didn't want to. Instead, Fed always wants to stand on top of the baseline when returning first serves, blocking many back, although he does try some run-around forehands on second serves. 

 

Reader Comments

With regards to the Annacone return thing, by Courier asking why doesn't he "vary his return position" I don't think that relates to how close to the baseline Federer stands or whether he should stand further back. It is more about the position where he stands along the baseline.

Roger will stand in the exact same position the entire match. Never give his opponent a different look by closing off the down T serve or giving an opponent a big wide space to serve into. We saw against Gulbis he never made him second guess or move away from his favoured serves by standing closer to the T or moving further out wide. He was like a statue.

They had a similar discussion on ITV where Courier also commentates, and Courier said Annacone said Fed likes to be "stable on returns" so doesn't like moving around. I see that as more of a rhythm based thing and so he's aware of exactly where he's stood at point of contact everytime.

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