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How Federer can beat Nadal on clay


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:32

We asked tennishead coaching editor Dave Sammel to put his mind to the problems faced by the great Roger Federer.

If Big Dave was the man in Rogers VIP box, this is what hed do

My task
I have been asked to comment on what it will take for Roger to be successful on clay. Roger has been the No.2 player on clay in the past three years, so I have identified the key areas Roger could address to take his success to a new level and actually win the elusive French Open title he craves.

Roger is tough. However, to beat Rafael Nadal he needs to be working on a couple of specifics that make him enthusiastic about the task. He needs to totally believe that these alterations will make the difference.

The key aspects of Rogers arsenal of firepower are his serve and forehand. The area that needs polishing is his net play (especially the forehand volley and movement at the net) to supplement the big serve and forehand. To beat Nadal on clay he has to come forward and dig up a few really tough volleys and not miss chances to bury points. If he can do this it takes a bit of pressure off his forehand especially when he is in an attacking position, as he will not overplay if he is confident with his volleys.

Roger is a natural mover but he has to put in the miles and strength training so he is sure he can match Rafa on clay for the necessary time it will take to beat him.

If Roger is moving well out to wide forehands and rarely having to resort to a squash/sliced forehand, then I know he is both in shape and has done the practice to feel comfortable out wide. At the net is where the main work needs to be done so the leg work supports his great hand skills so his volleys have a bit of extra zip and stability.

No one can see themselves consistently without bias. A trusted set of eyes that can bring the odd inspirational statement to the party plus make the necessary work imaginative can only help. Only Roger knows why he prefers not to have this help.

Personal life
This is settled and I’m sure an inspiration to him. I doubt this has any more or less a bearing on his game than any of his competitors.

I think Roger has to commit to a strategy to beat Rafa and play every match working on improving this. It is tough to just turn it on in a final. The areas that are key are:

  • Serve and volley one point a game or at a minimum every other service game.
  • Approach deep down the middle to Rafa’s backhand to negate the angle (early and fast enough so he cannot run round and play the forehand).
  • Occasionally approach to the backhand and close off the cross-court pass with such intent and aggression that he chops off anything that Rafa hits cross-court. This will become a game of chess as to when Roger covers only the cross and when not, with the middle approach also part of this mix.
  • Use his down the line backhand to change the pattern of play. When he does go up the line he shouldnt necessarily go for winners, but should use it to change the cross court pattern of play that is Rafas forehand to Rogers backhand that Nadal likes.

The definitive message
The message to Rafa has to be a relentless:


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.