Is the ‘Net Rusher’ back in Tennis?
Indian Wells the first Masters 1000 of the season in the Californian desert paradise of Palm Springs, is well under way and we witnessed a major upset last weekend, with world number 1, Andy Murray going down to Canada’s Vasek Pospisil. This was Murray’s second consecutive loss to a player executing a game plan that has been somewhat scarce over the past decade or more…net rushing from serve and return! Is this strategy coming back into the game?
Tactics employed by Zverev and Pospisil
At the Aussie Open, German Mischa Zverev out gunned the Scot in 4 sets by charging the net at every chance. Zverev took it to his opponent, constantly asking him to hit winners with little time to execute. Murray had no answer in Melbourne and a very similar situation occurred in Palm Springs on Saturday, when Pospisil came out with the net rushing tactics. Players like Murray, Djokovic and Nadal have taken the baseline game to such heights that they are so tough to beat when opponents try to play against them from the back for the court. Pospisil and particularly Zverev have shown an alternative way in attempting to dethrone these tennis juggernauts.
In his ATP World Tour column, Craig O’Shannessy discuses the modern relevance of the serve and volley tactic. Zverev is winning up to 68% of points when he comes in after the serve as opposed to under 50% when he stays back. These figures show that he must come forward to have a viable chance of beating the best. Pospisil also embraced this ideal against Murray by coming into the net more often than not after his serve, and then preying on Murray’s bad serving day by rushing the net on his second serves. You can read Craig O’Shannessy full article here; Thanks To Mischa, Serve And Volley Is Back
Federer at the Aussie Open
Earlier this year, Roger Federer had an Aussie open to remember after having not played on tour for 6 months. In the final, the Swiss maestro played some inspired tennis to take the trophy from his long time rival, Rafa Nadal. Federer didn’t employ a strict serve and volley strategy, however he did play some very aggressive tennis to win the tournament. He took an advanced baseline positon, taking his groundstrokes early, in particular his backhand crosscourt, and rarely allowed Nadal to settle (Federer’s Crosscourt Backhand Fires him to number 18, Jan 2017). The intentions that Federer displayed in Melbourne are very similar to the intentions displayed by Zverev and Pospisil to beat Murray this season; attack and take time away from your opponent as quickly and as often as possible. Do not let them settle into a baseline comfort zone!
What has brought on this tactical switch?
Tennis has become a baseline battle over the last 20 years. The serve and volleyers have been virtually killed off due to the decrease in speed of the court and balls. In the last 10 years we have witnessed 4 of the greatest players to play the game competing at the same time; Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. These 4 have taken the game to new heights, winning virtually everything there is to win, taking the huge prizes on offer and most importantly reinvesting these financial winnings back into their games to improve further. Because of this, they have wedged a gap between themselves and many of the other players on the circuit. While all players who practice hard are improving their games, these 4 have been improving faster and further. This gap has made it increasingly difficult to beat these guys at their own game, namely baseline tennis. If you were to go toe-to-toe with one of them with these tactics you will mostly lose, that’s the cold hard truth. However, if you change the ‘rules’ and start to implement this attacking, net rushing game, they just may not be able to cope with it, because just like any other modern player they have very rarely come up against this strategy. As one of the big 4 and the oldest member, Federer has found success implementing this game against his rivals. The top players in the game find ways to beat each other and in turn evolve the way the game is played. The retro move of coming forward looks like the most viable option in beating these top players.
In the future I do see more players looking to come forward and finishing points earlier at the net. The baseline game is so tough too infiltrate, so players must find others ways to be successful in matches. However, I do not think that full on serve and volley of the past will come back just yet as the courts and balls are still too slow to provide the environment that will make it consistently feasible. It is great to see it back in some form and I for one hope to see more of the top 100 players mixing their game up with some net rushing tactics!