NEW DELHI: One question that bugged Roger Federer fans during the early years of his now-legendary rivalry with Rafael Nadal was, ‘why doesn’t the Swiss master charge the net?’
It was a fair point as Federer — who won his first Wimbledon crown in 2003 by serving and volleying on the first and, sometimes, second serves — possesses preternatural skill in that department. Unfortunately, even when he did make the onerous journey forward, he struggled to cope with the Spaniard’s groundstrokes.
Over a decade has passed since then. But, on Saturday, fans at the Davis Cup World Group Playoffs finally got to experience the sorcery first hand, even though it was in doubles. Given that he was up against Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni, it gave both a unique look into what it means to face the left-handed matador. The former has played against Nadal before, but it was the latter’s first experience.
According to the Bryan brothers — who’ve won a record 16 Majors as a team — and other doubles stalwarts, Paes is the gold standard when it comes to net play; so the guy knows what he’s talking about. The 43-year-old, who partnered Nadal in a solitary event last year, feels there are three key ingredients at work whenever the claymeister is on court: spin, speed and trajectory. This is most evident in that bullwhip of a forehand he owns, which is capable of 4000rpm of torque.
“The speed of shots alone wouldn’t faze me, but coupled with trajectory of the ball and the way he lassos his forehand, it comes into the body. At a critical juncture in the match, Rafa hit a forehand that swerved high into my right shoulder; I was jammed. His repertoire contains so many trajectories and spins that staying back is out of the question. But coming forward is risky because he reads the game very well,” Paes told Express.
Myneni, whose big serve was a factor in key moments in the tight four-setter, echoed his more-experienced partner’s thoughts. The World No 137, currently the highest-ranked Indian singles player, felt the effects in the warm up itself.
“It’s a different ball game altogether. He gets it to dip, so it’s tough to control when you’re at the net. His backhand is quite heavy, but the forehand is another beast altogether. The first five minutes I hit with him, I could feel the difference. I’ve faced one or two balls like that from time to time in my career, but this is a steady barrage. Even his serve has plenty of that famed lefty slice and topspin; as a setup, he uses it masterfully,” Myneni said.
Just about everyone on the ATP Tour has had a hard time dealing consistently with the toxic combination that Nadal and his coach Toni concocted in the confines of his island home of Mallorca. It could probably qualify as the original inspiration for Breaking Bad!