US Open Lowdown The Roger Federer SABR (Sneak Attack By Roger) Return

Federer SABR

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Roger Federer’s SABR return has been creating a lot of headlines at this year’s US Open. The Tennis Review explains what the SABR is and what all the fuss is about.

What is the SABR?

Roger Federer calls the shot the SABR- the Sneak Attack by Roger- and that sums it up perfectly.

When Roger Federer hits the SABR return he jumps into the service box once his opponent has served, hits a half volley and, if everything goes well, sends the ball flying out of the reach of his opponent for a winner or rushes them into error.

See the video below to see the Sabr return in action against Leonardo Mayer in the first round of this year’s US Open. Federer used the shot three times in the game and broke Mayer’s serve.

How did it come about?

The shot, also known in some circles as the ‘crush and rush’, is an old school technique rarely employed on the modern tour and was used mostly, much like the drop shot, when players were tired and wanted to get the point over quickly

The shot was also used more frequently when tennis was mostly played on fast courts.

Federer says he started using it when having a hit with Benoit Paire in Cincinnati. The two of them were both tired and decided to play a quick few points. Federer took on a Benoit serve with the SABR return and hit a winner which was, in his own words, ‘ridiculous’. The Swiss said he enjoyed it so much he and his coach Severin Luthi decided to make it a feature of his return game.

How effective is it?

For Federer on a fast court it has the potential to be very effective. The Swiss, a seven time Wimbledon champ and five time US Open champion, excels on fast courts due to his all court game and fine hands at the net. Taking on half volleys in the service box is second nature for Federer and his instincts and muscle memory make it an educated risk.

Federer, now aged 34, also needs to save as much time on court as he can if he wishes to win his 18th slam this year in New York. The SABR serve effectively ends the rally in two shots and saves the Swiss a lot of much-need energy.

The shot can only be employed against players whose first or second serves land mid-way to three quarters into the service box. Against players such as Isner, who Federer faces in his fourth round US Open match and whose serves skim the lines at 130 mph, the strategy would be a little dangerous.

What do the critics say?

Boris Becker has been the most vocal critic of the Federer SABR serve. The German, who did not look pleased when Federer employed the strategy to winning effect against Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati final two weeks ago, has said that if Federer had tried it in his era and the one immediately before, the era of Connors, McEnroe and Lendl, then someone would have purposely hit him with a body serve.

However, the SABR, is, much like Michael Chang’s infamous underhand serve in the 1984 French Open fourth round Vs Ivan Lendl, completely within the ITF and ATP rulebooks.

In fact, the SABR has been received positively by the tennis media and fans in general, happy to embrace some much needed variety to the tour, and pleased to see Federer’s ingenious strategy injecting some excitement into the game.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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