Federer to launch a final stealth attack
THERE is no player at the highest level of tennis who knows Roger Federer better than Stan Wawrinka and the Swiss No 2 believes his Davis Cup colleague is playing better than for many a year.
Wawrinka, who has won two of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments, became the latest player to be brushed aside by Federer as the 33-year-old swept into today's US Open final against Novak Djokovic.
Federer's 6-4 6-3 6-1 semi-final victory over Wawrinka in the semi-finals here on Friday night was another stunning demonstration of the 17-times Grand Slam champion's enduring brilliance.
Federer was in superb form at Wimbledon, where he destroyed Andy Murray before losing to Djokovic in the final for the second year in a row, but Wawrinka believes he has since gone up another gear.
In winning the Cincinnati Masters and reaching the final at Flushing Meadow his only tournaments since Wimbledon Federer has played 28 sets and won them all with a brand of attacking tennis reminiscent of his heyday between 2006 and 2009.
''He came back at Cincinnati at a completely different level,'' Wawrinka said. ''Here also. He was playing well in the first part of the year and he made the Wimbledon final, but since then he has been amazing. If he keeps at this level he's going to be tough to beat.
''He's moving really well, for sure. He's reading the game well and he's really trying to stay on the line, not to go back. He's staying really aggressive. He's serving really well too. He's serving better than I have ever seen him serve.''
The key to Federer's recent run has been his renewed emphasis on attack. He has been playing more serve-and-volley, is moving into the net at every opportunity and is rattling through his service games as if he had a train to catch.
He has also come up with a new shot, labelled by his entourage as the SABR (''stealth attack by Roger''). Several times in matches he charges forward to the service line when receiving second serves to hit half-volley returns. The tactic usually hurries the server into attempted passing shots that fly wide or long in the knowledge that Federer is likely to pick off any other shot with a winning volley.
''I'll use it in the final,'' Federer promised. ''I used it to great effect against [Djokovic] in the tough situation, at, was it, 4-1 in the breaker in [the final in] Cincinnati. It's got to be the right point, the right frame of mind and the right place to do it.''
Djokovic, whose form since Wimbledon has been much more patchy than Federer's, also reached today's final in impressive style, though Marin Cilic, the defending champion, was carrying an ankle injury in his 6-0 6-1 6-2 semi-final defeat.
Since the demise of Rafael Nadal, the Federer-Djokovic rivalry has become the headline act in men's tennis. Federer has won 21 of their 41 meetings, but Djokovic has the edge in Grand Slam encounters, having won seven and lost six. Since Federer beat Djokovic to reach his last US Open final Djokovic has won six of their eight meetings in Grand Slam events.
Djokovic has reached the final in 16 of the last 21 Grand Slam tournaments and won the title in eight of the last 19. He will be appearing in his sixth US Open final, though he has won the title only once. Federer will be playing in his seventh, but his first since his defeat by Juan Martin del Potro in 2009 ended his run of five successive victories in the tournament. Victory today would see Federer become the first man in the Open era to win this title six times.
Federer said that some of his greatest opponents - most notably Nadal - had forced him to change his game, while his rivalry with Djokovic was ''more straightforward''. Federer explained: ''I feel like he doesn't need to adjust his game as much either. I think it's just a straight shoot-out, and I think that's the cool thing about our rivalry. It's very athletic. We both can handle whatever we present to one another and I think our matches are very even.''
When asked about Federer's SABR shot, Djokovic did not sound particularly impressed, saying he had not considered copying it. ''He tried that in Cincinnati,'' Djokovic said. ''It worked a couple of times. It's an exciting shot for him. For the player [on the] opposite side of the net, not so much. I have nothing else to say about that.''