Roger Federer’s new tactic could be difference vs. Stan Wawrinka
If possible, Roger Federer’s tennis is more entertaining now than during his heyday when he won five straight U.S. Opens. In an era when approaching the net is considered passe, here comes the 34-year-old Swiss Maestro, doing it better than ever.
Federer is trying to get back to his first Open final since 2009 and doing it his way — “the SABR’’ one of his inventions that could unlock the door.
Federer faces fifth-seeded Swiss countryman Stan Warwinka in a semifinal moved to smack in the middle of prime time because of the women’s semifinal postponement Thursday. Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, looking for his third major of 2015, will face defending Open champion/afterthought Marin Cilic in the first semifinal at 5 p.m., followed by the All-Swiss affair.
When notching most of his record 17 majors, Federer lessened his net work, letting his baseline game do the damage. He has tried to reinvent himself, going back to his net-loving junior days as he bears down on his first major since 2012.
“I think I’ve worked on my game moving forward, taking the ball earlier,’’ Federer said. “I think I’m volleying better than I have in the last 10 years. I was volleying well coming up on the tour when I was young. Now because my serve is working quite well, you put those two things together and standing in on the [service] return, it has changed the dynamics.’’
Federer came into the Open on a roll and with a new shot — rushing to the service line to take early an opponent’s delivery and following it to the net. His exquisite play in winning in Cincinnati and downing Djokovic, who beat him in the Wimbledon finals, had many predicting a sixth Open title.
Federer already was envisioning a new silver trophy, suggesting to tournament officials the past winners should be engraved on each new chalice.
“I love tennis history and I like to see who has won in the past,’’ Federer said. “I would like to have another one.’’
Federer traces a rebirth to finally mastering the change to a larger racket frame he made more than a year ago. He found himself hitting his backhand more cleanly.
“I think I’m taking the right decisions at the right times,’’ Federer said. “I think the racket is helping me, easier power. Now having played with it for over 1 ½ years, I feel like I’m really finding the zones, where to hit them. I can place it more accurately right now than I ever could.’’
The late-blooming Wawrinka, who has as many major titles as Andy Murray (two), beat Federer at the French Open and knows his buddies’ game well. Wawrinka’s girlfriend, Donna Vekic, in the middle for the Nick Kyrgios controversy, has attended Wawrinka’s matches. But she may not be rooting for a winner, considering Federer’s 16-3 record against her boyfriend.
“It took him a while to figure out exactly what his possibilities are,’’ Federer said. “I don’t think he’s a guy who had enough confidence. He definitely is a big test and big challenge for me. Subconsciously you know [that] he knows what your preferences are.’’
In the undercard, Cilic takes a 12-match Open winning streak into the Djokovic showdown but has never beaten the Serbian (0-13), including a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 defeat in July at Wimbledon. Cilic, from Croatia, is a heavy underdog.
“It’s the toughest matchup,’’ Cilic said. “I had close matches last few years, but I haven’t found the right formula to win.’’
But they haven’t met at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“This is where he loves playing,’’ Djokovic said. “He loves the conditions on Arthur Ashe. I’m going to try to use that advantage and having success against him in the past and to my favor.’’