Tennis, as played by the French, is quite beautiful to watch. The ground strokes are like clean and extended brush strokes on canvas. Even Richard Gasquet, who plays with topspin on his ground shots, seems to drive through the balls. However, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka added a sense of Swiss-purpose and power to the beauty of French tennis.
Federer’s and Stan’s game
Both Roger and Stan play all-court tennis, but Roger Federer plays to shorten points whereas Stan constructs them to bludgeon opponents with raw pace and power. Wawrinka with his serve, forehand, and the killer backhand can force even Federer to play 5 feet behind the baseline, and he made life miserable for Djokovic in the French and the US Open.
Development of Djokovic’s and Nadal’s game
Facing Wawrinka’s power were moments of reckoning for Novak Djkovic, which were further vindicated by his fall to the power hitters, Kyrgios and Zverev, in 2017. However, we cannot forget that Novak honed his style to counter and better Nadal’s and in that he was super successful. Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, mastered the art of hitting high loopy cross court top-spins from his forehand, once he discovered that Fed was uncomfortable with it. And, Nadal was super successful at that. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal did not have the luxury and time to develop an unbiased game like Federer, and Wawrinka.
Nadal’s strengths and weaknesses
Rafael Nadal’s muscular frame gives him the strength to execute his weaponized forehand. His forehand gives him an edge over not only Novak but also many others, including Roger. The ubiquitous slowing down of the courts across all surfaces and advancements in string technology was exploited well by Nadal. It is a testament to Roger Federer’s technical superiority that he could mold his highly aggressive game, so very successfully, to the slow courts. Could Nadal do the same on fast indoor and carpet surfaces? Therefore, technically, Rafael Nadal’s game hits a ceiling on the fast indoor and super-fast surfaces. He finds himself incapable of reinventing on those surfaces and fails to master them.
Novak Djokovic’s strengths and weaknesses
Novak Djokovic has no weaknesses and can play on all surfaces well. He, however, lacks serious weapons and is overly dependent on his movement. Aggressive power hitters, as we will see more often, can sink even the best of movers. The one thing working for Novak, and Nadal, against the aggressive power hitters, is that they are prone to unforced errors and rarely consistent.
Why are Novak’s & Nadal’s strengths turning into their weaknesses?
Upon turning professional, Federer honed his net skills and perfected his ground shots and serve by emulating and learning from the very best; whereas, Wawrinka gradually turned his game into an arsenal full of weapons. Both Nadal and Djokovic, on the other hand, honed their games to beat someone specific and in the end are being beaten, both physically and technically, by their games. Off course age has a major role to play too.