The Roger Federer SABR Tactic: Can It Help Your Game?


Earlier this summer, stories of ATP #2 Roger Federer's “new sabre shot” or his “new trick” started coming out in the press.  The heaviest coverage of it came right after the ATP Masters Cincinnati tournament, where he used this tactic to take the title over ATP #1 Novak Djokovic.  This return of serve technique (and strategy) is a bit tricky, but not only has it helped Federer break a few more serves, but it can be of benefit to recreational players as well.


So what is a “sabre tactic?” It has nothing to do with any type of sword, if that's what you're thinking.  It's an acronym.  SABR stands for Sneak Attack By Roger.  Here's what it looks like:


Roger Federer SABR Attack vs Novak Djokovic

What Federer is doing is hitting a half-volley off the 2nd serve return of serve.  At the ATP Level, that's astounding!  As mentioned in the video clip, the Djokovic serve is coming in a 106 mph.  But he's Roger Federer, and is arguably the best volleyer and half-volleyer on the ATP Singles Tour (the Bryan Brothers might argue about the overall title), and he's proven he can pull it off.  But can recreational players benefit from this tactic? Yes!


This is actually an easy “yes,” because most recreational players are facing nowhere near 106mph 2nd serves.  The only question a player has to ask themselves is this: is my half volley ability good enough to handle my opponent's 2nd serve? If you can execute this play at least 60% of the time (that is, hit the return without  error), then the same goal Roger accomplishes is possible: putting more pressure on the server's first shot then they can handle.  The results in this tactic will be visible in three ways:


  1. Double Faults – knowing you're moving forward on their 2nd serve will encourage your opponent to go for faster and more aggressively placed serves. Errors will come!
  2. Missed passing shots – As seen in the video clip, even ATP #1 Novak Djokovic is capable of making passing shot errors when presented with this scenario. The same will happen at any level
  3. Volley/Overhead winners – When properly executed, this aggressive return move will quickly put the attacker in position for offensive net shots. It's asking a lot, even of a 4.5 NTRP player to consistently hit clean winner passing shots in this short of time.  With consistent use, this tactic should give the attacker chances to end the point at the net quickly.


Recreational players actually won't be using a SABR tactic...unless their first name starts with “R.” But the SAB(insert your first name) is definitely worth trying out against opponents with weak 2nd serves.  In singles you'll want to hit it to your opponent's weaker groundstroke.  In doubles, you'll most often want to jam it down-the-line at the serve team net player, and follow up with a volley/smash past them (or through them if you're a merciless beast on the court!).  Either way, get in some half-volley practice and then go drive those servers nuts!