How Federer Won (and Roddick lost) Wimbledon 2005

It may have appeared to many that Roger Federer won the final at Wimbledon because he has more 'talent' or 'better mental attitude' than Andy Roddick.  But as we have pointed out before, Roddick has flexibility problems in his lower body that limit his game.

A good example is the Abduction Angle of both players (how far apart they place their legs) prior to their service return. Measurement of this angle in both players reveals a significant difference.

Here are both players as they prepare for their service return.

Roddick                                                  Federer

Federer's Abduction Angle prior to service return is 50% greater than Roddick's.

Each player makes a small jump to widen their stance prior to return in order to get themselves ready to move.  Let's see what they do.

Roddick                                               Federer

Again, Federer's jump stance is 31% wider than Roddick's. What, if anything, does this tell us?

Abduction stance is a good indicator of adductor flexibility.  Adductors are the muscles along the inside of the thigh.  When you move sideways on the court, you adductors have to stretch so that you can abduct (move your legs apart).  The more flexible your adductors, the better you can move sideways.

If you watched the final at Wimbledon, you may have noticed that Roddick lost quite a few points to Federer's passing shots while at the net.  Many of these passing shots were not that far out of reach, but since Roddick's adductors are tight, he went for these shots with a lunge, rather than use his legs to move sideways.  Tennis players usually figure out a way to work around their flexibility problems, even when they are unaware that they have them.  Unfortunately, in this situation, the work-around did not work.

Federer's adductor flexibility accounts for a lot of his 'talent'.  It's not hard to notice how effortlessly he gets to the ball.  Getting to the ball quickly and effortlessly allows the player time to set up his shot, which helps his accuracy immensely. Federer's ability to place his shots right next to the lines, taking full advantage of his opponents court, is due in no small part to the flexibility of his adductors.  Since most observers do not notice Abduction Angle on tennis players, they ascribe this graceful, effective movement on court to 'talent'.

When we compare Federer's and Roddick's shoulders and backs, the situation is reversed.

Roddick has much greater external arm rotation than Federer, which explains his much higher service speed.

Roddick                                               Federer

You can see that Roddick's total external rotation is 130 degrees, while Federer's is only 90 degrees, a difference of 44%.   Part of the difference is at the shoulder.  Roddick's arm rotates back 90 degrees in relation to his trunk, while Federer's rotates back only 55 degrees.  In addition, Roddick's back is more supple than Federer's, so he is able to arch it more during his service motion.  It is this enormous external rotation angle that accounts for Roddick's impressive service speed.  If Federer were to increase the flexibility of his shoulder and back, he could easily match the service speed of Roddick.  We find, for instance, that as we increase external arm rotation with Microfiber Reduction,  each degree of additional rotation adds a mile an hour to the serve.

There is another area where Federer has a physical advantage over Roddick, and that is in the flexibility of their abdomens.

Roddick                                                 Federer

Conventional wisdom has it that athletes should have flat stomachs.  But we don't find this to be true.  Stomachs can only be flat when the muscles are tense and microfibers have formed around them, making them inflexible.  Much of the work we do these days with elite and amateur athletes  is undoing the damage to their stomach muscles from sit ups and other 'core work'.  Sit ups and 'core work' overuse the stomach muscles, making them sore and stiff.  When this happens, the connective tissue between the muscles develops microfibers to help immobilize and repair the muscles.  These microfibers bind the area together so that it can heal.  Unfortunately, once the soreness has passed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making the stomach muscles progressively stiffer as the athletes get older.

When you inhale, the stomach muscles need to stretch, otherwise the diaphragm has to work harder.  This extra work fatigues the diaphragm, creating a feeling of effort and fatigue in the athlete. In addition, tight stomach muscles prevent the rib cage from expanding easily, and thereby add to the work of taking in air.  Federer's stomach muscles are relaxed, making  his breathing easy and increasing the amount of oxygen he takes in during the match.  Roddick's stomach muscles are tight, restricting his oxygen intake and making every breath more effort.  Even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, relaxed stomach muscles can only make any athlete's job easier.