Federer's gift to tennis :  The squash shot. And it's called a last-resort play, but it's 'very fun' to unleash and just spectacular to witness.

''Times have changed,'' Roger Federer said last week as he looked back on his early days at Wimbledon. Serve - and - volley was the rule for the men, but the shots often slower.

Modern string and racket technology and modern training methods have helped all professional players generate more pace and spin from extreme positions, and no shot better exemplifies the shift than the one the 39-year- old Federer has popularized over the course of his 23-year professional career.

It is best known as the squash shot, in part because Federer played squash in his youth, and it is a lunging forehand slash, typically from an open stance.

It is a spectacular shot to watch and, as Federer once told me, '' a very fun shot to hit.''

But it's not typically good news when you have to use it.

''Honestly, it's your last-resort play,'' said Mackenzie McDonald, a 26-year-old American. ''Maybe your only option.''

But in tennis, players adjust to the challenge and the risk. As pro tennis has accelerated, they have created new ways of defending, and the squash shot has become a staple through the years, perhaps even more in the women's game than in the men's.

''For me, that's a sign of influence of Fed across the whole sport,'' said Brad Gilbert, the ESPN analyst and former top-five player, referring to Federer.

It is also a tribute to Kim Clijsters, the powerful and elastic Belian star whose trademark was her sliding forehand slice, often hot out a near split.

Clijster's latest comeback is on hold for the moment at age 38, but the shot is not.

Barbora Krejcikova, a versatile all-court player, put the squash shot to frequent and excellent use on clay in her surprise run to the French Open title last month. The French veteran Alize Cornet deployed it in winning an acrobatic match point in the first round of Wimbledon against Bianca Andreescu, who likes the squash shot, too.

On Friday, Ons Jabeur, perhaps the craftiest of all the new women stars, used it on match point in her third-round victory over Garbine Muguruza on Center Court. Muguruza, a relentless hitter, struck a backhand down-the-line with authority, Jabeur stretched to her right and chopped and chopped a forehand crosscourt to get herself back into a rally that she ended up winning.

''So many players are doing it now,'' said the ESP analyst Mary Joe Fernandez, a two-time Grand slam singles finalist and former Fed cup captain.

''It's a great looking shot and effective most of the time, because it's a hard. good slice and it stays low. It's an added shot. It's definitely one I didn't have and one I don't think my generation had. But it's a way to sustain the point, and more often than not, it works.''

Players also use it as  change-of-pace passing shot. Anastasija Sevastova called on it often in her victory last month over Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals of the grasscourt Eastbourne International Rybakina repeatedly made vollying errors off the shot.

'' It throws players off guard,'' McDonald said. '' I feel it's actually harder to hit a volley off a slice than a ball with a top spin.''   

The World Students Society thanks author Christopher Clarey.


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