"No, it's not disrespectful. Pretty simple."
-- Roger Federer, responding to the charge, made by Boris Becker on Sky television, that Federer's SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger) service-return tactic is "almost disrespectful."
NEW YORK -- Boris Becker is the coach of Novak Djokovic, whom Federer will meet on Sunday in the US Open final. In case you think Becker was going rogue again when he criticized Federer, Djokovic broke his own self-imposed silence on SABR with these words shortly after he won his own semifinal Friday.
"[Federer] tried that [tactic] in Cincinnati. It worked a couple of times. It's an exciting shot for him. For the player opposite side of the net, not so much. So I have nothing else to say about that," Djokovic said.
It's a measure of how much the game has changed in recent years that what was once a benign and widely practiced tactic generally known as "chip and charge" is seen by some -- including, perhaps, the No. 1 player in the world -- as a crass stunt. An insult. Perhaps even an attempt to intimidate.
Now there's a new one: Roger Federer, the Intimidator.
Apparently, even John McEnroe got into the act, suggesting he might have felt insulted had Federer rushed up as McEnroe hit a second serve to block the ball back at the service line and camp at the net (which is the essence of the SABR tactic).
Good grief. Maybe the fellas who don't want Federer to do that can sign a petition to get him to stop. Then they can sign another one prohibiting Ivo Karlovic from serving so hard, or Rafael Nadal from using so much topspin.
The negative reaction is puzzling to Federer, who feels he was on the receiving end of analogous tactics early in his career. He said attacking players such as Max Mirnyi and Tim Henman stood there, fingers aloft to signal Federer to wait before he served because they were moving into position to receive. And then there were the Spanish players. "They stood outside the doubles alley, waiting to hit a forehand on clay because my second serve wasn't as good yet. So I faced all of that stuff as well," Federer said.
In fact, Federer said he lines up in the normal position to await serve and doesn't even move until his opponent begins the toss. Where's the intimidation?
However you look at it, this SABR thing has really taken off. It's remarkable, given how sparingly Federer has used it. He did it a few times early in his three-set win over Wawrinka, starting with the first point of the third game. Federer smacked the return out, but his bold charge was so impressive it seemed the entire stadium went "wow."
The thing about the SABR tactic is it's both a symbol and a message; Federer is lucky if it wins him the point half the times he tries it. Then again, when it does work, it can rattle an opponent.
"I haven't heard much feedback about it from the players, to be honest," Federer said of SABR -- and its critics. "I hear it more through the press. I hear some and read some. For me, if it makes sense to use it in the final, I will. I used it to great effect against [Djokovic] in a tough situation, at 4-1 in the tiebreaker in Cincinnati."
At that point, Federer bolted forward and took a Djokovic second serve with something like a forehand volley right down the line for a clean winner.
Apparently, Djokovic still hasn't forgiven him. Neither has Becker.