“I’m cured, it works,” Gilbert said with a laugh. “You see guys in control of a point suddenly asking, ‘What just happened?’”
Gilbert said he remained unconvinced about another newly popular shot, the between-the-legs, back-to-the-net “tweener” that players often use after tracking down lobs.
“It looks brilliant, but I still don’t think it’s as effective as throwing up a lob or running around it,” he said. “But the squash shot is a lot more viable. I think it is here to stay.”
McDonald, a former U.C.L.A. star in the midst of a resurgent season, has practiced often with Federer, even traveling to Dubai to train.
“It’s funny in practice because he’s always playing, working on those shots that wow people,” McDonald said. “He’s always practicing those hand skills that wow you. When you see him hit a squash shot or a drop shot winner off a return, he actually practices those things, sometimes just for fun. But that’s why he’s come up with those shots through the years, because he’s always testing things out. He’s different in that sense than a guy who is just banging out a bunch of forehands and backhands in practice. He’s always sharpening his hand skills.”
But though the rise of the squash shot will be part of Federer’s legacy, McDonald said his inspiration for making it part of his arsenal was actually not Federer. It was Steve Johnson, a 31-year-old American player currently ranked 74th in the world.
“I might have used it some in college, but being on tour, you are trying to find that one percent difference and having that squash shot is maybe part of that one percent,” McDonald said. “Stevie Johnson was one of the guys who really hit it well. I’ve seen him hit dart-like winners off it. When you see that, you want to do it, too.”
So it goes in tennis as the times and the tactics change.