There are few players that conjure the envy and respect of the tennis populace quite like Roger Federer. Records and reputation aside, from a sheer stroke production and aesthetic standpoint, he may not have an equal. Many yearn to whip an inside-out forehand or cut a wicked slice backhand in vintage Federer fashion. A dream for most? Perhaps. But there may be a way for the everyday player to make it their own reality. All you have to do is close your eyes… literally.

While capturing the same standard is probably not achievable, there is something the average player can do to match Federer’s technique. Dr. Paul Hamori, a lifelong tennis player and fan, has seen Federer play in-person more than 40 times. He has taken hundreds of high-speed photographs and studied countless more of the 20-time major champ in action and has come to the conclusion that Federer’s court prowess stems from perhaps his most underrated superpower: ball watching.

One of the earliest directives any aspiring player is given is to watch the ball. The more intently the ball is tracked, the cleaner the hit. However, contact between the ball and racquet lasts a few milliseconds. Which is so fast that it has already taken place before the brain has time to process it. In other words, the traditional theory is that it’s impossible to see contact in real time.

However, in Hamori’s book—The Art and Science of Ball Watching—he offers an alternative hypothesis. Given the speeds involved it may indeed only be feasible to perceive contact, but with proper methods and training a player can actually learn to get as close to “seeing” it as possible. Developing this skill will lead to better and more consistent shot outcomes. To establish and validate the book’s points, Hamori taps into his medical background to discuss such topics as light and sound, brain mapping and neurobiology of vision. But it’s essentially a four-step process, with Federer being the benchmark.

According to Dr. Hamori, Federer's 'most underrated superpower' is his ball watching technique.

According to Dr. Hamori, Federer's 'most underrated superpower' is his ball watching technique.


  1. Turn your head to the hitting side. This is generally more pronounced and executable on ground strokes, which are longer swings with more time to execute.
  2. Focus in on the hand-racquet complex. As the ball approaches the contact plane—about one foot away—take your eyes off it and move your attention to your hitting hand. Much like how line judges take their eyes off the server to focus in on the service line to wait for the ball to cross their field of vision. Your brain will compensate for this moment of “blindness” and actually make it easier to perceive contact.
  3. Narrow your eyes. This improves visual acuity through the pinhole effect. By squinting, you’ll lessen extraneous light and objects and constrict the visual field to the hand-racquet complex. In the photos Hamori took of Federer, he narrows his eyes more than 80% of the time on his ground strokes.
  4. Resist the urge to follow your shot. It’s instinctual to want to see the result of your handiwork. However, turning the head prematurely brings the body with it and disrupts a proper swing sequence. One suggestion to prevent this is to briefly shut your eyes after contact. Think of it as part of the follow-through. This will also eliminate any additional visual information and allow whatever is already traveling to the eye to become more distinct—essentially taking a picture of contact. In the photo above, the ball has left the picture, but Federer’s head remains still with his eyes closed.

This is obviously the cliff notes version. Hamori delves into far greater detail for each step, as well as provides various training tips and drills. It’s not something that will come naturally to seasoned players, and may take significant practice to retrain the brain to achieve proficiency. But from his experience, Hamori asserts it’s a sure way to not only hit shots with more pace, spin and precision, but increase enjoyment along the way. Any resemblance to Federer is purely a bonus.

For more information, or to purchase the book, visit