Decision on Fed's best? Split, naturally

NEW YORK -- What's more important, degree of difficulty or the magnitude of the moment?

Even Roger Federer couldn't say which of his between-the-legs shots was better, the one Monday night against Brian Dabul in the first round of the U.S. Open, or last year's semifinal tweener against Novak Djokovic.

Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champ, had trouble deciding which of his babies he loved more, so he went into detail about both.

On the one hand, last year's was pretty pivotal.

"Obviously the importance of last year's was probably a little bit more important just because I think it was love-30 to go love-40, two points away from the match, and it was a semifinal," Federer said.

On the other hand, Monday's was pretty difficult.

"I had the feeling I had to run a longer distance and I was further back somehow, I felt," Federer said. "I had to really give the last big push at the end. I didn't have time to set it up. So I felt like this one was incredible again. I turned around and couldn't believe the shot landed in the corner."

Luckily, fans can check the tape of both shots, and debate the merits of a passing shot like the one that blew by Djokovic, to a corner winner that left Dabul to shake his head. Clearly, Federer had more distance to cover Monday night, and the shot landed closer to the line.

"I had good contact, perfect speed and hit and everything," Federer said of this year's version. "I kind of like it when the ball gets away from me a little bit, so I hit it [when] it's lower, because then I can generate more pace off it. The thing is, by the time I turn around it's already in the corner of the court on the other side, so I'm almost looking for the ball first up. And then I just -- I'm not even sure if I saw the bounce or not, and then obviously the crowd gave me the answer, which was kind of good."

The advantage the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium had this season was experience. Monday night, one announcer even called a tweener as Federer ran to the baseline to make the shot -- and there was reason to believe the No. 2 seed could turn it into a winner, even with a higher degree of difficulty.

The beauty of the between-the-legs shot is that it can only be used in certain moments, as a last resort once the ball has nearly gotten away from a player. Most of those shots are impressive, but ultimately bound for the net.

Federer is accumulating his own highlight reel of those shots, and the U.S. Open has barely gotten started.

Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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