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Roger Federer pounced early and often in the Australian Open final, winning 14 of 18 points at the net.

Short And Sweet: Roger's Keys To Victory In Melbourne

Brain Game explores the keys to victory for Roger Federer in the Australian Open final

Roger Federer struck early and struck often to win an unprecedented 20th Grand Slam tournament title at Melbourne Park on Sunday night.

Federer defeated Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in a captivating final that was completely dominated by short rallies. The serve and return took centre stage over bruising baseline exchanges to deliver the Swiss maestro his sixth Australian Open crown.

The line in the sand in the final was clearly the fourth shot landing in the court. Two shots for the server, two for the returner, and then daylight. 

Rally Length
• 0-4 Shots = 76% (212)
• 5-8 Shots = 19% (52)
• 9+ Shots = 5% (16)

More than three out of every four points had just a maximum of four shots - or two shots for each player. Federer ultimately triumphed because of his performance in the big pool of short points. 

Points Won 
• 0-4 Shots = Federer 120 / Cilic 92
• 5-8 Shots = Federer 25 / Cilic 27
• 9+ Shots = Federer 7 / Cilic 9

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Federer had a massive 28-point advantage in the 0-4 shot rally length. He crafted his advantage with hitting his spots better serving, making more returns, and attacking immediately with his Serve +1 and Return +1 combinations. Federer hit 24 aces in the final, which was eight more than Cilic’s 16. The Croatian came into the final with 107 aces, while Federer had just 71.

Cilic out-aced Federer to the final, but the tables were turned with the silverware on the line. The same dynamic played out in the 2017 Wimbledon final between these two players as well. In typical Federer fashion, his favourite first-serve locations in both the deuce court and ad court were out wide.

Federer 1st Serve Location
Deuce Court
• Wide 26
• Body 2
• Center 22

Ad Court
• Wide 17
• Body 2
• Center 15

Cilic roped a couple of spectacular forehand return winners cross-court during the final, but overall Federer owned this specific serve location. The Croatian only put 38 per cent (13/24) of Federer’s wide slice serves back in play. The Swiss cleverly dropped the power level on a lot of these wide serves, electing to pull Cilic off the court with heavy slice, making the ball leap away from the 6’6” Croatian. Cilic put a higher 54 per cent (19/35) of his backhand returns back in play in the deuce court. 

Overall, Federer had 48 serves unreturned for the match, while Cilic only had 41. Again, these numbers were in Cilic’s favour leading into the final, but Federer owned them in the last match of the tournament.

Serve and volley was a strategic play that Federer employed seven times in the final, winning all seven points. Federer won 80 per cent (41/51) of his serve-and-volley points for the tournament. Those 51 points represent eight per cent (51/603) of all first and second serve opportunities. 

The only area of Federer’s game that was not humming was making first serves when facing break point. Overall, he faced nine break points in the final, and only made a first serve on three of them. Cilic, meanwhile, faced 13 break points and made a first serve on eight of them. 

Is there any coincidence that this 36-year old is still going so strong by organising his game around short, quick-hitting points rather than grinding out long points that add wear and tear to his body?

The renaissance of Roger is all about dictating at the start of the point. It’s a blueprint to take titles for players at all levels of our sport.

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