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Novak Djokovic served and volleyed in key moments of the Australian Open final against Dominic Thiem.

Novak's Five Degrees Of Separation vs. Thiem

Brain Game explains how Djokovic won his 17th Grand Slam title

Novak Djokovic created five degrees of separation to defeat Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Australian Open on Sunday.

Djokovic won just 10 more points for the match (157-147), and looked in serious trouble trailing two sets to one. But in five specific areas, he clearly outperformed Thiem to win his 17th Grand Slam singles title.

1: Second-Serve Points Won
The dividing line for success in this metric is always right around the 50 per cent mark. The tournament average this year was 51 per cent (5154/10147) second-serve points won, and that’s exactly what Djokovic attained for the match (24/47). Thiem was able to win only 45 per cent (28/62) of his second-serve points.

When you compare second-serve performance to sets won, you quickly draw a straight line between the two metrics.

Second-Serve Performance - Sets Won/Lost
Djokovic three sets won = 61% (14/23)
Djokovic two sets lost = 42% (10/24)
Thiem two sets won = 59% (17/29)
Thiem three sets lost = 33% (11/33)

2: Serve And Volley
Djokovic served and volleyed four times in the final, winning three of them. What’s strategically puzzling is that Thiem had served and volleyed 11 times coming into the final, winning every single one of those points, but failed to employ the aggressive tactic against Djokovic.

With Djokovic serving at 1-1, 30/40 at the start of the fourth set, trailing two sets to one, Djokovic boldly served and volleyed and won the point. He served and volleyed again on break point at 2-1, Ad Out in the fifth set, also winning the point.

Those were two huge moments in the match that Djokovic gambled with serve and volley and was richly rewarded for his aggression.

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3: Zero-To-Four Shot Rally Length
Djokovic won the zero-to-four shot rally length 89-80, creating the most distance from Thiem in any of the three rally lengths.

Rally Length - Points Won/Lost
0-4 Shots = +9 (89 won/80 lost)
5-8 Shots = Even (37 won/ 37 lost)
9+ Shots = +1 (31 won / 30 lost)

In all three sets Djokovic claimed, he won the zero-to-four rally length by a combined 14 points. In the two sets Djokovic lost, Thiem won the important “First-Strike” rally length by five shots (34-29).

Rally Length: Djokovic 2020 Australian Open Seven Matches
0-4 Shots = +115 (505 won / 390 lost)
5-8 Shots = +25 (162 won / 137 lost)
9+ Shots = +33 (117 won / 84 lost)

4: Baseline Points Won
Djokovic had a losing record in baseline points won in the final, winning just 48 per cent (94/196) when he stood at the baseline at the end of the rally.

It may seem like a low number, but it’s actually quite healthy. Thiem, by comparison, won only 43 per cent (84/194) of his baseline points in the final. In the deciding fifth set, the baseline was well and truly Djokovic’s domain.

Fifth Set Baseline Points Won
Djokovic = 52.3% (23/44)
Thiem = 40.5% (17/42)

Overall for the tournament, Djokovic won 54 per cent (427/795), which was tied for fourth best.

Djokovic

5: Forehand Performance
Both Djokovic and Thiem were credited with 18 forehand winners for the match. It’s the error count where Djokovic found his separation.

Forehand Forced Errors
Djokovic = 15
Thiem = 36

Forehand Unforced Errors
Djokovic = 23
Thiem = 26

Djokovic committed 38 forehand errors for the match, while Thiem was significantly higher at 62. In the deciding fifth set, Djokovic had only eight forehand errors in total, while Thiem committed 21. When push came to shove, Djokovic’s forehand found the court a lot more than Thiem’s.

The three-hour, 59-minute match had several momentum swings, but Djokovic stayed the course and ultimately wrestled control of enough small battles all over the court to take home a record-extending eighth Australian Open singles title.

Editor's note: Craig O'Shannessy used to be part of Djokovic's coaching team.

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