Brain Game: Federer Wins Mental Battle
Discover how Roger Federer got the better of Novak Djokovic on Tuesday
Getting inside your opponent's head to successfully predict where they are going to hit their next shot is a critical, hidden dynamic of our sport.
Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-2 at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on Tuesday night, and the Swiss seemed to be a step ahead returning first serves, especially in the second set.
In the opening set, Djokovic's first serve performed well serving right down the middle in both the deuce and Ad courts, winning 67 per cent (8/12).
But Federer cleverly adjusted in set two, sitting on the middle serve, winning all 10 points that Djokovic directed there in both the deuce and Ad courts.
This was a difference-maker that enabled Federer to break three times in set two, and book his ticket into the semi-finals.
It’s important to note that Djokovic’s service performance did not falter, as he made 72 per cent first serves in the opening set, and 71 per cent in the second set.
Djokovic won a solid 70 per cent (19/27) of his first serve points in the opening set, but that dramatically dropped to only 25 per cent (5/20) in set two - a number that is unheard of from the World No. 1.
Federer's educated guessing of the timing of the middle serves, and being there waiting for it, enabled the Swiss to own a dominant part of Djokovic’s game.
Djokovic’s second serve performed very well all night, winning 66 per cent (12/18) for the match, including 87 per cent (7/8) in set two.
Federer broke Djokovic to go ahead 4-2 in the second set, defending with a middle backhand return at 15/40, and then hitting a fortunate backhand passing shot down the line that clipped the tape, surging to a set and a break lead.
In the last game of the match, with Djokovic serving at 2-5, the Serb served five times down the middle of the court, including on match point, and Federer won every one of them.
The Swiss mixed attacking returns, putting Djokovic under immediate pressure, and clever defensive slice returns that simply enabled him to get into the point.
Federer typically likes to swarm the net against Djokovic, but that was not the case once rallies started in London on Tuesday night.
Both players won exactly six of nine points at the net, with Federer winning a commanding 38 baseline points to Djokovic’s 26.
Federer hit seven forehand winners to Djokovic’s four, with both players hitting five backhand winners for the match.
Overall, Djokovic actually played bigger from the back of the court off both wings, but Federer committed less unforced errors (19-22).
Djokovic averaged 79 miles per hour (mph) off his forehand wing, four miles per hour faster than Federer’s average of 75 mph. Djokovic’s fastest forehand for the match was a blistering 104 mph, with Federer’s coming in at 96 mph.
Djokovic also dominated backhand speed, averaging 70 mph to Federer’s 63 mph, with Djokovic’s fastest at 103 mph - well ahead of Federer’s fastest at 83 mph.
A key to Federer’s baseline winning ways was his determination to not get pushed back against Djokovic’s power, spin and depth.
Federer only hit 28 per cent of his shots inside the baseline (Djokovic 34 per cent), but he did an excellent job of staying within two metres of the baseline, making contact with 62 per cent (Djokovic 48 per cent) of his shots from this aggressive baseline location.
Federer refused to get pushed way back behind the baseline by Djokovic, only making contact 10 per cent (Djokovic 18 per cent) of the time further back than two metres, which was a big improvement from his opening round match against Tomas Berdych, where he was double that at 20 per cent.
This was an important win for Federer, effectively beating the World No. 1 at his own game.
Tennis is very much a thinking sport, requiring constant adjustments to what the conditions and the opponent gives you. Federer ticked all the right boxes, signaling that this could once again be his year to triumph at The O2 in London.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.