Brain Game: Novak Deals Out Rafa's Kryptonite
Break down the keys to Djokovic's success over Nadal in Monte-Carlo.
Novak Djokovic successfully dismantled the world’s best run-around forehand in defeating Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.
Djokovic consistently dominated baseline rallies by attacking Nadal’s forehand wide in the ad court and then making the Spaniard hit as many backhands as possible in the deuce court.
Djokovic is able to manipulate Nadal like no other from the trenches, primarily because of the strength of his own backhand. It’s an offensive cross court weapon, that catches Nadal sneaking to his right, seeking a run-around forehand, and then doubles as a re-direction nightmare down the line, making Nadal have to hit a plethora of neutral backhands in the deuce court.
For those two reasons alone, Djokovic’s backhand is Nadal’s kryptonite.
Attack the Forehand Wide
Nadal’s forehand was the worst-performing groundstroke on the court, hitting seven winners, but racking up 22 errors. Sixteen of the 22 forehand errors were committed standing in the Ad Court, with nine of them standing out wide near the alley or past it. It’s the perfect strategy against an opponent like Nadal, who is always sneaking to his right to try and upgrade a backhand to a forehand
By initially hitting wide to the forehand, he was cleverly using Nadal’s anticipation against him. Of the seven forehand winners Nadal struck, five had unusual endings around the service box, or a reflex shot from an overhead. Nadal only had two forehand winners for the entire match constructed the way he typically builds points from the back of the court.
Beat Down the Backhand
Djokovic made Nadal hit 42 per cent of total groundstrokes as a backhand, which is a very high number for the Spaniard. The simple fact is that Djokovic’s backhand directs traffic much better from the back of the court than Nadal’s. Three of Nadal’s four backhand winners came from passing shot situations, with his lone baseline winner being a crushing cross court shot at 3-3, 15-0, in the second set. Nadal’s backhand only made nine groundstroke errors, so it’s not that it was too inconsistent – it’s just that it did not make Djokovic uncomfortable with power, direction or depth.
In the opening set, Djokovic made Nadal hit 51 backhands, mainly by redirecting his own backhand down the line. Djokovic hit 56 per cent of his backhands down the line to Nadal’s backhand in set one, after already taking Nadal wide to the ad court to hit a sliding, defensive forehand. Not only did the direction hurt Nadal, but Djokovic hit with excellent depth, landing 40 per cent of his total backhands in the opening set closer to the baseline than the service line.
Djokovic stepped this tactic up even more as the match progressed, making Nadal hit 61 backhands in the second set, compared to only 52 forehands in the ad court. The Serb continually developed a stranglehold on the flow of points from the back of the court, pushing Nadal wider and deeper as patterns of play unfolded.
Remove the Run-Around Forehand
This is the most potent weapon Nadal possesses, and the engine room of his clay-court greatness. But by initially running Nadal wide to his forehand in the ad court, he has now got too far to run to turn the ensuing deuce court ball into a forehand. In the opening set, Nadal only hit 22 (30 per cent) run-around forehands in the deuce court to 51 backhands.
Things were even worse in the second set, where he only managed 20 run-around forehands (25 per cent) to 61 backhands. He ended with two winners and six errors with the run-around forehand strategy, so it’s not hard to figure what needs to drastically improve next time they play.
On match point, Djokovic owned the baseline with one forehand and four bruising backhands, the last a cross-court missile to seal the match. Nadal failed to find an offensive strategy to hurt Djokovic, or play good enough defence to force the Serb to over-hit.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.