Brain Game: Djokovic Tested By Berdych's Tactics
Break down the keys to Djokovic's success in the Monte-Carlo final.
Novak Djokovic wasn’t at his best Sunday in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters final, but a lot of that had to do with the improved strategy of the man standing on the other side of the net.
Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 over Tomas Berdych by being a little better at key moments - winning just two more points (106 to 104) over two hours and 42 minutes.
Berdych played smart, using his power baseline game to plough through the Djokovic forehand, and then follow it to the net at every opportunity. It was exactly the right way to upset the Serb. The problem was sustaining the winning patterns for long enough periods of time, and also dealing with Djokovic shaking them off and enforcing his own will.
Rush The Forehand
Berdych’s prolific talent often allows him to do whatever he wants to secure victory, but not against the World No. 1. Berdych’s heavy forehand is an ideal weapon to rush Djokovic’s forehand, and that proved a key tactic to the Czech staying in the match.
In the opening set, Berdych overplayed Djokovic’s impenetrable backhand, hitting 62 per cent of his groundstrokes through the ad court at Djokovic’s more consistent wing. But when he broke Djokovic in the ninth game to level the score at 5-5, he hit 67 per cent of his shots through the deuce court in that game, attacking Djokovic’s forehand.
The exact same dynamic occurred in the second set, with Berdych directing 66 per cent of his groundstrokes through the ad court before the rain delay, to trail 2-3. But the Czech clearly changed gears when play resumed 72 minutes later, hitting 51 per cent to Djokovic’s forehand for the rest of the set, which helped him win four of the next five games to force a decider.
Djokovic had only made four forehand errors in the second set before the rain delay, and made six after it, including sailing a forehand long off his back foot on set point to extend the match to a third set.
Djokovic Mines Berdych’s Forehand
Both players’ backhands essentially cancelled out each other in the match with very similar performances. Berdych hit seven backhand winners to the Serb’s six, including five down the line that were all part of the overall strategy of attacking Djokovic’s forehand.
Just as Berdych went after Djokovic’s forehand, Djokovic attempted to do the same. Berdych’s forehand was wild at times, producing 38 errors (Djokovic 25), including 26 unforced, and an unusually high 16 errors in the net.
Djokovic tried to stretch Berdych as wide as possible in the deuce court, trying to exploit the big man’s movement. Twenty seven of the Czech’s 38 forehand errors occurred in the deuce court, with 15 of them stretched wide near the alley, as Djokovic used direction as his primary weapon. Djokovic ultimately won 79 baseline points to the Czech’s 56, as he feasted on Berdych’s misfiring forehand.
Finishing At Net
Berdych complimented his aggressive baseline strategy with timely advances to the net, winning an impressive 69 per cent (22/32) of all points coming forward. It is a masterly addition to his game, as he typically does not show that kind of commitment to finish at the net. Djokovic, on the other hand, seemed to lose his way forward, winning four of six points at the net. Berdych finished with five forehand volley winners, a backhand volley winner, and six overhead winners. This is an obvious area of domination for him, as his size, wingspan, and heavy approach shot make him so tough to pass.
Djokovic Drop Shots
Djokovic extensively went to the drop shot in his last two matches, primarily hitting a backhand up the line, as it offers excellent last-minute disguise, as he gets to change the angle of the racket behind his back. He won 46 per cent (6/13) against Berdych, and 55 per cent (5/9) against Nadal in the semi-final. It’s not often you see a player hit 22 drop shots in two matches, and with only winning exactly 50 per cent of them, it will be interesting to see if he persists with this classic surprise strategy for the rest of the clay court season.
Both Djokovic and Berdych will walk away from this match focused on what went well for them. For Djokovic, it was the ability to play less than his best, and still figure out a way to get over the finish line. For Berdych, it was all about figuring out the right strategy, and seeing it work for extended periods against the best player in the world.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.