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Infosys Insights compares successful Grand Slam championship campaigns for Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in 2018.

Novak & Roger: Patterns & Strategies Of Two 2018 Major Title Runs

Infosys ATP Insights compares and contrasts the styles of the two all-time greats

Let’s have a straight-up, apples-to-apples comparison of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It’s not to see who is the better player, for they are both greats of our game, but rather to discover just how different or similar their playing styles really are.

An Infosys Insights deep dive into how they organise their patterns of play reveals that, on the surface, they strategically play quite differently, but both ultimately craft their real winning advantage against opponents in exactly the same way.

The analysis focuses on two successful Grand Slam campaigns from last season: Roger Federer winning the 2018 Australian Open, and Novak Djokovic winning the 2018 US Open.

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Let’s start with the labels we give them. When you watch Federer, you see a player who feels the magnetism of the baseline and hunts the short ball to finish at the net at every opportunity. Many fans bestow the label of “all-court player” on the Swiss star.

Djokovic is seen in a different light. He is more of an “aggressive baseliner” who possesses mesmerising defensive skills. Federer’s talents tend to be more on the serving side of the equation, while Djokovic dominates more when returning.

Analytics in our sport can be generally broken down into the following two categories:

  • Percentage points played (counting the number of times something happened)

  • Percentage points won (calculating the win percentage)

It’s important to note that both of the above metrics are vital in order to better understand our game, but “percentage points won” gets closer to the beating heart of why players win and lose.

Analysis 1: Rally Length
At first glance, the table below correlates exactly with the labels we give the two players. Federer played substantially more points in the zero-to-four rally length than Djokovic, while the Serbian recorded more than twice as many rallies as the Swiss in the nine-plus shot rally length (19% to 8%).

Points Played / Divided Into 3 Rally Lengths

Rally Length

Federer: 2018 Australian Open

Djokovic: 2018 US Open

0-4 Shots

73%

55%

5-8 Shots

19%

26%

9+ Shots

8%

19%

It’s important to note that the zero-to-four shot rally length always contains the most amount of points in men’s and women’s tennis at all ages and levels, including all the way down to the under-12 divisions.

Analysis 2: The Differential
By definition, a differential is the difference between amounts, and in this specific case, it’s the difference between points won and points lost for Federer and Djokovic. What you are also looking at is the differential between an “all-court player” and an “aggressive baseliner”.

For these two labels, you would naturally think the differential would be significant. It’s not.

Differential Between Points Won & Lost

Rally Length

Federer: 2018 Australian Open

Djokovic: 2018 US Open

0-4 Shots

531 won / 417 lost = +114

435 won / 320 lost = +115

5-8 Shots

138 won / 111 lost = +27

196 won / 169 lost = +27

9+ Shots

58 won / 48 lost = +10

132 won / 131 lost = +1

Total

727 won / 576 lost = +151

763 won / 620 lost +143

The differential uncovers two almost identical players, both creating the overwhelming amount of their advantage of points won over points lost in the zero-to-four shot rally length. Their contrasting game styles completely melt away in this analysis.

Analysis 3: Differential Contribution
What we now focus on is where their competitive advantage really lies. What’s fascinating to uncover is that Djokovic won a higher proportion of his 143-point advantage in the zero-to-four rally length than Federer did.

Differential Contribution - Percentage Break Down Per Rally Length

Rally Length

Federer - 2018 Australian Open

Djokovic - 2018 US Open

0-4 Shots

75% (+114)

80% (+115)

5-8 Shots

18% (+27)

19% (+27)

9+ Shots

7% (+10)

1% (+1)

Total

100% (151 point differential)

100% (143 point differential)

Djokovic crafted 80 per cent of his differential in the zero-to-four rally length, which was higher than Federer’s 75 per cent. That’s the complete opposite of what we would assume.

One of the most stunning metrics to come from this analysis is that Djokovic won the 2018 US Open winning 132 points in the nine-plus rally length, while losing 131. It’s jaw dropping to think the Super Serbian could craft only a one-point advantage in what we perceive to be the sweet spot of his game.

In summary, are Roger and Novak really that different? Yes, we see different strengths and weaknesses, and yes, we also see where they feel more comfortable on the court. But there is no denying the career of these two greats are on two parallel paths that run much closer together than we ever imagined.