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Juan Martin Del Potro won 80 points from rallies of 0-4 shots in the 2018 BNP Paribas Open final against Roger Federer.

Brain Game: Del Potro Wins Battle Of Short Points

The 'Tower of Tandil' keeps his focus for his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown

The paradox of tennis is that our minds quickly dismiss the short points, but they are by far the most influential to the final outcome.

Juan Martin Del Potro defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(2) to win the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Sunday by forging his winning advantage in the abundant short rallies in the match. He won the short, lost the long, and emerged the victor, saving three match points along the way.

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Fans all over the world that tuned in to watch this instant classic will no doubt enjoy discussing the extended, bruising baseline exchanges from these two heavy hitters. But the reality of this battle, lasting two hours and 42 minutes, was that only seven per cent (16 points) of rallies reached double digits - and Del Potro actually lost that battle.

Rally Length - Points Won

0-4 Shots (65% total points)
Del Potro = 80 won
Federer = 67 won

5-9 Shots (28% total points)
Del Potro = 34 won
Federer = 28 won

10+ Shots (7% total points)
Del Potro = 6 won
Federer = 10 won

Just 10 per cent of Del Potro’s total points through six matches reached double digits in rally length. Our eyes certainly don’t pick up that 90 per cent of all his points had either Del Potro or his opponent hitting a maximum of just five consecutive shots in the court.

Del Potro - Six Match Total
0-4 Shots = 539 points (59%)
5-9 Shots = 282 points (31%)
10+ Shots = 89 points (10%)

In the final against Federer, Del Potro crafted a 13-point advantage in the 0-4 rally length, and a six-point advantage in the mid-length rallies of 5-9 shots. The Argentinian actually lost the long rallies six to 10, but with so few of them played, it didn’t hurt to lose that category.

Overall for the tournament, Del Potro’s winning margin (points won minus points lost) was the most abundant in the ‘first strike’ rally length of 0-4 shots.

Del Potro - Six Match Total
0-4 Shots = 292 won / 247 lost. Margin = +45 points
5-9 Shots = 152 won / 130 lost. Margin = +22 points
10+ Shots = 51 won / 38 lost. Margin = +13 points

The Final Stanza: Federer Serving Third Set 5-4, 40/15
The match looked to be all but over with Federer serving at 5-4, 40/15 in the final set. It seemed imminent that there would be just one more point to be played, but instead, there would be another 26, and it would be Del Potro that would win 65 per cent (17/26) of them.

From 5-4, 40/15 in the third set, Federer only made 31 per cent (5/16) of his first serves and would hit two double faults in the tie-break. He also went for two backhand drop shots serving at 5-4. which uncharacteristically felt like a reach for the finish line.

From 5-4, 40/15, Federer’s forehand also went awry. He committed six forehand errors, including one return, while contributing just one forehand return winner. While Federer struggled mightily to find the court with the match on the line, Del Potro was finding another level. The Argentinian hit three forehand winners and three backhand winners (including one return), while committing just six total groundstroke and return errors to Federer’s nine.

Winning doesn’t happen evenly all over the court as much we think. Win the battle of the abundant short points, and the much smaller pool of longer points can quite often be a loss and not be detrimental to the final outcome.