Djokovic Picked His Battles Wisely Against Raonic
Serbian seized his second-serve opportunities in London
If you seek to understand the myriad of possibilities in a tennis match like a dartboard, it will quickly become clear that second-serve returns live dead in the middle. Novak Djokovic defeated Milos Raonic 7-6(6), 7-6(5) at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on Tuesday, playing even in almost every aspect of the match except on the Canadian’s second serve.
Raonic lost only seven points on his first serve in two long sets, winning 38 of 45 points, mainly due to his combination of incredible power and accuracy. But when he missed his first serve, Raonic’s win percentage plummeted from 84 per cent on first serves to just 36 per cent (12/33) on second serves.
Djokovic’s return placement on second-serve returns was almost exclusively to Raonic’s backhand, where Djokovic immediately neutralised the rally and got to work on extending it.
Only five second-serve returns from Djokovic landed in the deuce court, with 21 returns directed straight back to Raonic’s backhand in the ad court. Overall, 48 per cent of Djokovic’s second-serve returns landed in the outer third of the deuce court, 45 per cent in the middle third of the court, and just seven percent in the outer third on the deuce side.
“I just managed to stay committed and put pressure on his second serves,” Djokovic said. I had a couple of looks on his second serves midway through, towards the end of both tie-breaks, which helped obviously to get into the rally. I knew once I get into the rally, I have a better chance to win the point.”
The plan was ridiculously simple. Defend the first serve, attack the second serve and lengthen the point to extinguish the early firepower. All night long, Raonic did everything possible to crush as many forehands and limit his exposure to his backhand. He hit 172 forehands and just 108 backhands, while Djokovic was far more even, hitting 156 forehands and 127 backhands.
Raonic’s average forehand speed for the match was 78 mph, just three mph faster than Djokovic at 75 mph. On the backhand wing, Djokovic averaged 65 mph to Raonic’s 63 mph, but if you take out the purposefully slower slice backhands, Raonic actually averaged hitting his drive backhand slightly harder, at 71 mph, to 70 mph for the Serbian.
Djokovic kept his backhand tactics very simple, directing about 80 per cent cross-court while mixing about 20 per cent down the line to try and catch the Canadian maneuvering too far over in the ad court, pursuing his run-around forehand.
A vital ingredient in the overall game plan for Djokovic was to keep the Canadian from dictating with his powerful forehand from around the baseline and finishing strongly at the net. The Serbian’s mixture of depth, direction and consistency was a nightmare for Raonic from the back of the court.
Against Gael Monfils in the opening round-robin match, Raonic made contact with 37 per cent of his shots inside the baseline. Against Djokovic it was just 18 per cent. Against Monfils, Raonic made contact with the ball 25 per cent of the time deeper than two metres behind the baseline, but that jumped up to 32 per cent against Djokovic. Against Monfils, Raonic won 83 per cent (20/24) approaching, but only 40 per cent (6/15) against the World No. 2.
With so many sub plots happening in a match, you have got to know where to pick your battles. Players at all levels of the game would be wise to follow Djokovic’s lead and double down their focus and intensity when returning second serves.