© Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Novak Djokovic hits 57 per cent of his groundstrokes from the backhand side en route to victory over Grigor Dimitrov in the Paris final.

How Djokovic's Brick-Wall Backhand Ruled The Paris Final

Brain Game analyses Djokovic's win against Dimitrov

The backhand built an impenetrable brick wall.

Novak Djokovic defeated Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters on Sunday by relying heavily on his backhand to control the flow of points from the back of the court.

This was a defensive, old-school approach from Djokovic, who only went to the net five times and hit just 15 run-around forehands standing in the Ad court for the match. Djokovic invested heavily in his backhand, and after a rocky start, it paid dividends with his 40th ATP Masters 1000 crown.

Djokovic committed six errors in his first 13 backhand groundstrokes (excluding returns & volleys), as Dimitrov successfully attacked it with his slice backhands and aggressive run-around forehands. Djokovic said post-match that he thought both players were tight at the beginning of the match, but it was the Serbian who settled down the quickest.

Djokovic made his last 29 backhands of the opening set and cranked up the pressure on Dimitrov to basically have to hit winners to collect points. Overall, Djokovic hit more backhands than forehands for the match as he was content to build points through the Ad court and force Dimitrov to red line his game to win baseline exchanges.

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Total Shots
Backhands = 57% (101)
Forehands = 43% (76)

Backhands = 3 winners
Forehand = 2 winners

Backhands = 15
Forehands = 9

Forcing Opponent Errors
Backhands = 11 (5 forehand/4 backhand)
Forehands = 9 (8 forehand/1 backhand)

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Djokovic’s master plan was to trade as many backhand blows as necessary through the Ad court to wear down Dimitrov’s one-hander. Djokovic hit a sizable 73 per cent of his backhands cross court, 10 per cent through the middle and just 17 percent down the line. Dimitrov, by comparison, only hit 60 per cent of his backhands cross court, 23 per cent through the middle and 17 per cent down the line.

Dimitrov may very well have felt comfortable rallying to Djokovic’s backhand through the Ad court, but it had the flow-on effect of reducing the number of aggressive forehands he could find. Dimitrov hit just 52 per cent forehands for the match (101 forehands/93 backhands), which was never going to get the job done.

Djokovic turned it into a defensive battle by primarily playing backhand to backhand and also by playing from deeper in the court. Dimitrov simply couldn’t find a way to go through, over, or around Djokovic’s proverbial brick-wall backhand.


Shots Hit Inside The Baseline
Djokovic = 14%
Dimitrov = 19%

Shots Hit Within Two Metres Of The Baseline
Djokovic = 52%
Dimitrov = 67%

Shots Hit Past Two Metres
Djokovic = 34%
Dimitrov = 14%

The telling statistic is that Dimitrov could not take advantage of Djokovic’s very deep court position, where he contacted the ball over a third of the time (34%) past two metres behind the baseline. Dimitrov won a commendable seven of 10 points at the net, which begs the question: Why didn’t he go to the net twice or three times that amount to keep harvesting the superior winning percentage at the front of the court?

Dimitrov’s baseline woes also flowed over to his return game. Dimitrov only won six of 32 (19%) return points against Djokovic’s first serve and five of 16 (31%) against the Serbian’s second serve. Dimitrov failed to put a sizable 50 per cent of Djokovic’s first serves back in the court and failed to see a single break point for the match.

Djokovic often wins matches by bossing opponents to all points of the court. In this match, he went into lockdown mode by betting big on his backhand.

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