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Novak Djokovic will try to win his eighth Australian Open title on Sunday when he plays Dominic Thiem in the final.

Djokovic A Master Manipulator When It Matters Most

Serbian makes opponents play break points on his terms

Novak Djokovic thrives on adversity by limiting its existence.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of rally length on break point in Djokovic’s six matches leading up to Sunday’s Australian Open final against Dominic Thiem shows that the Serbian plays shorter points when he is facing break point, and that he extends the rally when his opponents are serving at break point.

Djokovic is a master manipulator of the moments that matter.

For the tournament, Djokovic’s average rally length for all points played has been 4.07 shots, which equates to just two shots for each player. Dominic Thiem, his opponent in the final, is right in the same ballpark, averaging 4.19 shots per point for the event.

But if you dig a little deeper into break point opportunities in Djokovic’s matches, you uncover a sizable difference in rally length when he is serving and when his opponent is serving.

Djokovic Rally Length / Break Points
• Average rally length = 4.07 shots
• Average rally length when Djokovic serves facing break point = 2.83 shots
• Average rally length when opponents serves facing break point = 4.62 shots

2020 Australian Open: Djokovic's First Six Matches

 Opponent  Match: Avg Rally Length

 Djokovic Avg Rally Length
On Break Points

 Opponent Avg Rally Length
 On Break Points
 Roger Federer  3.84  3.00  4.09
 Milos Raonic  3.71  1.00  4.13
 Diego Schwartzman  4.82  4.00  4.75
 Yoshihito Nishioka  4.32  1.00  2.83
 Tatsuma Ito  3.99  -  5.33
 Jan-Lennard Struff  3.95  3.00  6.18
 AVERAGE  4.07  2.83  4.62

In a substantial 50 per cent of Djokovic’s 18 break points faced (9/18), there has been just one shot in the court, which is a combination of aces and missed returns by his opponents.

Only one break point on Djokovic’s serve reached double digits in rally length. That was a 10-shot rally at 0-1, 15/40 in the first set against Roger Federer. Federer drew Djokovic to the net with a backhand drop shot, and then ripped a backhand passing shot down the line to earn an early 2-0 lead.

Djokovic has created 61 break point opportunities leading into the final in Melbourne, winning 44 per cent (27/61) of them. Only 30 per cent (18/61) of those break points were a one-shot rally, meaning Djokovic was aced or missed a return. Significantly, Djokovic has extended the rally length to double digits eight times when his opponent was serving on break point, winning seven of those points.

Expect this dynamic to continue in Sunday’s Australian Open final against Thiem. Manipulating rally length in the big moments will be as important as any strategy Djokovic employs in his attempt to win his eighth title Down Under.

Editor's Note: Craig O'Shannessy used to be part of Djokovic's coaching team.