© Rolex Shanghai Masters — Frey

Novak Djokovic has now won 18 matches in a row dating back to the start of the Western & Southern Open.

Djokovic’s ‘New School’ Approach Comes Down To Math

New World No. 2 won 59 per cent of points of five shots or fewer

Is consistency overrated?

Novak Djokovic defeated Borna Coric 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Rolex Shanghai Masters on Sunday by dominating shorter rallies and playing even with Coric in the longer ones.

Long rallies are more memorable, more emotional, and more dramatic. That's why they receive so much attention and applause, and why they globally dominate the practice court. But consider this: there were 20 eye-popping rallies that reached double digits in the final, with Djokovic and Coric winning 10 each. Long rallies were a push in this match - as they normally are.

Long rallies are not the secret sauce of Djokovic 2.0. Striking first and eliminating early mistakes in the rally most certainly are. "Old school" consistency focuses on hitting 20 balls in a row in the court, and repeating it four times. "New school" consistency is all about hitting four balls in a row in the court and repeating it 20 times.

A new take on old folklore.

There were 20 rallies in the match that reached double digits, but there were 30 rallies in the match that totaled just one shot in the court. The serve went in, and either by an ace or a missed return, the ball never came back. That happened more than anything else in the match. The top five rally lengths in the match totaled 65% (81/124) of all points, with Djokovic winning a commanding 59 per cent (48/81) of them.

Shanghai Final: Top 5 Rally Lengths & Point Winner
1. 1 Shot In = 30 points (Djokovic 17/Coric 13)
2. 3 Shots In = 19 points (Djokovic 9/Coric 10)
3. 5 Shots In = 13 points (Djokovic 9/Coric 4)
4. 4 Shots In = 10 points (Djokovic 6/Coric 4)
5. 2 Shots In = 9 points (Djokovic 7/Coric 2)
TOTAL: 81 points — Djokovic, 59% (48)/Coric, 41% (33)

Djokovic won 20 more points than Coric for the match (72 to 52), and crafted 15 of them in rally lengths from one to five shots. That's a layer of our sport that matters more than we ever realised.

Djokovic held serve 47 straight times throughout the tournament to remain unbroken from Monday to Sunday. It's a scary thought that the world's best returner can also go a week without his serve being broken. Djokovic won an astounding 91 per cent (29/32) of first-serve points in the final, which was in stark contrast to the first-serve battles Coric endured, winning just 61 per cent (34/56) of his first-serve points.

Average Rally Length: Points Won On First Serve
• Djokovic = 3.8 shots
• Coric = 5.2 shots

Average Rally Length: Points Lost On First Serve
• Djokovic = 3.3 shots
• Coric = 6.2 shots

Overall, the champion played just three points that went to double digits when he started the rally with a first serve, while Coric had to battle through 10 of them.

Djokovic was also able to play shorter points behind his second serve as well, winning a commanding 70 per cent (14/20), with an average rally length of 5.2 shots. Coric won 56 per cent (9/16) of his second-serve points, but his rally length was much higher at 7.1 shots.

Djokovic won 72 points in the final, with 76 per cent (55) of them coming from a Coric error, and 17 coming off his own racquet as a winner. We play a sport of errors much more than winners, even at the elite level of our sport.

Our eyes would have us believe the recent rise of Djokovic (27-1 since the beginning of Wimbledon) is mainly due to dominance in the long rallies. It's not. He is back to being the apex predator hunting his hidden advantage in the 0-4 shot rally length. He forces mayhem in his opponents’ strokes and mind much more with serves and returns than by extending the rally.

Editor’s Note: Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy is on the coaching team of Novak Djokovic.

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