Brain Game: Djokovic Holds His Nerve
Discover the tactics that led to Novak Djokovic clinching his second US Open title
What you want to do, and what you can do against Novak Djokovic are two completely different things.
Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to capture his second US Open title, only winning two more points in the match (147 to 145), but winning almost all the critical moments.
Djokovic saved a colossal 19 of 23 break points, constantly repelling Federer when both players were desperately trying to put their hands on the trophy.
Federer’s 23 break points came in 11 service games, and importantly included 11 on Djokovic’s second serve. Federer only converted one of 11 on Djokovic’s second serve, which just happened to be the only time Federer finished at the net on one of these crucial moments - at 2-5, 30/40 in the fourth set, finishing with a touch backhand volley winner.
Those second serve break point opportunities were where the match ultimately turned, and history was made. Normally throughout Federer’s career, this is where he created his legacy, but not on this rain-delayed evening in New York City.
Overall on second serve break points, Federer missed three returns, hit 29 backhands and only 20 forehands, and only ended at the net once. They were the perfect moments for the SABR (Sneaky Attack By Roger) strategy, where Federer has recently hit a half-volley return and immediately approached, but the conviction to attack was not forthcoming. Djokovic started with second serves, but finished by forcing nine errors, hitting one winner, and Federer hitting just the solitary winner at net.
Federer’s Forehand Misfired
Federer’s forehand predictably had the most winners from the back of the court with 18 (Djokovic 15), but it amassed 56 total errors to only 37 from Djokovic. The Serb constantly stayed patient, extending the rally, where he had a dominant 27-12 winning advantage in rallies of nine shots or more. Djokovic’s superb defensive skills kept shrinking the court, making Federer’s forehand seek smaller targets, only to over-hit.
Djokovic Owned The Baseline
Djokovic was happy to settle into baseline exchanges, not really getting hurt by Federer’s groundstrokes. Djokovic’s main goal was to keep the ball deep to stop Federer attacking the net, and to target the Federer backhand, which committed 41 total errors. Overall Djokovic won 52 per cent (88/170) of baseline points, which was considerably lower than his tournament average of 57 per cent leading into the final. But as usual, he made his opponent perform a lot worse on the other side of the net. Federer had won 56 per cent of his baseline points through the first six rounds, but that was reduced to a lowly 38 per cent of points won in the final.
Djokovic’s Superior Serve
Djokovic targeted Federer’s backhand with first serves, making the Swiss hit 36 backhand returns and 27 forehand returns in the deuce court, and 35 backhands and 21 forehands in the Ad court. Djokovic’s serve performed better in the Deuce, making 67 per cent of first serves to 57 per cent in the Ad court. Djokovic won 60 per cent of first serves in the deuce court and 72 per cent in the Ad court.
In the fourth set, Djokovic served bigger and bolder to close out the match. His fastest average first serve speed in the fourth set was 116 miles per hour (m.p.h.), the fastest of any set, while he averaged 91 m.p.h. on second serves. In the deciding set, Djokovic had 26 per cent of his serves unreturned, which was around 10 percentage points better than the second and third sets.
Djokovic once again was able to bring a superior level while making his opponent bend to his own game style.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.