Novak Changes Tactics To Beat Federer
Brain Game examines how Novak Djokovic changes tactics to take out Roger Federer in a pulsating Indian Wells final.
Novak Djokovic did his homework.
Djokovic had lost their last two hardcourt matches in Dubai and Shanghai in straight sets, and had not come up with a successful counter plan until now to Federer’s marauding net play that had reignited the Swiss star’s career.
Djokovic’s clever tactics serving and pummeling more forehands contributed to staying ahead in the guessing game of shot location, which paid dividends when the big points inevitably rolled around.
First Serve Variety
Djokovic started the match winning 19/19 of first serves made
, directing 12 at Federer’s backhand and seven at the forehand, including two aces down the middle in the Ad Court. This smart, unbeaten mix lasted to until 0-1, 30-30 in the second set, and helped reduce exposure to his second serve, where he had only won 33 per cent (3/9) to that point.
Being unpredictable with the location saw Federer commit 10 returns errors during this dominant run. Djokovic fell behind 0-30 at 2-2 in the opening set, but made four consecutive first serves to establish early dominance. Serving at 5-3 in the opening set, three of his four first serves were unreturned to clinch a commanding first set.
Djokovic also mixed his serve pace to give Federer something else to think about. Serving at 2-1, 15-40, in the second set, Djokovic made two first serves with very different intent. At 15-40, he hit a 128 mph bomb down the middle that was unreturned. At 30-40, the Serb hit an off-pace 91 mph kicker out wide that enabled a forehand winner on the very next shot. Crisis averted.
Second Serves To the Forehand
One of Federer’s favourite ambush plays against Djokovic is to chip and charge with a backhand off a second serve in the deuce court. Federer won five of six points immediately attacking in this match, but the damage could have been far greater had Djokovic stuck to his predictable locations. In their last meeting in Dubai, which Federer won 6-3, 7-5, Djokovic only hit one second serve out wide to the forehand in the deuce court for the match. It happened on his very first point serving, and Federer netted the return. Amazingly, Djokovic forgot to go there again.
In yesterday’s match, Djokovic wisely served six second serves wide in the deuce court, winning four of them. Federer made all six returns, but he was not able to immediately approach off any of them. Djokovic also served five second serves down the T in the Ad court, winning three. Federer did successfully approach off one, Djokovic hit a sneaky second serve ace, but he also committed a costly double fault leading 5-4 in the second set tiebreaker.
Djokovic hit five double faults for the match, but when he did get his second serve in, he won a staggering 60 per cent (21/35), compared to Federer’s 39 per cent (15/38) when making his second serve. The success can directly be attributed to mix.
Attack the Forehand
Djokovic hit only three forehand groundstroke winners from the baseline in their last match in Dubai that were not passing shots or easy put-aways inside the service box. With Federer expecting Djokovic to be attacking his backhand, Djokovic changed gears and hit nine of his eleven forehand winners back through the deuce court towards Federer’s forehand. Attacking Federer’s forehand was a masterful move, as the Swiss notched up a costly 37 forehand groundstroke errors for the match, as well as 10 forehand return errors.
Lastly, Djokovic had to weather the inevitable storm that Federer routinely throws at him. When Djokovic lost serve leading 2-0 in the third set, he took it out on his racquet, but in a lot of ways it was a timely release of pressure that had mainly surfaced from hitting three double faults in the second set tiebreaker. Djokovic would run away with the third set soon after, winning 12 of the last 15 points of the match. Emotions that are bottled up can often times be more damaging than releasing them.
Djokovic has now won the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals he has played, and this is one of his smartest and sweetest.