Brain Game: Novak’s Stunning Stat Sinks Federer
At any level of the game, a stratospheric winning percentage on second serves will give you a winning edge
How do you play a match at any level of the game and only lose three points on your second serve? That’s exactly what Novak Djokovic managed to pull off in his 6-3, 6-4 victory over Roger Federer in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London on Sunday night.
Second-serve performance is typically a key component in deciding victory from the back courts of Lahore to the centre court in London. Djokovic managed to win a mind-blowing 84 per cent (16/19) of his second-serve points against one of the most in-form players on the planet.
Many positive things flowed from this surprise advantage, including Djokovic only facing two break points in two sets against an opponent he lost to in straight sets earlier in the week, when he lost serve four times. In the deuce court, Djokovic amazingly won 88 per cent (7/8) of second serves directed at Federer’s backhand down the T, and all three surprise serves to the forehand wing.
History shows us that Federer’s backhand return is always heavily targeted, but he was not sitting on this preferred location, ripping returns like the scouting report dictates.
In the ad court, Djokovic mixed it up much more, winning 50 per cent (2/4) to Federer’s backhand return on second serves, and 100 per cent (4/4) sneaking second serves right down the T to keep Federer off balance.
Second-serve performance is always a key component of victory, as it’s typically too difficult for the returner to succeed against far more powerful first serves. Federer averaged standing 1.3 metres (4.3 feet) inside the baseline to return Djokovic’s second serves, but quite often lacked the commitment to immediately attack.
On the first point of the 1-1 game in the second set, Federer looked to chip and charge off a second-serve return, second-guessed himself, and missed a routine return. That’s a moment in time when thinking really hurts you.
Federer’s magnificent short-ball-hunter instincts should have taken over, and his chance of winning the point at the net would have dramatically increased. Djokovic won 42 baseline points to Federer’s 23, so why stay back? While Djokovic soared, winning 84 per cent of his second-serve points, Federer struggled mightily, winning only 42 per cent (9/21) against the world’s best returner.
Federer’s game was spotty right from the beginning, committing 31 unforced errors to the Serb’s 14. With everything else being equal, that sinks the boat right there.
Federer hit more winners (19-13) than Djokovic, but as usual, it was the player who made fewer unforced errors than more winners who was smiling at the net shaking hands when the dust settled.
Federer’s backhand proved problematic throughout. He hit six winners off that wing but too often wildly missed the mark with 13 unforced errors, stopping his sporadic good play in its tracks.
Djokovic targeted Federer’s backhand from start to finish, hitting 70 per cent of his backhands cross court, and then on the right ball, attacking 30 per cent down the line to pressure Federer’s forehand on the run.
Federer hit 61 per cent of his backhands cross court and 39 per cent down the line, but should have directed a lot more down the middle of the court to Djokovic’s forehand, to rebound the ball back down the middle to his own forehand.
Federer used a lot more slice than Djokovic off his backhand wing, hitting 69 per cent topspin and 31 per cent slice, trying to disrupt the Serb’s dominant rhythm. Djokovic was content to just keep ploughing away at the comparatively weaker Federer backhand wing, hitting 97 per cent of his backhands with topspin, and only 3 per cent with slice.
Overall, Djokovic hit 23 per cent of his shots standing inside the baseline, 56 per cent within two metres behind the baseline, and 21 per cent further back than two metres.
Djokovic capped off a magnificent year with a dominant performance against a fierce rival. It’s the first time in the history of our sport that a player has won four consecutive year-end championships in a row.
It’s now time to put a glorious season to bed. Let’s respect Djokovic’s amazing process, and give thanks to him for taking us to a place on the mountain where nobody before has ventured.