The Sound Tactics That Led To Medvedev's Shanghai Title
Daniil Medvedev’s mastery of a tennis match is mesmerising.
Medvedev defeated Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-1 in the final of the Rolex Shanghai Masters on Sunday, with Zverev saying post-match that, “Daniil is somebody that plays a way that we have never seen before.” You can’t beat what you can’t understand.
Medvedev did a lot right in the final, with the following five areas contributing significantly to the outcome.
1. Pound The Zverev Forehand
Medvedev is typically a fast starter in his matches and this final was true to form. The Russian won 12 of the first 15 points of the match to race to a 3-0 lead. Nine of those 12 points won were Zverev forehand errors.
Medvedev unveiled his primary strategy on the very first point of the match, winning a 13-shot rally with Zverev missing a forehand down the line from out wide in the Deuce court. With Medvedev leading 40/15 a few points later in his opening service game, Medvedev would go on to win six of the next seven points, with all six resulting in a Zverev forehand error.
Medvedev’s baseline strategy focused on trading backhands through the Ad court with Zverev until an opportunity presented itself to attack the German out wide in the Deuce court, forcing a forehand error on the run.
2. Dominate Three-Shot Rallies
The most common rally length in the final was one shot in the court, which involves the serve landing in and the ball not coming back from either an ace or a missed return. There were 28 one-shot rallies, which equated to 27 per cent of all points. This was a very even battleground in this match, with both players winning 14 points each.
The next most common rally length was three shots in the court, with 15 points played (14% of total points). Medvedev completely dominated this phase of the match, winning 12 of the 15 points.
• A “Serve +1” shot is the first shot after the serve.
• A “Return +1” shot is the first shot after the return.
• Rally length is defined by the ball landing in the court - not hitting the strings.
Medvedev: 3-Shot Rallies Points Won = 12
• Zverev Return +1 forehand error = 5
• Medvedev Serve +1 backhand winner = 4
• Medvedev Serve +1 forehand winner = 2
• Medvedev Serve & volley / backhand volley winner = 1
Zverev: 3-Shot Rallies Points Won = 3
• Zverev Serve +1 forehand winner = 1
• Medvedev Return +1 backhand pass error = 1
• Medvedev Return +1 backhand error = 1
3. Zverev Double Faults = 3
Zverev has struggled mightily with double faults throughout this season, but has improved lately and only committed one each in his quarter-final victory over Roger Federer and his semi-final win over Matteo Berrettini.
Zverev’s three double faults could not have come at worse times against Medvedev, as they were directly responsible for losing the first set and heavily contributed to getting broken at the start of the second set.
Serving at 4-5, 30/30 in the opening set, Zverev double faulted twice in a row in the net to gift the set to Medvedev. Zverev then double-faulted leading 40/30 on serve at 0-1 in the second set. Two points later, he lost his serve. The pressure of the moment and Medvedev’s merciless game style that yields precious few free points were both contributing factors.
4. Medvedev Serve & Volley = 3
Medvedev is far from a one-dimensional baseline player. He served and volleyed three times in the final, winning two of those points. Three times may not sound like a lot, but this specialised secondary tactic is also about creating doubt and indecision in the opponent’s mind, trying to also stop the returner from blocking the serve back slow and high over the net.
By putting just three serve-and-volley points on the table, Medvedev was able to affect Zverev’s return strategy and win the guessing game of “will he or won’t he” come straight to the net next time he serves. By comparison, Zverev elected not to serve-and-volley at all during the match.
In this year's US Open final against Rafael Nadal, Medvedev served and volleyed a staggering 29 times, winning 76 per cent (22/29) of those points, including winning 8/12 (67%) in the deciding fifth set.
5. Medvedev’s Backhand Return
Medvedev’s backhand return of serve is a rock-solid part of his overall arsenal. Zverev simply overplayed it. The majority of Zverev’s serves went to Medvedev’s backhand and the German constantly leaked points in this specific area.
Medvedev Return Performance
• Starting Point With A Backhand Return = Won 70% (14/20)
• Starting Point With A Forehand Return = Won 61% (11/18)
• Backhand Return Error = Medvedev 2 / Zverev 5
• Forehand Return Error = Medvedev 5 / Zverev 5
Medvedev has now contested six straight finals, winning three, and has won his past 18 sets in a row to prevail in St. Petersburg and Shanghai. He comes at you so quickly, so flat, and in so many ways, that he is a nightmare to strategise against.
The Russian’s meritorious victory can be boiled down in equal parts to a high level of execution on his side of the court and a high degree of confusion of exactly how to play him on the other side.