The Five Keys To Isner's Miami Victory
Our understanding of forehands and backhands has just added another layer - ironically from one of the greatest servers our sport has ever seen.
John Isner defeated Alexander Zverev 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 to win the Miami Open presented by Itau on Sunday, with an analysis of his forehands and backhands shedding new light on what other factors heavily contribute to their overall performance.
The following five areas break down Isner’s forehand and backhand proficiency with a new lens. The analysis does not include returns, volleys or overheads, but does include baseline groundstrokes and approaching the net.
1. The Serve Protects The Backhand
On the surface, there is nothing special about uncovering that Isner hit 24 backhands in the opening set. What will stop you in your tracks is that 20 of them occurred when he was receiving serve, and only four occurred when serving.
Quite simply, Isner can hide his backhand behind his potent serve. When returning, the server can find it at will. In the second set, Isner hit 18 backhands, which were evenly split at nine apiece when serving and returning.
In the deciding third set, Isner hit another 18 backhands, with an overwhelming 16 of them hit when he was returning. Overall, Isner hit 60 backhands, with 75 per cent (45 in total) of them being struck after a return of serve.
It certainly begs the conversation that simply recording forehand metrics such as winners, errors and totals in isolation does not even begin to tell the story.
2. Run Around Forehands = No. 1
You can divide Isner’s baseline and approach performance into three distinct categories.
2. Run-Around Forehands (struck from the ad-court)
The number one thing that Isner did in this match was hit run-around forehands - standing in the ad-court. Zverev directed 123 shots to the ad-court, but Isner upgraded 63 (51 per cent) of them to forehands.
The following breakdown shows how the American short-circuited Zverev’s baseline tactics.
Isner - Shots Hit / Location
• 28 per cent - Normal forehands (Isner standing in the Deuce court)
• 37 per cent - Run-around forehands (Isner standing in the Ad court)
• 35 per cent - Backhands
Is the backhand considered a weakness if you don’t actually have to hit it?
3. Forehands Struck Around 2 to 1.
Zverev constantly tried to attack Isner’s backhand, but he had a great deal of trouble finding it. Overall, Isner hit 65 per cent total forehands for the match.
• 112 forehands (11 winners / 24 errors)
• 60 backhands (4 winners / 9 errors)
The role of the forehand is to attack, so it will typically have more winners and errors, just like this match. Isner averaged committing a forehand error one out of every 4.7 forehands, which was worse than the 6.7 error average hitting backhands.
The role of the forehand is to make the opponent miss. The role of the backhand is not to miss. Mission accomplished for the American.
4. Set Three: Run-Around Forehands Skyrocketed When Returning
It’s always tougher to hit the preferred run-around forehand when returning, but Isner did a solid job in the opening two sets, hitting 19 run-around forehands when serving, and 21 when returning. In the deciding third set, he was impressively able to hit 18 when returning, which was almost as much as the 21 from the first two sets combined.
In Set 3, he hit an amazing 75 per cent (18/24) of his run-around forehands when returning, while hitting 6 behind his serve. This created a tremendous amount of pressure in Zverev’s service games, with Isner finally breaking him at 4-all.
5. Set Three: Backhand Solid As A Rock
Isner committed eight backhand errors through the first two sets, but only made one in the third set, starving Zverev of a location on the court to attack. Importantly, of the 16 backhands Isner hit when returning serve in the third set, he didn’t miss a single one.
Thanks to a server, forehand and backhand analysis just took a step forward.