Brain Game: Novak Shrinks The Court
Novak Djokovic shrinks the court like nobody else on the planet.
Djokovic dominated the final of the BNP Paribas Masters 6-2, 6-3 against Milos Raonic, applying pressure with his elastic defense that made the Canadian chase smaller margins that ultimately had him beating himself.
Nowhere else on the court was this more evident than on Raonic’s dominant forehand wing.
Raonic was forced to play wider – in fact too wide – than he normally has to in order to get the ball past Djokovic, who produced his typical sliding defense, constantly putting one more ball back in play for Raonic to wrestle with.
Raonic’s forehand was ultimately forced beyond its limits, committing 23 groundstroke errors to the Serb’s two. This massive differential gave Djokovic a huge comfort zone in baseline play that allowed him to compete with more and more aggression as the match developed.
Getting a ball past the World No. 1 is once again proving to be one of the most difficult tasks in the sport. For example, Raonic typically devours run-around forehands in the Ad court, but 56 per cent (13/23) of his errors were pressured from that side of the court. The main error was going back cross court, where he made six costly mistakes wide in the alley chasing an ever-shrinking target. The powerful Canadian also hit four forehands into the net from the Ad Court, two in the alley going inside-in down the line, and only one long past the baseline.
Raonic was trying to go around Djokovic, when he may well have enjoyed more success hitting his huge forehands at bigger targets more down the middle of the court.
A key strategy of Djokovic’s was to run Raonic hard to his forehand wing in the Deuce Court, trying to catch him ‘cheating ‘running around backhands in the Ad Court. Raonic made six forehand errors into the net in the Deuce court, barely reaching the ball and unable to get it back over the net. Raonic also made two errors wide in the alley from the Deuce court, as well as two deep errors.
Djokovic also greatly benefitted from playing ahead in the match, breaking Raonic’s opening service games in each set to forge commanding 3-0 leads in both sets. The scoreboard pressure instantly became another formidable opponent for the Canadian.
The writing was on the wall early as Raonic committed five forehand errors in the first two games. Djokovic won nine of the first 10 baseline points in the opening four games before Raonic finally settled down and found his range.
Raonic won eight straight points in the middle of the opening set, coming back from 0/40 to hold serve at 1-4, but was then unable to break Djokovic when he had him 0/40 in the following game. Raonic would ultimately go 0-4 on break points, mainly because of his miss-firing forehand.
Raonic stayed fairly close to Djokovic in rallies lasting up to four shots (30 to 25) and exchanges lasting over nine shots (six to eight), but pulling the trigger too early, too often in rallies lasting five to nine shots was where all the damage was done, only winning 10 points to Djokovic’s 23. Djokovic makes it so difficult to successfully construct a point and gain control from the trenches.
Djokovic surged to win 66 per cent (18/24) of baseline points by the sixth game of the opening set, always playing with the comfort that his stretching game style was extracting a plentiful amount of errors from Raonic’s power baseline game.
When Raonic double-faulted to trail 0-2 in the second set, the match was effectively over. Raonic had only two forehand winners at this stage, and had committed 15 unforced errors off his preferred wing. At the same time Djokovic had the amazing numbers of three forehand winners and only two unforced errors. He was clearly playing at a different, more rarified level.
Raonic’s big-serve game also suffered as a result of Djokovic’s suffocating pressure, as Raonic only won 20 percent of his second-serve points in the opening set, and 37 percent by the end of the match. Raonic also found no answer at the front of the court, only winning a lowly 40 percent (6/15) approaching.
Djokovic once again showed that power is not necessarily the sport’s ultimate weapon. One more ball in play still rules supreme.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.