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Brain Game: Djokovic’s Backhand Breaks Down Federer

London, England

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic effectively used his backhand down the line to defeat Roger Federer.

Craig O'Shannessy breaks down the championship match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Novak Djokovic’s backhand down the line was the difference maker in his come from behind victory over Roger Federer in the final of the Barclays ATP Tour Finals in London.

Djokovic won 7-6(6), 7-5 and had to come from a break down in both sets to win his second title at the year-end championships.

His most spectacular backhand down the line came on match point when he ripped a passing shot from well behind the baseline to win the title. It was vintage Djokovic as he was on the dead run sliding outside the singles line but somehow managed to create an offensive shot when his court and body position clearly dictated otherwise.

It was the icing on the cake for the World No. 1 as it was his backhand down the line in general rally play that really got him into a winning position in the first place.

Federer was constantly troubled by Djokovic changing direction with his backhand in their Ad court exchanges as Federer much prefers to camp on the backhand side and build the point with his forehand rather than get into a running, side-to-side battle.

Federer’s forehand was the victim of Djokovic’s clever strategy as Federer hit nine winners but racked up a costly 36 errors on his more potent wing. Djokovic, by comparison, hit eight forehand winners but only made 20 forehand errors.

Watch: Djokovic Delivers On Championship Point

Of the 36 errors Federer made on his forehand, 80% (29) came in the deuce court and only 20% (7) in the Ad court.

Djokovic’s tactic was simple: Avoid letting Federer dictate Ad court rallies with his forehand by taking his backhand down the line, which also put Federer’s forehand under more pressure on the run in the deuce court.

Of the 29 forehand errors Federer made in the deuce court, 82% (21) were made wide near the singles line and only 18% (9) towards the middle where he was stretched as far. It was Federer’s wide running forehand that Djokovic kept targeting.

Eight of Federer’s 21 wide forehand errors were caused by Djokovic’s backhand down the line, seven by Djokovic’s inside-in forehand down the line and only six coming from Djokovic’s cross court forehand from the deuce court.

Re-direction from the Ad court was the engine room of Djokovic’s stunning victory.

Federer was far more likely to make a forehand error if he had to move to the deuce court to hit it than if he was already standing there waiting for it.

This is further illustrated by Djokovic’s failed serving strategy in the deuce court of initially attacking Federer’s forehand out wide. With Federer already standing in the deuce court to return serve, his forehand was a lot stronger.

Djokovic’s primary first serve target in the deuce court was a slice serve out wide to Federer’s forehand where he attempted 20 serves (he attempted 18 down the T to his backhand).

FedererDjokovic made 14/20 (70%) first serves out wide in the deuce to Federer’s forehand but amazingly only won 3/14 (21%) of those points. Federer’s forehand is better if he has to move less.

Federer’s primary first serve target in the deuce court was also out wide to the forehand where he attempted 22 serves (he attempted 19 down the T to the backhand).

Federer was far more successful with this tactic, winning 8/12 (66%) of those points. Federer only won 7/13 (53%) serving to Djokovic’s stronger backhand return side.

Djokovic only won one more point (96 to 95) than Federer for the match and his discipline of shot selection under pressure was the difference.

Djokovic is now 7-3 against both Federer and Rafael Nadal in the past two seasons and his backhand down the line is a major component of his dominance. Against Nadal it is used to make him hit more backhands and escape the forehand while against Federer it is to avoid the forehand where it is strong (Ad court) and pressure it by making him hit it on the run.

Djokovic is 6-4 against Andy Murray the past two seasons and the use of the backhand down the line is once again an agent of movement to apply pressure to the more potent wing.

There is a saying on tour that your forehand buys you your million dollar house but your backhand down the line puts the Ferrari in the driveway. Djokovic walks away from London with $1,760,000 from winning all five matches this week and it appears his backhand down the line can buy his whole team a fleet of red Ferrari’s to zip around Serbia in.

Craig O'Shannessy is the founder of the Brain Game, a tennis analysis website that uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game.

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