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Brain Game: Djokovic Pinpoints Serve Location

Melbourne, Australia

Djokovic© AFP/Getty ImagesA stellar serving performance guided Djokovic to his third straight Australian Open title.

Craig O'Shannessy breaks down the championship match at the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic proved unbreakable as he rolled to his third consecutive Australian Open title on the back of one of the best serving performances of his career.

Djokovic only faced four break points for the match and conceded none of them to defeat Andy Murray 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2 in Melbourne on Sunday night.

Djokovic amazingly only got broken in two of his seven matches for the entire 2013 tournament and did not drop serve in his last nine sets of tennis from the quarter-finals onwards. Djokovic lost serve seven times in his round of 16 epic, five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka and once against Tomas Berdych in the second set of their quarter-final match - and was untouchable from there on.

Murray’s best chance to break Djokovic and get a stranglehold on the final came in Djokovic’s first game of the second set where he had him down 0/40 – a golden opportunity to go up a set and break against the defending champion. Murray got a look at two second serves on the three break points but made one backhand error and Djokovic twice finished at the net to successfully navigate the most crucial time of the match.

Djokovic’s dominance serving is best understood by analysing his serve location far more than how hard he hits it. Djokovic did not rank in the Top 20 fastest serves hit for the tournament and his fastest serve in the final of 209kph is not even in the same ball park as the 233kph bomb Milos Raonic hit in his fourth-round loss to Roger Federer.

Djokovic’s biggest asset serving is his ability to hit targets and bring the ball back to a part of the court where he gains initial control of the point.

The following picture and table illustrates the eight main serve locations players hit to in a match and Djokovic’s numbers from the final against Murray.

Brain Game

Serve Location 1st Serves Made 1st Serves Won 2nd Serves Won
1 25/37 = 67% 20/25 = 80% 2/5 = 40%
2 1/2 = 50% 1/1 = 100% 3/5 = 60%
3 3/6 = 50% 2/3 = 66% 5/8 = 62%
4 20/28 = 71% 16/20 = 80% 4/5 = 80%
5 14/21 = 66% 12/14 = 85% 3/8 = 37%
6 1/1 = 100% 0/1 = 0% 3/3 = 100%
7 7/8 = 87% 5/7 = 71% 8/11 = 72%
8 13/31 =41% 7/13 = 53% 5/5 = 100%
Totals 84/134 = 63% 63/84 = 75% 33/50 = 66%

Deuce Court:
Djokovic’s primary target was out wide to Position 1 on first serves to initially stretch Murray and open up holes to attack early in the point. He would then serve more down the T to Position 4 to surprise and keep the Scot guessing. Djokovic’s four deuce court aces were all down the T to Position 4 - three at 15-15 and one at 40-15. Djokovic predictably hit most second serves to Position 3 – the backhand jam of Murray as a safe way to begin the point.

Ad Court:
Djokovic chased out wide to Position 8 the most, but only made 13/31 (41%) of his first serves to this critical location. He fared much better sliding his first serve down the T to Position 5 to Murray’s forehand where he won 12/14 (85%) of first serves. Having the right serve mix kept Murray unsure and off balance to step in and attack. Djokovic again targeted the backhand jam serve on second serves to Position 7, winning an extremely high 8/11 (72%). Djokovic’s four Ad court aces were mixed two apiece to Positions 5 and 8.

Wide, T and Body:
Djokovic’s 1st serve location numbers clearly indicate his preference to serving wide first, T second and at the body last. Djokovic attempted 134 first serves, and directed 50% of them wide (Positions 1 & 8), 36% down the T (Positions 4 & 5) and only 14% (Positions 2, 3, 6 & 7) at the body. These numbers ring true with the rest of the Top 10 players in the world as well.

Djokovic won the 2012 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal with one of the best return of serve performances the sport has ever seen. This year it was his serve that carried him much more to victory and sends an ominous warning to the rest of the tour that the best player in the world may be actually be improving. 

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. Follow Brain Game On Twitter.


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