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Brain Game: Djokovic Draws Out The Dropshot Against Murray

Wimbledon, England

Murray and Djokovic© Getty Images

Craig O'Shannessy breaks down the Wimbledon final.

The secondary tactic of hitting dropshots became a primary weapon in yesterday’s thrilling Wimbledon final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic

Murray won a hot, grueling match 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 with an unusually high 14 dropshots being hit by both players. Only three were hit in the first two sets as they preferred to trade blows from the back of the court but the third set exploded with 11 dropshots as Djokovic in particular looked to change gears with a different strategy to pull Murray off the baseline and get back into the contest.

Djokovic hit 10 dropshots for the match, all off the backhand side, and nine of the 10 were hit straight down the line to Murray’s forehand. Djokovic only went 4/10, but the four he won were all in a span of eight points at the beginning of the third set that helped him win four consecutive games – going from a break down at 0-2 to a break up at 4-2.

Djokovic lost the first dropshot he hit in the opening game of the third, but the string of four he won started with Murray serving at 2-1, 30/30. Murray returned it with another dropshot, but Djokovic sped in and hit a backhand cross court passing shot to get to break point. On the next point, Murray hit another drop shot and followed it in, but missed a backhand volley just wide. Two big points, three total dropshots, and Djokovic was right back in the third set.

Serving at 1-2, 0/15, Djokovic hit his next successful dropshot that Murray didn’t even attempt to run down as he was standing well back behind the baseline on fresh grass behind the worn patch. 

Two points later and Djokovic was at it again and Murray missed a forehand cross court into the net. The opening point of the next game with Murray serving at 2-3 featured another Djokovic dropshot that Murray put into the net going down the line. The dropshots had the added benefit of tiring Murray from the extra running and moving him closer to the baseline in ensuing points, but most importantly, it gave the match a whole new complexion, which Djokovic desperately needed being down two sets to love and a break in the third. 

A key component of dropshots is the element of surprise. With Djokovic hitting so many, and being so successful with it, Murray was now on full alert and Djokovic would lose the next four he hit for the remainder of the third set.  

With Murray serving for the match at 5-4 15-0 Djokovic would hit his last dropshot – a high floater that Murray easily ran down and hit for a winner that drew thunderous applause from the crowd as he moved to within two points of the title. 

Murray only won one of four dropshots he hit for the match as he far preferred to trade ground strokes from the back of the court, where he hit 10 forehand and nine backhand winners.

Djokovic’s excessive use of the dropshot was not the only area in the match where we saw a deviation from the patient baseline strategy that has helped carry him to No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. 

Djokovic uncharacteristically served and volleyed 10 times in the match, winning half of those points. He was also far more willing to leave the baseline, coming to the net 52 times in three sets to finish points. Djokovic won 58% (30/52) coming forward but it was also a signal that Murray had taken the ascendency in the baseline rallies - which also prompted the high amount of dropshots.

Djokovic shared some insight about the dropshots in his post-match interview. “He (Murray) stands behind the baseline, and when he defends he goes far away,” Djokovic said.  “So I try to be aggressive and kind of use the whole court. But the volleys and dropshots didn't serve me well.  You know, he was getting all of them basically.” 

Murray said in his post-match interview that he was not surprised by the high amount of dropshots Djokovic hit in the final. “He started doing it a lot in the third set,” Murray said.  “He didn't do it that much I didn't think the first couple of sets.  It was working and he was hitting them well, and that was probably why he continued to do it. You know, I don't know how tired he was, if he was tired.  But it's a way of shortening points. And when you hit them as well as that your opponent's running and you're just standing there really, so it worked well for him.”

Djokovic should be congratulated for changing strategies to get back into the match but ultimately it’s a game of percentages and Murray’s control from the back of the court outweighed the dropshots over three tough sets.

 

Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game.

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