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Brain Game: Novak Keeps On The Offense

Shanghai, China

Djokovic© Getty ImagesDjokovic served 10 aces to del Potro's one.

Novak Djokovic successfully hunted the short ball by winning the battle of court position to capture his second successive Shanghai Rolex Masters title Sunday.

Djokovic defeated Juan Martin del Potro 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (3) by aggressively rallying from around the baseline and coming to the net at every opportunity to exploit del Potro's naturally deeper rally location at the back of the court.

Djokovic won 86 per cent (25/29) of all points coming forward and was a perfect 11/11 in the opening set finishing points at the net. Djokovic got off to a fast start racing to 5-0 lead by keeping del Potro pinned far back where he wasn’t able to hurt Djokovic. Del Potro made contact with the ball 33 per cent of the time inside the baseline in his straight sets victory over Rafael Nadal in his semi-final but was only able to manage 11 per cent inside the baseline in the first four games of the final against Djokovic.

With Djokovic prowling the baseline and pouncing on anything short, del Potro was forced into reaction mode, which is never his strongest suit. Djokovic approached 18 times to del Potro’s backhand and 11 times to the forehand side trying to spread the court with his successful offensive strategy. Del Potro only managed one passing shot winner for the match - a forehand-down-the-line winner off a backhand-slice approach to save break point at 4-2, 15/40 in the second set.

Once Djokovic got control of the back of the court with his baseline position, and the front of the court with his approaching, he would always have his nose in front in another great battle between two of the heavyweights of the sport.

Djokovic's trademark backhand down the line was also a highlight of the match as he looked to stretch del Potro deep into his forehand corner. Djokovic had 11 backhand winners and eight of them went straight down the line against the Argentine. Djokovic also mixed in five drop shots (won three) to take advantage of his opponent's deep rally position.

Smart Serving
Djokovic's clever serve patterns helped him hit 10 aces (del Potro hit five) and he only faced four break points for the match. In the deuce court Djokovic attempted 20 serves down the T and made 13 - and won every single one of those points, including five with aces. Djokovic also targeted del Potro's backhand return in the ad court, attempting 23 serves, making 19 and winning 15. Del Potro only won 18 per cent of points starting with a backhand return against Djokovic’s first serve (5/27) and 38 per cent (7/18) against second serves.

Djokovic was only broken once for the match at 0-1 in the second set in a bizarre game where he continually lost his balance on his serve and groundstrokes. Del Potro fell behind 0/40 at 2-4 but won five straight points to maintain his momentum to win the second set. Del Potro saved two break points down 15/40 at 2-3 in the third set and saved another two, which were match points, at 4-5, 15/40 to help push the match to a tie-break.

Djokovic only faced one break point in the third set at 2-2 and served and volleyed at ad out, firing a 126mph ace out wide to get back to deuce. Djokovic also served and volleyed two other times: at 30/15 in the same game, hitting a forehand swinging volley winner and at 4-0, 15/0 in the opening set, where the backhand return didn’t make it back over the net.

Extending A Streak
Djokovic's full-court assault proved to be the difference as he preferred an offensive game style against one of the biggest-hitting baseliners in the sport. Djokovic has now won 20 consecutive matches in China and won back-to-back titles at the China Open in Beijing and the Shanghai Rolex Masters for the second straight year. He's also now won seven titles overall in China, which is the most he has won in any country.

Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.

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