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Brain Game: How Djokovic Edged Simon

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic has improved his net game at this year's Championships.

Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy breaks down the big matches each day during The Championships.

There really isn't a lot that separates Novak Djokovic and Gilles Simon.

The scoreboard read 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in favor of the top seed on Centre Court at the Championships today but to watch the grinding, extended rallies between these two stars of the game you would have thought it was much, much closer.

Take for example the constant baseline exchanges. With Djokovic winning 18 games to 10 you would naturally assume he dominated the back of the court. But Simon surprisingly won 52 points from the trenches to Djokovic's 47. The match featured many long grueling rallies, particularly through the Ad court as players traded backhands while looking to create an opening down the line.

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When a point lasted longer than nine shots you would also think that it was to Djokovic's advantage; the Serb typically constricts his opponents and wears them down with amazing defense and pin-point winners. But he surprisingly only won two more points than Simon for the match in this area, 21 points to 19. This reflects just how tight the match really was and how close these fierce competitors actually are.

Both players hit six backhand winners for the match but Djokovic possessed a little more firepower in other areas, notching 31 winners to 23. There were only a difference of five forced errors (41 to 37) from the baseline, highlighting just how well either player could make the other uncomfortable, especially with depth, direction and power.

With no obvious weakness on either wing with Simon's returns, Djokovic mixed his serve location evenly, hitting 21 serves wide, four at the body and 22 down the middle. Djokovic won 74 per cent first serves in the Deuce court and 80 per cent in the Ad, making 11 per cent more first serves to the Deuce court for the match.

Both players were much stronger with their backhand returns, combining to make double (20 to 10) the forced errors on the forehand return. Djokovic returned better with his backhand, making 85 per cent (44/52) compared to 70 per cent (33/47) from the forehand side. Simon was also much better with his compact backhand returns, returning 83 per cent (34/41) versus a much lower 62 per cent (23/37) from his forehand return due to a comparatively bigger backswing.

A key to Djokovic's good play this year is his increased net play compared to other Wimbledon campaigns. IBM statistics reveal that in 2010 he finished at the net 11.5 per cent of total points and that has steadily risen over the years with 12.6 per cent in 2011, 14.7 per cent in 2012, 14.5 per cent in 2013 and a high of 15.3 per cent at The Championships so far this year. His winning percentage is also five per cent higher than any other year, at 75 per cent. The influence of former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, Djokovic's coach, may very well be at work with the improved numbers.

Murray Rolls
In a potentially tricky match-up against an up-and-coming opponent, Andy Murray scorched Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in the last match on Centre Court. Murray hit 43 winners, including 11 from both his forehand and backhand. Murray was too strong from the back of the court, winning 43 baseline points to 28 and won 64 per cent (16/25) coming forward to finish at the net.

Murray has started The Championships in devastating form, primarily by being the best returner in the tournament to date. Murray leads all players with return games won at 54 per cent (20/37), returns in at 84 per cent (188/224), returns won against first serves at 45 per cent (64/141) and is third for points won against second serves at 62 per cent (58/94).

Dimitrov Survives
Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 11th, came back from two-sets-to-one down to win a hard-fought five setter against No. 21 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-7(3), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1. Dimitrov only dropped serve twice (in the 3rd set) for the entire match, winning 77 per cent of first serves and 52 per cent on second serves. Dimitrov controlled the baseline with big forehands, crushing 15 winners and enjoyed a 17 to 10 advantage in the longer rallies of at least nine shots. He will now play Argentine Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round.

Brain GameCraig 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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