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Brain Game: Djokovic's Backhand Key To Wimbledon Win Over Federer

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic’s main edge was the ability to control the back of the court with his superior backhand.

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

Novak Djokovic dominated two key patterns of play that ultimately helped him win Wimbledon for the second time by the smallest of margins.

Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4 in an epic final that was almost inseparable on the scoreboard and on the statistical sheets except for the key defensive areas of backhands and second serves.

While Federer dominated the match with winners (75 to 68) and almost won the final with spectacular offense, it was ultimately the Serb’s defensive skills that weighed heavily in overcoming adversity to triumph at SW19.

Djokovic’s thrilling victory came in large part by saving a break point at 3-3, 30/40 in the fifth set. He worked Federer’s backhand, and the slice passing shot ended up in the net. Dodging that bullet - the only break point Djokovic faced in the fifth - was as important as any of the 186 points the 27 year old won in the final.

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Backhand Battle
Djokovic’s main edge was the ability to control the back of the court with a backhand far superior to Federer's. Djokovic hit 18 backhand winners to Federer’s four which was a considerable differential considering Djokovic hit just five more forehand winners (24 to 19) for the match. It was a way to create offense, dictate the direction and flow of the rally and also provide incredible defence, particularly with raking passing shots down the line.

Djokovic’s backhand stood tall against Federer’s net play as he scorched 11 backhand passing-shot winners that made Federer second-guess coming forward. Djokovic also hit two forehand passing-shot winners for a total of 13 which was much higher than Federer’s two passing shot winners for the match.

IBM’s Aggressive Analysis, a measure of a shot's power, direction, depth and point of origin on the court, highlighted Federer’s slight edge with bigger forehands, hitting 75 to 69 for the match. But when it came to backhands, Djokovic was in a class all of his own, dominating 58 to 34. Djokovic ultimately committed 41 total backhand errors for the match but it was several less than Federer’s 50. Djokovic committed 10 backhand errors in sets one, two and four, but he locked it down in set three when desperately called upon for only six errors.

In the deciding fifth set, with the title completely up for grabs, the Serb committed only five backhand errors. It helped stop the bleeding of losing the fourth set, which he had led 5-2 and failed to convert a match point at 4-5 when Federer aced him. In the fifth set, with Djokovic battling the scoreboard, crowd, an in-form opponent and fatigue, there was not a shot he had more confidence in than his beloved backhand. Djokovic won 48 per cent (93/193) of points that he finished at the baseline, mainly because of his rock-solid backhand, while Federer could only manage 40 per cent (65/161) when he was at the baseline when a point ended.

Second-Serve Points
Federer served like a god when hitting a first serve, crushing 29 aces, making an extremely high 69 per cent of first serves and winning 77 per cent of them. Those kind of numbers usually get the job done on any other day. It was almost impossible for Djokovic to make a dent against Federer’s first serves but when he missed it, that’s when defense turned into offense for the Serb. Djokovic humbled Federer’s second serve, with the Swiss superstar only winning a tournament low 44 per cent over the five sets.

By contrast, Djokovic has solid numbers on first serves, making 62 per cent, winning 73 per cent, but was lights out on second serves compared to Federer. Djokovic was almost 50 per cent better than Federer in this area, winning 65 per cent of his second serve points under extreme pressure. This was also six per cent better than Djokovic’s tournament average, giving him another key strategic area to rely on in the final. Djokovic has always counted his second serve return as a strength of his game and it really came to play on Sunday.

Attacking
Federer correctly came to the net as much as possible against Djokovic to find an edge, winning 78 per cent (28/36) serving and volleying and 66 per cent (44/67) approaching. It was a smart strategy that especially got Federer back into the match after he trailed 2-5 in the fourth set. Federer came to the net 16 times in the fourth set, which was second only to 17 in the opening set, which he also won. If there was one strategy he might regret not using more, it would be the drop off in getting to the net in the fifth set - where he came in only 14 times, winning eight. With Djokovic on the ropes physically and mentally, an all-out assault on the front of the court may have yielded a different result.

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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