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Brain Game: Federer Neutralises Raonic's Serving Weapon

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Federer© Getty ImagesRoger Federer neutralised Milos Raonic's serve in the semi-finals.

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

Make no mistake about it; we are in the Golden Age of the returner. 

Roger Federer neutralised the big serving Canadian, Milos Raonic, with a sublime return performance to move through to his ninth Wimbledon final with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory on Centre Court Friday.

Federer has amazingly only lost serve once for the tournament but it was his return game that was at its brilliant best against the Canadian flame-thrower. The Swiss star forced Raonic into tournament low totals in almost every single IBM serve statistic with deep blocking returns off first serves and aggressive counter-punching against second serves to immediately push Raonic back on his heels. 

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The pressure from Federer’s returns forced Raonic to under-perform with first serves made (55%), first serve points won (80%), second serve points won (50%), service games lost (three), unreturned serves (45%) and double faults (four). He also only hit 17 aces, which was his second lowest total, with four of the other five matches featuring at least 30. These numbers would probably look great for most players, but Raonic relies so heavily on his serve that they simply weren’t enough of a factor to power him through to the final. 

With Federer serving and returning so well it sends an ominous warning to Novak Djokovic, who he will meet in Sunday’s final. History has proven that when Federer is humming like this, it doesn’t matter who is standing on the other side of the net. 

Federer nullified Raonic’s missile serves very effectively, absorbing and blocking back the Canadian’s raw power. Raonic has averaged 124mph on first serves for the tournament to Federer’s 116mph, but that is only part of the story. Where it lands is often times more important.

Federer only made a miserly 14 forced return errors for the match, which was tied for the lowest amount of any match he has played so far. Although he only won 20 per cent of Raonic’s first serve points, it’s still five per cent better than anyone else managed.

Raonic mixed his serving patterns more in the deuce court with 23 serves to Federer’s backhand and 22 to the forehand, but he over-played the backhand in the Ad court, firing 26 out wide to the backhand return compared to only 11 to the forehand.

Overall Federer put 38 per cent (13/34) of his forehand returns back in play, but was much more efficient with 65 per cent (44/80) back in play off his backhand wing - particularly slicing it deep down the middle to neutralise the start of the point. With Federer making more than triple the amount of backhand returns, it was an interesting choice by the Canadian to overdose on it, particularly in the more important Ad court where more of the bigger break points are naturally played. Raonic totalled 45 per cent in unreturned serves, which sounds good, but it was his lowest total of any match for the tournament. 

It is interesting to see serving and volleying delivering the highest winning percentage of any tactic so far for the tournament for the Federer. The Swiss has won 78 per cent of serve and volley points, 71 per cent of approach points and only 52 per cent of baseline points. 

Djokovic Dominates Shorter Points
Novak Djokovic moved through to his third Wimbledon final with a gutsy 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(7) victory over Grigor Dimitrov

DjokovicIt was a very tight match, with Djokovic only winning four more points (140 to 136), with many even numbers statistically across the board. 

What was interesting was the Bulgarian’s ability to have a higher percentage chance of winning the point the longer it lasted, which is usually the proud domain of the Serb. Djokovic held a significant edge in short rallies up to four shots (99 to 78), but once the point stretched longer he lost significant control. 

Rallies lasting between five and eight shots were dominated 40 to 27 by Dimitrov and he even held the edge 18 to 14 with points lasting at least nine shots. Overall Djokovic won 55 points with him finishing at the baseline to Dimitrov’s 52, but we are not used to seeing a diminishing loss of control as the point unfolds for the Serb.  

Djokovic didn’t return as well as we have seen from him on the grass this year, making only 62 per cent of his returns against Dimitrov, down from his tournament average of 70 per cent. He is almost even with forehand winners (53) and backhand winners (55) for the tournament and that closeness is also mirrored in unforced errors with 56 from the forehand and 58 from the backhand. Djokovic has not played a match so far in which he has lost the honours in winning more points than his opponent with short rallies up to four shots, but he has lost half of the medium and long rallies. He must fix this problem in the final if he is to win a second Wimbledon title.

Brain GameCraig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at

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