Brain Game: Novak's Calling Card
Some tennis tactics bear immediate fruit, while others can take a couple of hours to develop before they have an obvious influence on a match.
Novak Djokovic is a master at initially attacking with his potent strokes, while at the same time going to work on the legs and lungs of his opponent.
This was exactly how the Miami Open final played out, with Djokovic finally overcoming a spirited Andy Murray 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 in a brutal battle of attrition that has become the ruthless calling card of the World No. 1.
Djokovic and Murray suffered for just over two hours in splitting the first two sets, but while things looked even on the scoreboard, Murray’s gas tank abruptly hit empty. The physical nature of being stretched so wide, so often, quickly took over as the dominant theme, and delivered a decisive victory to the Serb.
Break Down the Backhand
Murray’s backhand started strong, hitting four winners and only making 11 errors in a lengthy first set, which extended to a tie-break. It also stood tall in the second set, making just eight errors in 10 games to be the driving force behind taking the match to three sets. But with an exhausted set of legs to stand on in the third, the Brit committed 13 backhand errors in just six games as the match quickly slipped away. Murray committed a total of 32 backhand errors, which was many more than the 18 he made in defeating Djokovic in three sets in their 2013 Wimbledon final.
Murray made 17 backhand errors standing around the middle of the court, and 15 being pulled out wide around the Ad Court alley. Djokovic also attacked Murray’s forehand out wide as well, where the Brit committed 11 of his 19 forehand errors standing closer to the singles line than the center line.
Murray Attacked Early
In the opening set, Murray displayed a greater commitment to attack Djokovic than normal, twice breaking the Serb at 1-1 and 3-3, only to be broken straight back each time. Djokovic defeated Murray 6-2, 6-3 in the semi-finals of Indian Wells a couple of weeks ago, where Murray played too passively, only making contact with the ball 13 percent inside the baseline for the match. But in the opening set in Miami, Murray more than doubled that to 30 percent, playing up the court as much as possible.
On the second point of the match, Murray immediately approached off a second serve forehand return, and although he lost the point, the signal was sent – Murray was coming after Djokovic this time. A couple of points later at 30-30, the Brit crushed an 85 mph return winner off a second serve and was in full attack mode.
Murray would hit a return approach three more times for the match, winning all three, leaving you wondering how different the match might have been if Murray had been fully committed to the Federer-esque tactic, running it 10-15 times for the match. There is no better way to shorten a return point, preserve leg stamina, and add pressure to an aggressive baseliner than regularly mixing in coming forward off a second-serve return.
Murray was swarming the net early in the match, coming forward six times in the opening three games, which helped get the break of serve for 2-1. Leading into the Miami final, Murray was winning 77 percent of his approach points, but could only manage 48 percent (12/25) against Djokovic. Importantly, he only won 20 percent (1/5) in the second set, which he won, showing he was grinding far more at the back of the court, depleting his energy reserves to level the score at a set all.
The position of the sun for the early afternoon final was a real problem for both players, affecting their toss on their serve, particularly in the opening two sets. The sun, pressure, and fatigue also played havoc with overheads in the match, as both players combined for four winners, but committed six costly errors.
Just like this year’s Australian Open final against Murray, Djokovic won the deciding set to love by turning the match into an exhaustive physical encounter.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.