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Brain Game: Djokovic's Winning Game Plan Against Federer

Brain Game breaks down how Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, with insight from coach Boris Becker

One more ball.

That was the foundation on which Novak Djokovic, and coach, Boris Becker, built a masterful game plan to win the Serb’s third Wimbledon title Sunday.

Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3, primarily by extending rallies, and making Federer bend to his own baseline intentions, much more than the opposite way.

There were several moments in time where the match could have swung either way, but the overall body of work was far more controlled by the Serb, and that greatly helped when push came to shove.

Federer played more baseline points in the final (126) than any other match, averaging 32 per set - six more per set than against Andy Murray in the semi-finals.

It was exactly the plan that super-coach, Boris Becker, had put into place.

“Obviously we knew that Roger is going to go all power, he is not going to wait, and go for slow baseline rallies,” Becker said post-match. “He started the way he finished with Murray, very aggressive, not giving Novak any time, any rhythm.”

“There was not much between them in the first two sets, but as the match went on I had a good feeling. I felt that eventually Novak would get hold of Roger’s serve, get him into baseline rallies, take advantage of his younger legs, and that was the difference.”

Federer averaged winning 52 per cent of his baseline points going into this year’s final, but that number was hammered down to 40 per cent by Djokovic’s superior baseline arsenal. Ironically, those were the exact same losing numbers for Federer at the 2014 Championships. It was simply a matter of hitting copy / paste 12 months later for the Serb.

While Federer’s groundstrokes had sparkled against Murray, they mainly misfired against Djokovic.

In the final, Djokovic won the battle of short rallies of 0-4 shots long 103-94, lost the medium length rallies of 5-9 shots 27-34, and dominated extended rallies of nine shots or more 18-10. Federer didn’t play that many extended rallies in his first three rounds combined.

Djokovic Forehand

Djokovic’s forehand was extremely impressive in the final, hitting 17 winners to Federer’s 15, while only committing seven (Federer 17) unforced errors. Djokovic hit it harder and flatter than normal against Federer’s primary baseline weapon.

“There was no option,” Becker said. “If you don’t hit it you lose anyway. Go through the ball, be aggressive, go head-to-head with Roger, or you are going to lose.”

“At the French Open he (Novak) played too tentative, he wanted Stan (Wawrinka) to miss the balls, but you are not going to win a Grand Slam final by waiting for the other guy to miss.”

“Novak was ready to go five hours, and I think it showed,” Becker added.

Second Serves

The other key battle ground that Djokovic dominated in similar fashion to their 2014 final was second serves. In successive finals, Djokovic’s second serve winning per centage remained a strength, while Federer’s got significantly worse.

Djokovic won 60 per cent of his second serves in today’s final and 65 per cent last year at SW19 against Federer. The Swiss, seven-time champion had won 66 per cent of his second serve points the past two weeks, but could only muster 49 per cent in the final. Last year, those numbers also massively dropped from 62 per cent to 44 per cent.

Becker scouted Federer’s impressive semi-final victory over Murray from the Royal Box on Centre Court, and saw specific areas for Djokovic to attack in the final.

“Wimbledon finals are not won in the semi-final,” Becker knowingly pointed out.

“Roger peaked in the semi-final. He could not have played better, but I have seen Andy Murray play better as well. Of course, you get carried away with the legend, Roger has won it seven times, but I felt if Novak could get hold of the return, get Roger involved in the baseline rallies, just the extra point all the time, eventually he was going to wear him down.”

Federer Attacking

Federer served and volleyed on 22 per cent (21/94) of his first serve points, and 25 per cent (11/44) on seconds serves, overall winning a healthy 72 per cent (23/32). He was also solid with net points won, winning 73 per cent (42/58) at the front of the court. But it should have happened even more, as Djokovic was able to get Federer into 126 baseline exchanges, that made Federer’s pathway forward less clear, and blunted his overall aggression.

What Federer needed was more attacking than normal against Djokovic, but he was not unwavering with the tactic.

Overall, Djokovic served magnificently, returned hard and deep, and took advantage of the small windows of opportunity that presented themselves better than Federer.

Djokovic knew Federer was not going to miss on the first couple of shots in a rally, but he a made a point of repeatedly asking the question on the third shot, or the fifth, or the seventh.

One more ball created one more opportunity to miss, and delivered one more title on the world’s biggest stage.

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