Brain Game: Djokovic Controls The Points
Novak Djokovic owned the start of the point and the back of the court to defeat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 7-5 in the the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday.
Djokovic is a master at figuring out where the key areas of separation exist in a match, and there were numerous battles against Nishikori that finished even, or ones that he lost.
Nishikori won more of the extended rallies of 10+ shots (9-8), hit more overall winners (14-13), and performed better on second serves, winning 56 per cent (9/16) to Djokovic’s 43 per cent (6/14).
But those were secondary elements of this final. You can’t win all the skirmishes around the court, and Djokovic focused his strengths on attacking early, pressuring with direction, and taking time away in the preparation phase of Nishikori’s lethal groundstrokes.
First Strike Tennis
The length of a point matters a lot in our sport. On hard courts, around 70 per cent of points are played in the 0-4 shot rally length, 20 per cent in the 5-9 shot rally length, and only 10 per cent of points make it 10 shots or longer.
Players that win the 0-4 shot rally length typically win the match more than 90 per cent of the time. Surprisingly, players that win the extended rallies of 10 shots or more (the rallies that look so much like the practice court) have a much lower correlation of winning the match - less than 60 per cent of the time.
True to form, Djokovic won the short rallies up to four shots 36-26, and lost the really long rallies 8-9. Fifty four per cent of total rallies existed in the 0-4 shot range, 31 per cent in the 5-9 shot range, and only 15 per cent of total points went 10 shots or longer.
Djokovic simply reigned supreme in by far the biggest pool of points a tennis match offers (0-4 shots), which is the same at every level of the game.
Once the point developed into a baseline duel, Djokovic dominated 35-28. The writing was on the wall early, with Djokovic winning baseline points by an 18-10 margin in the opening set. With Djokovic up a set and a break, 6-3, 2-1, he had directed 48 per cent of his forehands to Nishikori’s forehand, 47 per cent to his backhand, and only two rally forehands had landed in the middle third of the court.
Djokovic did not particularly care where he attacked from the back of the court, as long as his court position was superior and he was making Nishikori lean off the ball. This forced Nishikori to “press” with his groundstrokes, often going for a little too much when it wasn’t quite there.
Nishikori narrowly missed time and time again, trying to play offence when Djokovic was dictating that he needed to play defence. Overall, Nishikori committed 17 forehand and 17 backhand errors for the match, a testament to Djokovic’s attacking so evenly with his forehand.
Serve + 1 Forehands
Djokovic’s backhand normally gets all the attention, but right from the start of this match he was looking to upgrade to a forehand as much as possible with his first shot after the serve, sometimes running into the Ad court to do it. Djokovic won 69 per cent (11/16) when he started the point with a serve and a forehand, including eight of ten in the opening set. He only won 50 per cent (9/18) when he started with a serve and a backhand, including just 33 per cent (3/9) in the second set.
Djokovic picks and chooses his battles wisely, and his leverage is not immediately picked up by the naked eye. But a stats sheet lays bare where the World No. 1 creates his separation.