Novak Djokovic did his homework.
The Serb made three key adjustments that turned the tables, and secured a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 victory over Roger Federer in the final of the BNP Paribas Open.
Djokovic had lost their last two hardcourt matches in Dubai and Shanghai in straight sets, and had not come up with a successful counter plan until now to Federer’s marauding net play that had reignited the Swiss star’s career.
Djokovic’s clever tactics serving and pummeling more forehands contributed to staying ahead in the guessing game of shot location, which paid dividends when the big points inevitably rolled around.
First Serve Variety
Djokovic started the match winning 19/19 of first serves made, directing 12 at Federer’s backhand and seven at the forehand, including two aces down the middle in the Ad Court. This smart, unbeaten mix lasted to until 0-1, 30-30 in the second set, and helped reduce exposure to his second serve, where he had only won 33 per cent (3/9) to that point.
Being unpredictable with the location saw Federer commit 10 returns errors during this dominant run. Djokovic fell behind 0-30 at 2-2 in the opening set, but made four consecutive first serves to establish early dominance. Serving at 5-3 in the opening set, three of his four first serves were unreturned to clinch a commanding first set.
Djokovic also mixed his serve pace to give Federer something else to think about. Serving at 2-1, 15-40, in the second set, Djokovic made two first serves with very different intent. At 15-40, he hit a 128 mph bomb down the middle that was unreturned. At 30-40, the Serb hit an off-pace 91 mph kicker out wide that enabled a forehand winner on the very next shot. Crisis averted.
Second Serves To the Forehand
One of Federer’s favourite ambush plays against Djokovic is to chip and charge with a backhand off a second serve in the deuce court. Federer won five of six points immediately attacking in this match, but the damage could have been far greater had Djokovic stuck to his predictable locations. In their last meeting in Dubai, which Federer won 6-3, 7-5, Djokovic only hit one second serve out wide to the forehand in the deuce court for the match. It happened on his very first point serving, and Federer netted the return. Amazingly, Djokovic forgot to go there again.
In yesterday’s match, Djokovic wisely served six second serves wide in the deuce court, winning four of them. Federer made all six returns, but he was not able to immediately approach off any of them. Djokovic also served five second serves down the T in the Ad court, winning three. Federer did successfully approach off one, Djokovic hit a sneaky second serve ace, but he also committed a costly double fault leading 5-4 in the second set tiebreaker.
Djokovic hit five double faults for the match, but when he did get his second serve in, he won a staggering 60 per cent (21/35), compared to Federer’s 39 per cent (15/38) when making his second serve. The success can directly be attributed to mix.
Attack the Forehand
Djokovic hit only three forehand groundstroke winners from the baseline in their last match in Dubai that were not passing shots or easy put-aways inside the service box. With Federer expecting Djokovic to be attacking his backhand, Djokovic changed gears and hit nine of his eleven forehand winners back through the deuce court towards Federer’s forehand. Attacking Federer’s forehand was a masterful move, as the Swiss notched up a costly 37 forehand groundstroke errors for the match, as well as 10 forehand return errors.
Lastly, Djokovic had to weather the inevitable storm that Federer routinely throws at him. When Djokovic lost serve leading 2-0 in the third set, he took it out on his racquet, but in a lot of ways it was a timely release of pressure that had mainly surfaced from hitting three double faults in the second set tiebreaker. Djokovic would run away with the third set soon after, winning 12 of the last 15 points of the match. Emotions that are bottled up can often times be more damaging than releasing them.
Djokovic has now won the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals he has played, and this is one of his smartest and sweetest.
Hey folks. I found the above article at the ATP website and just went ahead and posted it here. I have been wondering after the final how exactly did Djokovic beat Roger 6-2 in the third this year compared to 7-6 in the third last year, even though I felt Roger was playing better this year. And above I found my answer. I thought the guy that wrote this did a great job. When Roger defeated Djokovic in straight sets in both Shanghai and Dubai I thought the time was ripe for him to defeat Djokovic on a slower hard court too. But we tend to forget that Djokovic is number one in the world and have won eight slams for a reason. He is also able to make adjustments and he is not gonna take two consecutive straight set losses to his main rival without doing something about it.
It looks like Djokovic did indeed do his homework with the tactics above. One thing that I did notice was that almost every time Roger had a chance to threaten Djokovic’s serve Djokovic came up with a winning serve. This coupled with the variety of the first serve made it very difficult for Roger to make any inroads on the Djokovic serve and in turn allowed Djokovic to pressure Roger’s serve. I also remember well the serves at 2-1 and 40-15 in the second set where Djokovic made it impossible for Roger to break. That was highly frustrating. Then the second serves to Roger’s forehand was another very smart tactic, given Roger’s intentions to chip and charge from the backhand side. It just caught him off guard and kept him guessing.
In this way he was not able to impose his net game on Djokovic as much as he wanted to. The targeting of Roger’s forehand was an interesting tactic too. I think with the slower courts Roger did not have the rhythm on his forehand that he wanted. Otherwise I can’t think why he made so many unforced errors. But it was another smart tactic from Djokovic to target that side anyway. And finally the racquet smash was interesting too because I remember my mom who was watching the tennis with me(and who is a huge Fedfan) saying that that was not a nice thing of Djokovic to do. Whether it was nice or not is debatable but it did the job because it released a lot of frustration from the second set and Djokovic seemed to get back to his first set ways right after that.
Sometimes you do wonder if there is not a terminator lurking below…
So again the question of cold winning vs ethics comes into play, where Roger seems to be exemplary. I remember Fedfans objecting on my blog about Djokovic’s toilet break after the fourth set at Wimbledon, as well as his rope-a-dope tactic against Murray at the Australian Open. For guys like Djokovic and Nadal winning seems to be more important than ethics. I’m not gonna make any judgments or get into who is wrong or right but if Djokovic needs to smash his racquet to release pressure then so be it. Everyone deals with pressure differently. But I will also add here that there is a reason why Roger is so popular among many. He doesn’t play mind games or smash his racquet very often, although we have seen it.
Anyway I just wanted to run this by you. Roger has made some great adjustments to his game since the beginning of 2014 both tactically, equipment wise, and on the coaching staff. But we can’t forget that other players can make similar changes. Djokovic also hired Becker and since Djokovic lost against Stan last year in Melbourne he has gone on to win two more majors. So Djokovic is making improvements in many areas too and he is definitely not gonna just allow Roger to keep beating him. Personally I thought Djokovic defeated Roger because of the court surface, but that didn’t explain why he won easier this year. I did realize that Djokovic’s first serve had improved but that wasn’t quite enough to explain the different scoreline.
So this article solved that problem for me in explaining about the variety of the serve as well as the attack to the forehand. I hope you also learned something from it. Now the question is how Roger can once again adjust his game to counter Djokovic’s tactics when they play on a slower hard court again. This I will leave to you if you have any ideas. The game at the top is not static. There is a constant adjustment of tactics and things with every rivalry at the top in order to try and get the advantage the next time they meet, and there is a lot of work going into that behind the scene which we are not aware of. Guys like Roger and Djokovic knows each other’s game very well and they are always trying to do the unexpected to catch the opponent off guard.
Highlights(they removed it again):