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Djokovic: Don’t Fear, Serve Here…

Bombard the forehand return.

Novak Djokovic defeated Matteo Berrettini 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the Wimbledon final on Sunday by creating holes in Berrettini’s game all over the lush green turf. The biggest one of all was the Serbian’s relentless pursuit of Berrettini’s forehand return with his first serve in both the Deuce and Ad courts. The Italian’s forehand groundstroke was an apex predator in the match, racking up 20 powerful winners. On the other hand, his forehand return ended up as prey for the Super Serbian, committing 17 errors.

Novak Djokovic First-Serve Location To Berrettini’s Forehand

 Serve Direction  Attempted  Made  Won
 Deuce Ct - Wife  28  22 (79%)  21 (95%)
 Ad Ct - T  26  13 (50%)  13 (100%)

Deuce Court - Slicing his first serve wide to Berrettini’s forehand return was a masterstroke, winning a jaw-dropping 21 of 22 points with the slider out wide. Tactically, it forced Berrettini to defensively chip forehand returns and then sprint to the vacant Ad court to cover the next attacking shot to his backhand wing. It also enabled Djokovic to serve and volley and feast on Berrettini’s defensive block forehand returns. Ten of Berrettini’s 17 forehand return errors were from this specific location. Overall, Djokovic made 61 per cent (75/122) of first serves for the match, but that elevated to 79 per cent (22/28) to this location. It also contributed to Djokovic winning seven of nine serve-and-volley points in the final.

Ad Court - Djokovic only landed 50 per cent (13/26) of his first serves when he aimed down the T, but he won every single one of them. Overall, Djokovic won an almost perfect 34/35 first-serve points to these two specific locations, providing a key “go-to” strategy he could trust when he needed a point.

Djokovic Crushed 0-4 Rallies
The final was dominated by quick points in the 0-4 shot range, with almost seven points out of 10 coming from a rally where either player hit the ball in the court a maximum of just two times.

Rally Length Played In The Final
0-4 Shots = 68%
5-8 Shots = 23%
9+ Shots = 9%

What’s fascinating is that you would expect Djokovic to dominate the longer rallies and Berrettini to triumph in the short rallies courtesy of his explosive first serve and Serve +1 forehand. The exact opposite played out in the final.

Rally Length Points Won

 Rally Length  Djokovic Won  Berrettini Won
 0-4 Shots  104  85
 5-8 Shots  29  34
 9+ Shots  12  12
Total   145  131

Djokovic won 14 more points than Berrettini for the match (145-131). He won 19 more points in the 0-4 rally length to totally dominate the short exchanges. When a fifth ball landed in the court, Berrettini actually triumphed 46-41, which is a combination of 5-8 and 9+ rallies.

Forehands & Backhand Groundstrokes
As with most tennis matches, the match winner hit fewer winners overall, with Djokovic hitting just 31 to Berrettini’s 57. Committing fewer errors is the secret sauce to winning matches at all levels of our sport, and as you can see from the table below, Djokovic’s groundstrokes put up superior numbers to Berrettini off both the forehand and backhand wings.

 Player/Stroke  Winners  Errors (Forced & Unforced)  +/-
 Djokovic's Forehand  10  34  -24
 Berrettini's Forehand  18  64  -46
 Djokovic's Backhand  5  35  -30
 Berrettini's Backhand  6  42  -36

The match looked close on the scoreboard, but always had an air of inevitably that Djokovic would successfully navigate himself to the finish line first. The reason why was the several “go-to” strategies such as first serves to the forehand, serve and volley, and pummeling Berrettini’s backhand from the back of the court.

The intrinsic nature of Djokovic’s dominance is his innate ability to uncover or create a weakness in his opponent’s game and relentlessly devour it.

Like a wolf with a bone.

Editor’s Note: Craig O'Shannessy is the strategy analyst for the Italian Tennis Federation and players including Matteo Berrettini.

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