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2023 US OPEN: MATCH REVIEW
N. Djokovic def. B. Shelton 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(4)
This match promised so much but, unfortunately, didn’t deliver on the hype. I watched it courtside and spent most of the match underwhelmed with the one-sided nature of the contest.
I thought Ben played strategically really well against Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe, but I didn’t see a clear game plan against Novak, especially early on. Maybe the occasion and the opponent proved too much to handle. The writing was on the wall from the first game with poor shot selection. Djokovic looked comfortable. Shelton did not.
Let’s go through the stats that I focused on in the preview above to see what played out how I thought it would and what factors dominated this semi-final.
- 0-4 Shots = 66% (133)
- 5-8 Shots = 22% (44)
- 9+ Shots = 12% (24)
- Total = 201
Pre-Match Analysis Quote
Shelton is at 76% in 0-4 shots. The tournament average is 68%. Djokovic is less than that at 65%. Make no mistake: Shelton must keep the 0-4 rally length above 70% range if he has a chance of winning. Djokovic will for sure look to drag this number down lower. If Djokovic can make 0-4 shots around his average of 65%, then he will win.
This played out exactly as I predicted. Djokovic knocked the rally length down to 66%, which is only one percentage point away from his tournament average. He definitely played the match on his terms and didn’t drop a set. Shelton literally has no chance of winning the match playing in Novak’s rally-length wheelhouse.
RALLY LENGTH WON
- 0-4 Shots = Djokovic 74 / Shelton 59
- 5-8 Shots = Djokovic 27 / Shelton 17
- 9+ Shots = Djokovic 11 / Shelton 13
Djokovic manhandled Shelton in the 0-4 shot rally length 74-59, creating a 15-point advantage. That grew to a 25-point advantage when you combined 0-4 and 5-8 shot rally lengths. It does Shelton no good at all to narrowly win the 9+ shot rally length 13-11. It’s inconsequential. Djokovic blunted the power on the serve and the forehand with one more shot back in the court.
Shelton, on the other hand, always had one finger on the trigger, eager to go for the all-or-nothing shot. Those percentages don’t work against Djokovic. Shelton needed more “assist” shots to get Novak in a little bit of trouble, and then he could rip. He was consistently a shot too early in trying to end the point.
AVERAGE RALLY LENGTH
To the Semi-final
- Shelton = 3.22 Shots
- Djokovic = 4.55 Shots
Pre-Match Analysis Quote
Shelton has not come close to averaging four shots a rally in any match. Djokovic is in that space in four of his five matches. The lowest average for Djokovic was 3.59 shots vs. Gojo. Four of Shelton’s five matches were below that.
If Shelton can keep the average rally length below four shots a point, he has a real shot. As soon as the average climbs over four shots a point, picture the hungry crocodile again swimming to the deep water with a tasty dinner.
The average rally length in the final was 4.2 shots. As soon as it rose above four shots, Shelton was in deep water.
Pre-Match Analysis Quote
Shelton can rattle the cage by hitting 10+ return approaches in this match. Probably closer to 20 would be more ideal. This way, points stay short, Djokovic does not get the rhythm he craves, and Shelton can apply maximum pressure in return games.
And the pro-American crowd is going to lose their mind seeing him trying to take charge of the match.
- WON: Third point of the match. Backhand return, then overhead winner. Perfect!
- LOST: 1st set 1-1, 40-0. Monster forehand return. Too wild – landed way out. Didn’t need to be that big.
- LOST: 2nd set 5-2, 40-30. Backhand return in the net. Rushed.
- WON: 3rd set 2-1, 15-15. Backhand return winner moving forward. Good attacking.
That’s it. Only four return approaches in three sets. Djokovic made 29 second serves, and Ben could only come in on four of them? This was a huge strategic error. He did it 10 times vs. Tiafoe, and I thought he could do it 20 times vs. Djokovic. Too passive. Way too passive, especially with so many slice returns that gave Djokovic all day to hit his Serve +1 forehand.
5: NET VS. BASELINE
Here are the averages for both players to the semis.
- Baseline Points Won = 48% (192/403)
- Net Points Won = 65% (106/163)
- Baseline Points Won = 56% (293/525)
- Net Points Won = 71% (78/110)
Pre-Match Analysis Quote
It would be a minor miracle for Shelton to crack 50% baseline points won in this match. If he can stay at 48%, that will be good enough. In big matches like these, Djokovic has a habit of knocking down the opponent’s baseline points won to UNDER 40%.
If that happens, Shelton won’t survive.
Shelton needs to seek refuge at the net. That will also help reduce Djokovic’s baseline points won, as it will be tough trying to hit passing shots from the baseline again and again.
Those predictions came true. Djokovic won north of 50% from the baseline. Shelton was under 40%.
Baseline Points Won
- Shelton Baseline Points Won = 38% (40/105)
- Djokovic Baseline Points Won = 52% (60/116)
Net Points Won
- Shelton Net Points Won = 54% (21/39)
- Djokovic Net Points Won = 88% (23/26)
Shelton wasn’t fully committed to coming to the net. The win percentage was really low, at 54%. Too often, he was coming in on a series of shots that were not constructed well. Too many volley errors chasing a winner to the open court rather than playing behind and getting a lob on the next shot.
Here’s what Djokovic had to say in his post-match press conference.
“Great to be able to win in straight sets. I thought everything was working really well and in my favor, two sets to love up and 4-2. Then things started to change. He had set point. I was serving for the match. Lost break. Maybe lost a little bit of a rhythm there.
Obviously, I knew that he’s got a lot of firepower. He has an amazing pop on the serve, he’s just so dynamic and very unpredictable what comes next. I just had to stay there mentally, present, calm, and focus on the game plan and what I need to do and try to be solid from baseline, which for most of the match I have done and kind of made him play, made him uncomfortable,” Djokovic said.
This was interesting…
“Yeah, probably the best serving I have had so far in the tournament, and it was important considering I was playing a big server today.”
“I knew that I’m gonna get my looks and my opportunities on his serve, but, you know, it was probably even more important to really be comfortably holding my service games and trying to get that first-serve percentage high. Don’t give him too many chances to come at my second serve and attack the second serve.”
Djokovic did his homework and knew he had to make a lot of first serves to keep Shelton hitting the return approach. Djokovic made 73% 1st serves in Set 1, 65% in Set 2, and 66% in Set 3. But Djokovic still hit 29 second serves for the match, and Shelton moved backward on a lot of them instead of moving forward.
It was an ideal match for Djokovic before a final. Good pressure at the end, and he kept his level high.
Shelton needs to watch his victories over Paul and Tiafoe to realize how much better he was at constructing points. And how that essentially fell apart against Djokovic when it didn’t need to.
It felt like he was playing the resume of Djokovic instead of the human being.