G’day From New York
On one hand, you could say that Novak Djokovic came out passive.
On the other hand, you can certainly identify that it was Djere’s intention to play a passive game style to blunt Djokovic’s aggression.
For two sets, Djere’s counter-intuitive plan worked perfectly. And then he got a little fatigued and had to play more aggressively – and that’s where things came undone. Djokovic defeated Djere 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in three hours and forty-five minutes at the US Open last night in a match that could have quite easily seen Djokovic bundled out of the tournament.
Djokovic started the match with a double fault and only made three first serves out of the first eight points. He was broken in the opening game, and the tone for the first two sets was already in place. There was too much neutral rallying. too many slice backhands. Too much defense. Djere was giving him absolutely nothing to work with.
FIRST TWO SETS (6-4, 6-4 Djere)
The first game featured a 32-shot rally, a 26-shot rally, and a 13-shot rally. Novak was not the one dictating. Laslo was, especially with his backhand cross court.
Djere saved a break point in his opening service game at 30-40, and Novak flew a routine backhand slice to gift the game. Djere consolidated for a 2-0 lead, and the tone of the first couple of sets was well and truly established.
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Novak won his first game at 0-2, forcing three return errors and then spanking a backhand down-the-line winner. With a 40-0 lead, he let this shot rip, and it must have felt good to finally crush the ball instead of guiding it.
Djere held for a 3-1 lead in the next game, saving another game point. This was an extended 12-point game with five rallies in double digits, including a 27-shot rally that Djere won.
In the blink of an eye, Djere held a 6-4, 6-4 advantage. He did it by dominating Djokovic from the baseline.
Baseline Points Won (First Two Sets)
- Djokovic = 39% (26/66)
- Djere = 52% (34/66)
Djokovic was clearly being out-thought and out-played in the first two sets. He had no pace to work with.
“I thought he played terrific. I mean, I honestly have never seen him play like this. He was feeling the ball extremely well. Everything was kind of in his striking zone. He was tactically prepared very well,” Djokovic said.
“I think he started off the match very, very good. He was far more comfortable than me. I was defending mostly in the first two sets. To be honest, I could have and should have played better, on a high level, in these two sets, but huge credit to him for making me uncomfortable on the court and playing really some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play.”
Baseline Performance (First Two Sets)
- Djokovic Forehand = 2 winners / 21 erors
- Djere Forehand = 10 winners / 27 errors
- Djokovic Backhand = 3 winners / 18 errors
- Djere Backhand = 5 winners / 11 errors
As you can from the stats above, the Djere backhand was the star of the show in the first two sets, with five winners and only 11 errors. It completely hand-cuffed Djokovic.
Djokovic was winning the short rallies in the first two sets, but was getting chopped in the longer rallies.
Rally Length (First Two Sets)
- 0-4 Shots = Djokovic 38 / Djere 37
- 5-8 Shots = Djokovic 8 / Djere 14
- 9+ Shots = Djokovic 8 / Djere 14
If the point went five shots or longer in the opening two sets, Djere held a commanding 28-16 lead. His game plan was working perfectly.
LAST THREE SETS (Djokovic 6-1, 6-1, 6-3)
Djokovic felt good about his chances once he won the third set.
“Maybe when I won the third, I felt like maybe I’m back in the match; I kind of got him if I can say so,’ Djokovic said.
“But he was fighting. He stayed cool and composed. He didn’t show too many emotions in a way. He didn’t, I would say, lose it somehow. He just was very consistent.
“I feel like I raised my level and was reading his game slightly better in the third, fourth, and fifth than I have in the first two sets. I think I served well when I needed to, especially in the fifth. It was only one break. He had a break point to come back to the match. It was a nerve-wracking last game.
“Yeah, so relieved to get this one.”
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Baseline Points Won (Last Three Sets)
- Djokovic = 61% (55/90)
- Djere = 34% (31/91)
The baseline tables dramatically turned in the last three sets, with Djokovic winning 61% and Djere close to half of that at 34%.
So, what changed from Djere’s standpoint? He started playing too big, he said in an interview with Sasa Ozmo from Tennis Majors.
“I’ve been playing well for some time now”, Djere said after the late-night loss.
“Today, I felt that even in the third and fourth set, I didn’t play badly. It’s just that he has shown why he is the greatest player of all time. I didn’t feel any pressure when I was 2-0 up; my mind hasn’t wandered at all, just a little bit.”
Djere then talked about one small regret from the match. Playing too big.
“Rewinding the match right now, I think it was a mistake on my part that I started to play more aggressively in the third and in the fourth set, Djere said.
Towards the end of the fifth set, in the last few games, I slowed my ball down a bit, and it had a positive impact. In uptempo exchanges, he is the best in the world; he knew how to use the speed of my ball. Also, he made an adjustment by going more frequently down the line with his backhand.”
Djere admitted that the passive points were taking a toll on his body.
“On the other hand, I felt that physically I didn’t have that much energy, so that’s why I tried to finish points quicker, which is extremely difficult to do against him. But yes, I should have played a bit more passive.”
Rally Length (Last Three Sets)
- 0-4 Shots = Djokovic 55 / Djere 33
- 5-8 Shots = Djokovic 11 / Djere 12
- 9+ Shots = Djokovic 25 / Djere 12
Djokovic shut down Djere in short rallies of 0-4 shots with a 22-point advantage as well as long rallies, with a 13-point advantage.
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By the end of the match, Djokovic was enjoying small victories all over the court.
- Returns In Play On Break Point: Djokovic 71% (10/14) / Djere 55% (6/11)
- 1st Serve Percentage On Break Point: Djokovic 64% (7/11) / Djere 56% (8/14)
- Points Won Serving At 30-30 & Deuce: Djokovic 64% (9/14) / Djere 57% (14/24)
Djere’s strategy suited him perfectly, and had the match been best out of three sets, he could very well had the stamina to win. But as he readily admitted, his fitness declined as the fifth-set finish line approached.
Beating Djokovic in a best-of-five sets encounter is a battle of fitness as much as strategy.