Dan Evans dismantled Novak Djokovic. That’s not my opinion. It’s Novaks.
Here’s what Novak had to say post-match after losing 6-4, 7-5 in the Rd16 at the Monte Carlo Masters 1000.
“Today was completely the opposite of what I felt yesterday (against Sinner),” the 33-year-old said. “Just was obviously very, very windy, tough to play in these kind of conditions against a guy like Evans who makes you move. He’s very unpredictable with his shots. He dismantled my game.”
Dismantling means to take apart. Rip to pieces. That’s exactly what Dan did to Novak’s game. Right from the start of the match – even before the start of the match – Dan was plotting Novak’s downfall.
“He kept me waiting at the start of the match in the locker room. It was a little annoying. That got me a little extra fired up,” Evans said. To win a match of this magnitude, in Novak’s hometown, you better be ready to seize every little advantage that comes your way.
Here’s what Novak also had to say about the match.
“To be honest, this has been probably one of the worst matches and performances from my side I can recall in the last years,” Djokovic said. “I don’t want to take anything away from his win, but from my side, I just felt awful on the court overall. Just nothing worked. It’s one of those days. Should have and could have done much, much better. Just [an] awful performance,” Djokovic said. I can’t take anything positive away from this match.”
So let’s cut to the chase…
The most insightful thing Novak said was that Dan was “very unpredictable with his shots.”
How do you describe Dan’s game style? Versatile.
Dan threw the kitchen sink at Novak yesterday. You name it and he came up with it. But the most important shot Dan hit was a backhand slice. He sliced his backhand a lot, which kept the ball low and slow out of Novak’s strike zone. It also pulled him into the court where the distances are a little trickier when hitting a slow-moving ball with backspin somewhere between your knees and ankles.
But in order for Dan to hit his wicked backhand slice – wait for it – Novak had to initially hit it to Dan’s backhand!!!!
And that was Novak’s main problem. He overplayed Dan’s backhand. When Novak went to Dan’s backhand, there is a really good chance that Dan is going to make that ball, and it’s going to come back to Novak in a place where Novak can’t attack. It’s a “lose-lose” proposition for Novak.
Consider the following match metrics.
GROUNDSTROKES: TOPSPIN vs. SLICE
- Novak = 91% topspin / 9% slice
- Dan = 49% topspin / 51% slice
THIS 👆 is a key component of the upset. Dan hit the majority of his groundstrokes as a slice, which completely bamboozled Novak. Almost all of those slice shots are backhands. If Novak does not want to see the unpredictability of Dan’s backhand slice coming to him all the time, then he simply should not hit the ball there!
But. He. Did. 🔂
RALLY FOREHANDS & BACKHANDS
- Novak = 220 forehands / 206 backhands
- Dan = 202 forehands / 234 backhands
Let’s make this super simple. Dan hit 32 more backhands than forehands. He is not running around forehands to hit backhands. Actually, Dan hit quite a few run-around forehands in the Ad court throughout the match.
Dan did a masterful job of making Novak bend to his own strategic intentions. Novak, like most players, enjoys the ball coming to him with power that he can use. That was certainly the case in Novak’s opening round match against Jannik Sinner. Here’s a comparison between Novak’s two opponents.
AVERAGE OPPONENT BACKHAND SPEED
- Match 1: Jannik Sinner = 114km/h (71mph)
- Match 2: Dan Evans = 91km/h (57mph)
As you can see from the numbers above, Evans’ average backhand speed was far lower than against Sinner. Overall, Novak’s average groundstroke speed (forehands & backhands) was 113 km/h (70mph) against Dan. That was significantly higher than Dan’s 102km/h (63km/h).
- Dan was hitting slower on purpose.
- Dan was lowering the rally on purpose.
- Dan was making Novak hit as many backhands as possible on purpose where he could not be hurt.
- Dan was frustrating Novak, making him go for riskier shots than he normally would.
The following two Hawk-Eye graphics show where both Novak and Dan directed their backhands during the match.
Hawk-Eye Graphics – Backhand Shot Placement
Novak hit 64% of his backhands cross court to the outer third of the court. Dan hit 65% there. This was a huge advantage for Dan as he sliced almost all of these balls and didn’t miss. He was also going to give Novak a low, hard backhand that was almost impossible to do anything with. Advantage Dan.
Dan also had a lot of other tricks up his sleeve as well.
- On the first point of the match, Dan approached behind a forehand return. He missed it long, but the message was sent. The match was not going to be played only on Novak’s terms. Novak hit back-to-back double faults right after and broke Novak to start the match.
- In Dan’s first service game he served and volley at 30-30 and won the point. He would continue to sprinkle in serve and volley points throughout the match.
- Dan also successfully used drop shots to add another layer of unpredictability.
A few years ago I had to scout Roberta Vinci for a WTA player I had just started working with. I sat in the stands courtside and watch Roberta slice and dice her opponent to a slow death with her amazing backhand slice.
My game plan for my player? Don’t hit it to her backhand at all. Avoid it! ☠️
If you hit the ball to Roberta’s forehand you will get a “normal” ball back that you can do something with. If you go to her backhand you will get back a nasty low, heavy slice ball that Roberta is hardly ever going to miss and it’s almost impossible to do anything with – besides dump it in the net. The player I worked with was ranked outside the Top 20 but defeated Roberta (#9 seed) in straight sets.
Did Novak overplay Dan’s backhand? You bet he did.