How Roger beat Novak playing very smart tennis
Roger Federer is having an amazing renaissance to his already amazing career. The latest highlight is a straight sets win over world #1, Novak Djokovic, in the Dubai final on Saturday. I wrote a story for the ATP World Tour, which is still on the front page of the website. Here’s a link to the story if you missed it. It’s an absolute pleasure to partner with the ATP and write informative, detailed stories on the world’s best tennis website.
I am going to take 10 elements from the final for all us all to learn from. How do I get the information? Dartfish is my special sauce…
1. Serve & Volley – Roger won 10/12 on 1st serve and 1/4 on 2nd serve. Novak Djokovic is as good as it gets from the back of the court. Period. One of the first elements I teach players that I am coaching is that they are the second most important person on a court. Roger is not serving & volleying so much because he loves to bust a little old school – he is doing it because it is a wrecking ball for Djokovic’s baseline patterns! It’s the perfect way to counter the best hardcourt baseliner in the world! It’s such a natural part of the game – to form a counter-move that’s 180 degrees from what the opponent really wants. BOTTOM LINE – The world can serve and volley as well to counter our current crop of baseline grinders. I used to joke with a couple of Aussie mates, Alan & Andrew, in an exaggerated Nick Bollettieri voice – “Boris – you can’t play Andre from the baseline!”
2. Rush The Opponent – Roger was basically hitting the crap out of the ball. Again, the primary goal was to hurt the opponent with this tactic. He crushed some huge forehands and backhands up around 90mph to take time away from Novak’s preparation, and to make it harder for him to yo-yo Roger around the court. When points did start from the back of the court, Roger was banging hard.
3 Fast Start – For Roger to beat Novak, he had to “wear the pants.” What I mean by that is that he had to be the one dictating play, coming to the net, hitting the ball harder, whatever it took to control the flow of play. In Federer’s opening service game, he came to the net four of the first five points, including three serve and volley points. There was no easing into this match. Roger was looking to land the first blows and put Novak on his heels. It worked a treat.
4. 0-40 Spells Opportunity. So, sooo many matches turn on a game when a player comes back from 0-40 to win the game. Djokovic served at 5-5, 40-0 in the 2nd set and Roger won the game. At 40-0 Novak missed a routine backhand long, standing slightly in the ad court. At 40-15, Nole netted a 1st shot backhand return after a second serve, mainly because Federer hit one of his low, skidding slice backhand returns. At 40-30 Novak misses his first serve again and misses a run-around forehand from deep in the ad court. At deuce he double faulted. He loses the fifth straight point because Roger attacks with two big forehands. Roger only played ONE impressive point to win the game. He let the pressure of the moment work on Novak’s mind.
5. Serving To Position 1 – This was the primary spot Roger served in the deuce court, making 15 out wide and only six down the middle to Position 4. To Position 1 he attempted 20, made 15 and won 13. That ratio is off the charts, and much better to the smaller target at Position 4 where he attempted 14, made 6 and won 4. Serving out wide in the deuce court is something the whole world can copy from Roger!
6. Serving To Position 8 – Novak has the best backhand return in the world, so why serve to Position 8 so much? Roger would normally serve more to 8, but in this match he served 13, made 10 and won 9 to Position 8, but went more to Position 5 – attempting 22, making 14, and winning 10. We all have our favorite serve patterns, but if it happens to go straight to the opponent’s strength, then it’s time to adjust the pattern.
7. Serve + 1 Forehand – Roger actually hit his backhand pretty good, at times, in this match, but he is always looking to hit a forehand as his first shot after the serve. When he did not serve & volley, he hit a forehand as his first shot after the serve 72% of the time. Please people – copy that!!! He won 54% (14/26) with a Serve + 1 forehand, and only 10% (1/10) with a Serve + 1 backhand combo. This is such a big deal in our sport. Don’t think of your serve existing on it’s own. Returns will come back in play, and what you do with them, matters!
8. First Serve Returns – Roger hit exactly 19 forehand and 19 backhand returns off first serves – with vastly different results! Off the forehand side he won a very high 47% (9/19), mainly blocking deep down the middle of the court, neutralizing Novak’s first serve. But when Roger started with a backhand return off a 1st serve, he only won 16% (3/19) off his weaker return wing. It was definitely a tactical miscue for Novak to serve so much to Roger’s forehand.
9. Novak 2nd Serve Backhand Returns – Novak’s backhand return is so incredibly good, and he is able to step in and attack, and also defend off it so well. He can also lean on the second serve and attack it with his body weight. Novak won 50% (4/8) returning second serves with a forehand, but a whopping 63% (12/19) with a backhand return off a second serve. Most second serves are going to go to the backhand, and if you work hard enough on this specific area, you can own the world! It’s mandatory in this sport that you can do something with a backhand return off a second serve.
10. Backhand Volley – Roger hit two backhand volley winners, and a sick backhand half volley winner – and they all went to the same spot. He loves carving it as a short angle into the ad court service box, with a little side spin to carry away from the opponent. We should all be working on this shot. It looks like a tougher shot, but off a backhand, you can get a little more ginsu knife into it, and really work that short angle well. If Roger likes it, we do too.
SUMMARY – That was a really tight match. Roger won all nine break points played, including seven on his own serve. If he loses one or two of those, he is well and truly on the ropes. But he didn’t. Novak looked edgy throughout the match, like he really didn’t believe that it was going to be his day. Roger looked supreme. There was nothing that was going to stop him. Between the points, Roger looked golden, while Novak too often had both arms in the air gesturing to Boris.
It’s always fun to give you a little more insight into these matches! This is the level of research that I drill down to the create the three strategy products I have made so far. Gotta take the guesswork off the table.
Hope you enjoyed it!