Can Jennifer Brady upset Naomi Osaka in the final of the 2021 Australian Open?
On paper, it’s a tough ask. Once Osaka has ventured beyond the fourth round at a Grand Slam, she’s won 11/11 matches. Half of her six tournament victories are majors. She is match-hardened against big-hitting opponents in this tournament such as Serena Williams and Garbina Muguruza. She is oozing with confidence.
Sometimes tennis strategy can be quite complex. Lots of moving parts. Lots of evolving situations. Other times it can be really, really simple. Here’s one of my tweets from the 2018 Australian Open women’s final. Sometimes the strategy to win a Grand Slam final really is just this simple.
7-6, 1-2. Going to throw this at you #AusOpen
If Wozniacki hits only backhands from here on out, she wins.
If Caro only hits forehands from here on out, she loses.
The decision is actually up to #Halep. She directs the ball. Not sure she sees it so clearly 🔭
Woz BH > FH. pic.twitter.com/QBIwe4GCFC
— Craig O’Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) January 27, 2018
Forehands & Backhands
Here are the forehand and backhand statistics for Jennifer and Naomi leading into the final.
- Winners = 56
- Forced Errors = 48
- Unforced Errors 56
- (Total Errors = 104)
- Winners = 36
- Forced Errors = 57
- Unforced Errors 48
- (Total Errors = 105)
- Winners = 58
- Forced Errors = 41
- Unforced Errors = 72
- (Total Errors = 113)
- Winners = 23
- Forced Errors = 36
- Unforced Errors = 57
- (Total Errors = 93)
Osaka saved two match points in her fourth-round match against Garbine Muguruza, surviving 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. I analyzed Naomi’s forehand and backhand performance in that match to see which side performed better to provide a clue as to what strategy Jennifer should employ in the final. Should she go after Naomi’s forehand, or backhand, or both?
Osaka v Muguruza
Muguruza Won The Point
The following forehand and backhand data is for forehand and backhand groundstrokes as well as returns. It does not include volleys or overheads.
Overall, When Mugurza won a point that contained a forehand or backhand (groundstroke or return) from Naomi, Naomi hit more backhands.
- Osaka total forehands = 45% (77)
- Osaka total backhands = 55% (96)
Osaka Won The Point
When Osaka won the point, she hit marginally more forehands.
- Osaka total forehands = 51% (81)
- Osaka total backhands = 49% (78)
On the surface, this would suggest that Naomi is just as solid off her forehand and backhand wing when she wins points. This data clearly suggests that Jennifer should target Naomi’s backhand, which is what Muguruza did effectively to win her points.
When Muguruza won the point, the last shot of the rally that Naomi hit falls into two categories.
- Naomi’s last shot was an error.
- Naomi’s last shot went in and then Muguruza struck a winner.
Muguruza Winners + Osaka Errors
When Garbine won the point, the last shot from Osaka was overwhelmingly a backhand.
Muguruza Won Point
- Osaka last shot a backhand = 57% (44)
- Osaka last shot a forehand = 43% (33)
This is another layer of evidence that supports the strategy of Jennifer going after Naomi’s backhand.
Naomi Won Point
- Osaka last shot a backhand = 25 (40%)
- Osaka last shot a forehand = 38 (60%)
In this data set of 63 points, Naomi’s last shot in the rally was a forehand 60% of the time. That last shot was either Naomi hitting a forehand winner or Naomi hitting a forehand that forced an error on the other side of the court.
A LOT of game plans that I put together at the pro level – including to win a Grand Slam final – focus on extracting as many errors out of the opponent’s forehand. The research above on Naomi clearly shows that the primary strategy is to go after her backhand for the following three main reasons.
- To the final, Naomi has 20 less backhand winners (36 to 56) and an almost identical amount of forehand and backhand errors (104 to 105).
- When Mugurza won the point v Naomi, the last shot of the rally from Naomi was a backhand 57% of the time.
- When Naomi won her points v Garbine, Naomi’s last shot was a forehand 60% of the time.
So what’s the best strategy for Jennifer to employ? There are actually two.
1: The Backhand Cage
Jennifer’s game style is all about hitting lots and lots of forehand – especially run-around forehands. A key strategy for her in the final is to get into an Ad court rally where Jennifer is continuously crushing run-around forehands and Naomi is hitting backhand after backhand after backhand. The more backhands Naomi hits the better for Jennifer. She wants to overwhelm the backhand wing. Starve the forehand.
2: The 2-1 Pattern
This is the best of both worlds as Jennifer gets to lock down Naomi’s backhand and then run her hard to the forehand. The “2” in the 2-1 is two balls to the backhand, which then opens up the Deuce court to be attacked, which is the “1”. See the pic below
The 2-1 Pattern
Naomi’s forehand has the potential to win the match more than any other shot on the court. It’s so good at “freezing” opponents and taking away their anticipation. It’s so good at forcing errors. Better than her backhand.
If Jennifer can greatly limit Naomi from dominating with her forehand, then this match will take on a different feel. If Jennifer can rock run-around forehands and control the flow of the rally through the Ad court then she has a real shot at victory.
Have a great final ladies!!!