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G’day From Torino,
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have won the year-end ATP Finals six times. Djokovic could very well be sitting alone at the top of the mountain after the dust has settled in Torino this weekend. He must get through Carlos Alcaraz and either Jannik Sinner (who he has already lost to this week) or Daniil Medvedev to take the title.
Is it a stretch to say Novak has been “struggling” in Torino this week? Maybe. Maybe not.
He has been pushed to three sets in all three of his round-robin matches and has lost one. He has had some argy-bargy with the crowd, broke a racket in half by stepping on it, and has given his box an earful on more than one occasion. It has not been smooth sailing.
I have watched all three of his matches from courtside this week, and one thing that was obvious to me was the overabundance of backhands he was hitting.
Too many backhands. Too few forehands. Clear as day.
Improve Your Groundstrokes: Technique & Tactics
When I worked with Novak and Marian Vajda from 2017-2019, we constantly beat the drum to hit more run-around forehands in the Ad court versus backhands. Novak may very well have the best backhand of all time, but the offensive performance from the backhand is still not in the same ballpark as his forehand.
The following table illustrates how dominant the forehand is over the backhand hitting winnings at the elite level of our sport – the ATP Finals.
When I showed Novak this table, it really resonated with him. It clearly identifies the dominance of the forehand from the court. But there are more layers to unpack here. It’s also about court position – in particular, hitting run-around forehands in the Ad court. It’s very much about turning backhands into forehands.
The next thing to understand is the four baseline locations.
The World’s Best Baseline Strategy
It’s straightforward for Novak to hit forehands in Positions A and B. The key is to upgrade and hit as many forehands as possible in Positions C and D. That’s the secret sauce of baseline play.
The table below is an analysis of 293 forehand winners from 18 matches at the 2018 Australian Open. All players were right-handed. The data set is not that big, but it clearly shows the pattern of where forehand winners are mostly struck from for right0handed players – the AD COURT.
- Struck From Ad Court = 59%
- Struck From Deuce Court = 41%
Now, let’s refocus back on Torino and the total amount of forehands and backhands all four semi-finalists are hitting from their round-robin matches.
Raise Your Singles Strategy IQ
This breakdown exposes a weak point in the Djokovic game plan in round-robin play.
Total Forehands Hit
- Djokovic = 49.1%
- Medvedev = 51.8%
- Sinner = 55.6%
- Alcaraz = 56.0%
Novak is the only player who has reached the semi-finals that is hitting more rally backhands over forehands. When the ball is coming to him through the Ad court, he accepts too many shots as backhands instead of upgrading to the more potent forehand wing. The blame is two-fold.
- Opponents are targeting his backhand more because they don’t get hurt nearly as much.
- Novak is accepting the ball to his backhand because he feels comfortable with this stroke.
Comfort and attack don’t live in the same building.
All three of the other players are showing a greater desire to hit more forehands than backhands. This allows more control of baseline exchanges, more opportunities to force errors on the other side of the net, and improved court position because of the tougher shot to deal with.
Keep an eye on the number of forehands and backhands he hits against Alcaraz this evening. If the Spaniard can force the Serb to hit an overabundance of backhands in the Ad court, that is going to make it easier for Carlos to find run-around forehands on his own baseline. That could be the match right there.
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