It’s been such a pleasure to cover Roland Garros for the ATP World Tour website in recent years, breaking down key patterns of play and match metrics that matter most to winning this prestigious event.
Below are links to seven match analysis stories from 2015-2020, as well as a full report of the 2014 final.
2020 Final: R. Nadal def. N. Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5
2019 Final: R. Nadal def. D. Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1
2018 Final: R. Nadal def. D. Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
2017 Final: R. Nadal def. S. Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1
2016 Final: N. Djokovic def. A. Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3
2015 Final: S. Wawrinka def. N. Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
2015 Qtr Final: N. Djokovic def. R. Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1
2014 Roland Garros Final: Nadal def. Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4
Rafael Nadal’s masterful counter-tactic of bombarding Novak Djokovic’s forehand took time to develop but ultimately carried him to a historic ninth Roland Garros title on Sunday.
Nadal won 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 by switching gears from previous matches and relentlessly attacked Djokovic’s forehand, particularly with many more forehands down the line in what was the 42nd meeting between these two giants of the game.
Nadal’s forehand was by far the biggest weapon in the final, crushing 27 winners to Djokovic’s 17 as the strategic change in directing traffic away from Djokovic’s stronger backhand delivered more and more baseline control as the final developed.
Nadal’s clever maneuver yielded a staggering 85 percent (23/27) of his forehand winners directed towards Djokovic’s forehand. Nadal’s primary forehand winner was amazingly redirecting down the line with pin-point accuracy for 13 bruising blows. Nadal preferred to play high and heavy to Djokovic’s backhand, getting the ball up out of his strike zone, but he hit it as hard as he could when attacking the forehand wing.
Nadal Forehand Winners
Things started slowly for Nadal with only four forehand winners in the opening set as Djokovic controlled the flow of play much more, especially with his backhand. Nadal lost serve at 3-4 in the opening set as three big run-around forehands from the Deuce court all missed their mark wide going cross-court towards Djokovic’s forehand. The big weapon was not yet dialed in.
Overall Nadal committed 66% (24/36) of his forehand errors for the match towards Djokovic’s forehand with 18 missing their mark down the line, illustrating just how committed he was to the pattern of play.
Nadal Forehand Errors
Nadal’s first break of serve for the match came at 3-2, Ad Out in the second set when he hit a forehand return off a second serve out wide in the Ad court alley and then ran all the way to the deuce court alley to defiantly hit another huge run around forehand at Djokovic’s forehand. Djokovic netted his shot to provide the break which established the first real momentum shift for Nadal in the match. The Spaniard would get broken back immediately but the pattern of attacking the Serb’s forehand was really starting to pay dividends as Nadal hit eight of his nine forehand winners for the set to Djokovic’s forehand wing.
Nadal would break Djokovic again with the Serb serving at 5-6 with two more heavy forehand winners directed at Djokovic’s forehand. When the big moments arrived Nadal consistently stuck with this pattern. Djokovic only won five points in five games from 5-5 in the second set to being down 0-3 in the third in the real turning point of the match.
Djokovic Return Errors
Another major element of the final was the unusual amount of return errors from the player widely thought of as the best returner in the game. Djokovic committed an unusually high 24 return errors (Nadal made 10) including 17 off his normally rock-solid backhand wing. Remarkably, five of these were off second serves, stopping any momentum in its tracks he was desperately trying to build. Nadal directed 80 percent of his first serves at Djokovic’s backhand return but was close to 50-50 on second serves, hitting a lot of successful jam serves right at the body.
Djokovic Return Stroke
Djokovic’s tactics were to mix much more against Nadal to keep him guessing as the Spaniard hit 36 backhand returns and 35 forehand returns off first serves. Nadal’s obsession with hitting forehand returns off second serves helped him hit 70 percent (29/41) forehand returns where he won a very high 65.5 percent (19/29), compared to 50% (6/12) off his backhand wing.
Nadal Serve + 1
Nadal was always looking to crush a forehand as the first shot after the serve, especially to get a quick strike out wide to Djokovic’s forehand. Nadal hit 84 percent (74/88) first shots after the serve as a forehand to maintain his initial control of the points.
It took Nadal almost two full sets to sink his teeth into the match but once he gained conviction in his forehand tactic there was nothing a tiring Djokovic could do to stop it. Nadal now pulls equal with Pete Sampras as second on the Grand Slam title-leaders list with 14 – only three behind Roger Federer who has 17. This will be one of his sweetest victories at Roland Garros, having to overcome a less than ideal clay-court preparation season to once again reign supreme as the King of Clay in Paris.