G’day From Torino,
I had the privilege of sitting in the front row to watch Jannik Sinner vs. Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals last night. What a high-energy, high-level match!
Sinner prevailed 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-6 (2) in three hours and nine minutes of scintillating tennis. The crowd was going ape droppings for Sinner, and at times, they really got under Novak’s skin as he taunted them back with arm gestures. Five things stood out to me from the match.
Here we go…
1: Novak was broken, leading 40-0 at 5-5.
Things were even in the opening set between the two players up to 5-5 as big serving and short points dominated early on. Novak surged to a 40-0 lead at 5-5, and then, out of nowhere, he served and volleyed for the first time in the set.
On the surface, it seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t, for two reasons.
First, he should have saved this smart secondary tactic for when he really needed to call on it. He was winning points easily in other ways at this moment in time and should have just stuck to his winning ways and kept this for a surprise.
Secondly, it gave Sinner a target, and he crushed the return. Fortunately for Sinner, it landed right on the baseline. This changed the complexion of the match. Sinner was now playing with “house money” in this game, and Novak started to protect his lead. Sinner played two more aggressive points, and suddenly it was back to deuce. The “feel” of the match had completely changed. Jannik was charging, and now Novak was protecting.
The change in body language was evident. At Deuce, Novak served a passive double fault in the net and was broken soon after. As he was walking to the net, he got into it with the crowd, which didn’t help things at all. With the wild energy of the crowd, Sinner was now flying and hitting the ball as hard as possible. Novak never really recovered from this game for the rest of the match.
Mental Toughness: Improve Your Mind In Competition
2: Novak Overplayed The Backhand
Djokovic hit 70% of his backhands cross-court for the match and just 30% down the line. Sinner’s backhand (68% cross) was the star of the show last night as he regularly crushed it as hard as he could straight back at Djokovic’s backhand – many times pushing him onto the back foot and forcing errors.
Novak overplayed Sinner’s backhand.
Sinner’s only possible weakness in his game is his running forehand, where he gets too aggressive when he is on defense and can wrap it around the frame. That happened in their Wimbledon match. Not last night. Djokovic should have played more Deuce court exchanges and switched the rally to attack Sinner’s forehand after pulling him to the backhand side. But he didn’t. He stubbornly went toe-to-toe with Sinner’s backhand and came off second best.
Baseline Strategy: The Best Patterns Of Play
3: Forehand Volley Errors
Both players missed crucial forehand volleys but performed better with their backhand volley. The reason is that Djokovic and Sinner were not “clicking” their grip far enough to use a true continental grip after the approach shot. When the ball was hit hard to their forehand volley, it went in the net because the grip was wrong. Remember, it’s best to change grips with your opposite hand (left hand) up on the throat of the racket.
Even the best players in the world have small holes in their game, and both players missed forehand volleys in the net for this exact reason last night.
Improve Your Net Game Technique & Tactics
4: Sinner Was More Focused
Sinner was locked in for this match. He had massive crowd support with tremendous energy. They were so excited to get behind their charge and very willing to get into the grill of Djokovic. It was his moment.
Djokovic was locked in mentally and emotionally until the 5-5 game in the first set. But as soon as he was broken after leading 40-0, he got into it with the crowd, and they booed him in response. He got into it with the crowd several times, which ultimately distracted him from being locked in on Sinner.
He also had a heated argument with the umpire, and the more agitated he became, it took the edge off his game. Even though he won the second set and the third set also went to a tie-break, Sinner was always more composed. More focused on the strategy. He was more likely to win in the end.
Establish A Between-Point Routine
5: Novak Didn’t Hit Enough Forehands
This is different than number two. That was about what shot Sinner was hitting. This is about what shot Novak was hitting.
- Forehands = 44% (120)
- Backhands = 56% (155)
- Forehands = 53% (138)
- Backhands = 47% (120)
One thing is clear from this data (and from the mountain of data I have on Novak from many years of analysis)… he is not a better player from the back of the court when he is hitting more backhands than forehands. He hit too many backhands in this match. He settled for too many backhand-to-backhand exchanges. He hit too wide in the Ad court, so essentially, the only shot that Sinner would hit back to him was a wide ball to his backhand. It’s too tough to get a run-around forehand from that shot.
I think Novak’s ongoing battle with the crowd ultimately distracted him to the point where he could not develop a winning game plan. He was reacting more than normal, as Sinner constantly stepped into the ball and gave it a ride.
The loss of focus with the crowd took away the clarity of thought that would have directed him to play less to the backhand and more to attack Sinner’s running forehand.
Develop The Biggest Baseline Weapon: The Forehand
This was the biggest win of Sinner’s career. The type of win has the potential to power him to Grand Slam glory and give him the confidence to make a run at the No. 1 ranking next year. It was that impactful. Sinner stepped up in the big moments and played his best tennis. Novak did not. Novak readily admitted that in his post-match interview.
“But I think the main difference is that in the important points, he was going for it; he was more courageous,” Djokovic said.
“Yeah, he deserved to win because in important moments, I wasn’t aggressive enough, I wasn’t decisive enough. I gave him the opportunity to take control over the points. Yeah, 5-All third set, 15-30, second serve, I was in the rally and should have stepped in and didn’t, and he did.”
Sinner paid tribute to the crowd for helping him reach the finish line.
“Obviously, the atmosphere is amazing, no? They helped me a lot. As I said the first day, it’s a huge privilege for me to play here in Turin. I was expecting a really tough match. With the crowd and everything, they are trying to really help me. I’m obviously very happy how I tried to put everything in the right direction,” Sinner said.
Sinner’s mind was clear, so the game plan was clear. The shot selection was clear. Energy was always positive. Novak’s mind was not as clear, and his demeanor was not as positive. Sometimes that’s all you need to get a result like this.