How did Novak do it? Djokovic’s 14th Grand Slam victory at the 2018 US Open

Novak Djokovic is back!  He’s been relentless this year winning his 13th Grand Slam overall at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships, followed by a win at the Western & Southern Open.  Not only does Djokovic share the distinction of having won all 4 Grand Slams with Federer and Nadal, but sweeping the 9 Masters events is a point of differentiation.  Federer has won seven of the nine Masters Titles, lacking Monte Carlo and Rome; while Nadal is missing Miami, Shanghai, and Paris.  After distinguishing himself from Federer and Nadal, Novak stormed through the US Open defeating Juan Martin del Potro 6–3, 7–6(7–4), 6–3 earning his 14th Grand Slam victory and joining Pete Sampras (3rd overall) for the most Grand Slams in history.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve released a couple of videos featuring the Top 7 First Strike Forehands and the Top 7 First Strike Backhands.  After going through the analytics of Djokovic’s 14th Grand Slam victory, the data from this match reinforce the importance of practicing the First 4 Shots.

As I geared up to watch the US Open Final, I knew at least one person that would be close to the action and thus suspected what kind of strategy Novak was going to attempt to employ against the gentle giant.  So as a good student of the Numb2rs, I grabbed some snacks, the remote, and watch every second of the Finals with pen and paper in hand.  After 3 hours and 15 minutes, I had the data.  After 10 hours of analyzing and creating this article, I would like to share with you a perspective that even ESPN is not going to give out, mainly because they don’t have it to share – so, let’s get started.

Chart 1

Screenshot 2018-09-22 00.57.14

Chart 2

Screenshot 2018-09-24 14.16.57


Let’s first look at the First Strike Return Patterns of Novak Djokovic (the first 2-shot return combination pattern) – by the way, these are all ground stroke combinations listed in the charts above (1 & 2).  In my online course -> Transform Your Practice Court, you can learn more detailed information about how to practice the 2-shot sequential combinations and how better performance on these 2-shot combinations will produce more winning points.

Chart 1 displays the first 2-shot combinations for the Serve and Return game of Djokovic, divided into how many combinations were played from the Deuce and AD Court.  The first 2-shots played by a player are called the First Strike (FS) Combinations.  For example, Novak played 24 BH/BH FS Return Combinations and 3 FH/FH FS Return Combinations.

If you look at Chart 2,

Novak was 10/24, winning 42% of the points played on the BH/BH combo, he played almost twice as many BH/BH combos from Deuce Court (15) than AD Court (9) – see Chart 1.  That’s interesting, it tells you that Del Potro was hitting a lot of IR Deuce Serves (‘T’ serves) to Djokovic’s BH pulling him to the middle of the court.

3/3 winning 100% of the points when playing a FH/FH FS Return combo

Novak was 33% when playing a FH/BH (5/15) and 67% (10/15) when playing a BH/FH on the First Strike Combinations.  He played approximately the same number of these two combinations from Deuce and AD Court.  See Chart 1

Although Djokovic won 100% of the FH/FH combinations, the statistic that is much more impressive is 67% when playing a BH/FH combination, and even 42% when forced to play a BH/BH combination.  Many players are unable to maintain this type of consistency with their BH Return and BH R1.  I’ve put together the Top 7 First Strike Backhands video to highlight the BH/BH and BH/FH combinations for a player to rehearse in practice.  It’s important to spend some time repeating these 2-shot FS Combinations and become more familiar with the movement patterns and contact moves that are associated with being more successful on the first 2-shots.


Now, lets’ take a closer look at Novak’s FS Combinations when Serving.

Chart 3

Screenshot 2018-09-27 11.22.41

When I have players rehearse their Serve, I want to avoid too much Serve practice in “isolation” – meaning I want to limit the amount of serves a player practices without resetting and playing the S1 (first shot after the serve).  The main reason for this is I’ve measured a noticeable difference in performance over time between players who only practice the Serve over and over again, and the players that practice the Serve while resetting and playing the S1.  The rehearsal is much more realistic because it helps the player integrate the 2-shot combination with the most efficient rhythm and timing.  This may seem like a small detail, however, it makes a big difference with a player’s ability to perform at higher levels of play if their rehearsal practice mirrors what actually occurs in match play.

As you can see in Chart 3, Djokovic won 82% of the OR/FH S/S1 Combination.  The OR (Outside-Run) Serve is a serve that pulls the return player to the outside of the court, another name for this serve is a ‘wide’ or ‘alley’ serve.  I have replaced using wide or alley serve with outside-run because the former tells a player what ‘they’ are doing and the latter leads a player to determine ‘how’ their serve is affecting their opponent (return player).  Novak was 18/22 when he played an Outside-Run Serve followed by a Forehand.  He activated this OR/FH pattern twice as much to Deuce Court (15) than AD Court (7) – see Chart 1.

Novak played 31 IR/FH Combinations when Serving and won 17 for 52%.  He played the IR/FH pattern 3X more often to Deuce court (22) than AD Court (9).   This is important data to recognize, Djokovic was intentional forcing Del Potro to play BH Returns from the Deuce side as he pulled Del Potro towards the middle of the court.

Novak was 9/15, 60% when playing the IR/BH Combination.  He played the IR/BH pattern twice as much to AD Court (10) than Deuce Court (5) – see Chart 1.   Djokovic was purposefully forcing Delpo to run inside from the AD Court with this IR/BH First Strike pattern and anticipating a BH to reverse Delpo back into the AD court so he had to play a BH on the R1.

When you are coaching a player, this data can be useful when looking at what S/S1 Combinations are successful and which ones could use more practice.  The player will always want to rehearse all the combinations in practice so that he/she can recall them in match play based on the ones that have the most success versus their opponent.  In the case of Djokovic’s in this match, his OR/BH combo was not as effective vs. Delpo in these US Open Finals as the OR/FH combo or the IR/FH.

I created the Top 7 First Strike Forehand for S/S1 and R/R1 to highlight the most popular FS Combinations to rehearse in practice.  These are critical to master when playing the strongest groundstroke of your game in the first 2-shots.


In 2017 I published one of the first resources focusing on 2-shot combinations.  The #1 Best Selling Book, 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State,  helps a player develop a new mindset to transform a practice to look and feel more like match play.  This resource is a good place to begin your journey as a player or coach.  The most often complaint I used to hear from players when they lost a tennis match was “Coach, I didn’t play the way I practiced!”  Players now respond with a better explanation and examination of their match play as they are more intentionally designing and planning their 2-shot First Strike Serve and Return Combinations.  It’s no more, “I couldn’t hit a Forehand or my Serve was crap, it’s now – Coach, I need more practice with my S/S1 and R/R1 combinations!”  After all, if 6 out of 10 points end within the First 4 Shots – then practicing these combinations is critical to win more of those 6 out of 10 points.

Now that we’ve looked on the FS Combinations for Novak, let’s gaze into the other data I discovered from the 2018 Men’s US Open Final.

Chart 4

Screenshot 2018-09-27 11.52.56


Chart 4 is data that will be accessible to every parent, player, and coach in the world on my new App – Tennis MapPLay coming out this Fall 2018.  This unique system of organizing the shot rally length is where the ‘rubber meets the road’.  As we can see here, Djokovic was extremely successfully in the S/S1 Win/Loss shot rally length.  38/47 when the point ended 0-3 shots, 81%!  This confidence he gained on his Serve was enough to bridge the gap created by his R/R1 Win/Loss shot rally length, 14/42 for 34%.

If we notice the next two shots, the S2/S3 and R2/R3 combinations and points ending in this building phase of the point, Djokovic was 18/31 – 58% on the S2/S3 combination and 9/17 – 53% on the R2/R3 combination, almost identical percentages when the point ended on the next 2 shots of the point.

When the point entered the Extended Rally Shot Length of the point, Novak was 19/36 – 53% on the S+9 when Serving, and 10/24 – 42% on the R+9 when Returning.  It seems that his confidence extended to the long rallies when Serving rather than Returning, players that begin the point well tend to play out the point with confidence more often, we see it here with Djokovic.

Now let’s look at the winning percentages for each of the 3 sections of the point

  1. First Strike (Beginning Phase) 0-4 shots
  2. Patterns of Play (Building Phase)  5-8 shots
  3. Extended Rally (Rally Phase) +9 shots


Chart 5

Screenshot 2018-09-27 12.07.09


Chart 5 is what I call the Match Analysis Chart which displays the overall data from the match with regards to rally length inside the 3 sections of a point as well as their winning percentages.

Novak Won 109/198 – 55% and Lost 89/198 – 45% overall for the match,  in my book, 7 On Court Strategies, I explained in Chapter One, ‘Why Do You Play?’ that winning by a little can lead you to winning a lot!  Craig O’Shannessy wrote an article in July 2016 called ‘The Percentages That Separate Djokovic and The Top 10’.  As I explained in this Chapter and after reflecting on this data, it only takes a small margin to win big – another US Open Title!

These statistics above reveal where and when Djokovic won and lost points throughout the match, the majority being in the First 4 Shots of the point.  Now, if you’re not familiar with this type of data and wondering if this type of data is similar for USTA Men and Women 2.0 – 5.0 singles and doubles, College players, Junior Tournament and High School players?  The answer is a resounding “YES!”

Where Djokovic won the match was being able to find the FS 2-shot combinations that were effective against his opponent, then follow with the next 2-shot combination.

69% of the total points played were 0-8 shots, 7 out of 10 points in this match ended here 

Djokovic won 57% of those 7/10 points, and 43% of the remaining 3/10 points played 

Mapping Shot Rally Length in match play combined with the First 2-shot Combination pattern is one of the prime features in my upcoming App – Tennis MapPlay.  Look for the App in the iTunes Store this Fall 2018 to develop and Transform your Practice Court.



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