There is a saying in life, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you – If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you!”
Novak Djokovic is UNSTOPPABLE! At this point in his illustrious career, I just don’t see anyone matching this Serbian’s will to win. Not only has he come back like a furious storm from injury, Novak has a clear purpose of what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. Like a puppet-master stringing along his opponents, one after one they all seem to not have an answer to his new relaxed and powerful Serve than just slices and dices whichever way he desires. And, his Return – well, only one phrase to describe it – RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME!!
As I watched the 2 weeks of Aussie Open Grand Slam tennis, I kept a close eye on the Serbian as he whipped through the Draw like a Tornado through Kansas. It’s now Djokovic’s playground and you better come with everything you’ve got if you expect to keep up.
I’d like to jump right to it and hopefully bring to this Analytical Banquet of the 21st Century (growing bigger by the day with fascinated and inquisitive guest), some new insights and perspectives you might not see anywhere else.
After recording and then watching the AO Championship between Novak vs. Rafa, not just once, but three times – pause, replay, pause, record data, play…. etc. After 7 hours of viewing the match and 10 hours reviewing and mapping the analytics – I’d like to share with you how Djokovic completely dismantled one of the most incredible tennis players to ever play the game – the great RAFA!
First, before we go any further – I’d like to make this disclaimer – I Love RAFA! He is the embodiment of hustle, tenacity, precision, power, and most of all a “never give in, never give up attitude”. This is something I communicate with my players everyday, if you want to know what pure-deliberate-passion and love of the game looks like – LOOK TO RAFA! …..and in the same breath I pronounce my absolute respect for Nadal…
Rafa was absolutely steam-rolled by the Serbian Locomotive!
I’m not really sure what happened to Rafa other than to say that Novak on that beautiful Sunday afternoon was just too much for him to handle. Right out of the gate, Djokovic was on a mission, a mission to put the hammer down and just drive right through the “Bull” from Mallorca. I was astonished at the way Djokovic was so relaxed and yet super dialed-in and focused on exactly his tactical and strategic plans. Knowing that Rafa loves to run-around his Backhand, Novak ran the Spaniard hard left to Rafa’s backhand and then hard right into Rafa’s Forehand. Novak’s relentless First Strike Serve attack to the Deuce Outside and the Inside AD courts, pulling Rafa off the court or inside the court to set up his Forehand missile to get Rafa off-balance right from the start. It was almost as if Rafa had no idea what to make of this brutal and precise 2-shot sequence. Rafa threw everything but the kitchen sink at Novak and to no avail, looking up at his box as if to say, “What the hell?” The more Rafa pushed back, the more Novak absorbed and answered with deep “high percentage” shots and when he felt just right to pull the trigger; ripped sharp angles to the Zone of Truth where every player is run off the court to face the truth of how poor position opens up the court for your opponent.
Now, the DATA –
The first analytics to look at is the overall match summary:
The match lasted just over 2 hours with a Final Victory Score for Novak: 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Just 142 total points with an average rally length of 5 shots per point.
Next, let’s take a look at the Rally Length Win % for each Player. In my book, 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State, I explain that if you win 55% of the points, you will win 99% of the time with the exception being losing close sets, while winning relative blow out sets. Novak won 58% of the points that ended (0-4) shots vs. Rafa which accounts for 60% of the total points played in the Championship Match. Novak sealed the deal by winning 64% of the (5-8) shot rally length and a colossal 83% of extended rally points, (+9) shots. Rafa, who is the king of long rallies and grinding through his opponents did not counter well, only winning a mere 17%.
As we dive deeper into the specifics of how Djokovic won his 91 points in the match, I separated out the three categories of winning points, Unforced Errors, Forced Errors, and Winners.
Looking at this chart, Novak won 30% of his 91 total points, approximately 1 out of every 3 points played, Novak forced the error from Rafa.
Most tennis enthusiasts, players, and coaches are familiar with seeing Unforced Error and Winner statistics displayed at the end of matches. In this match, I have created the statistical category of ‘Forced Errors’. A Forced Error is one where the player is under duress by the shot of their opponent, in this case, Djokovic forcing Rafa to commit an error in the point. Click on the LINK below to know more about the 6 ways a point is won or lost as well as how most matches are won by a small margin –>
Next, we move on to look closer at Novak’s shot selection and where he choose to land the ball in Rafa’s court throughout the match. There are very specific metrics I used to develop this chart and graph below. There were 4 metrics for shot placement in Rafa’s court.
- Big Target Area (BT) – this area of the court is located between the service line and the baseline, the backcourt, and up to 2 feet from the sidelines and baseline. The exception is the Cage Area which is defined more specifically next.
- Cage (C) – this area of the court is a square that measures 6 ft. by 6 ft. in the center of the backcourt.
- Short Court (SC) – this area of the court makes up the 2 service boxes, Deuce and AD.
- Epic Shot Area (ES) – this area is the small target area around the outsides of the backcourt, 2 feet or less touching the sidelines and baseline.
When watching only the highlights of the match, you would assume that Djokovic hit a lot of shots close to the lines. And that makes sense because highlights are there to give you a quick overview of the match and the most exciting shots and points. However, this chart shows something completely opposite of the highlight reel.
Out of a total 276 shots in the match, 62% or 171 shots that Djokovic played landed in the BLUE zone, or Big Target Area of Rafa’s court. Only 16% of the shots that landed in the RED zone were Epic Shots or Winners!
This is a glaring example of not ‘believing’ the hype that Djokovic hit a ton of lines to beat Rafa, on the contrary, he played Big Shots to Big Targets and forced Rafa to hit shots closer to the lines while taking bigger risk that didn’t pay off in the end for the Spaniard. So, junior players – listen carefully…. play the Big Targets, let your winners happen naturally as a result of making good decisions with regards to shot selection.
As we continue to dissect this incredible match between Novak and Rafa, we will next get a clearer picture of when Djokovic Won and Lost points in the Rally Length Phases of the Point. I call this chart which will be a featured in my upcoming tennis tracking App to be released in 2019, the Rally Length Win/Loss Ratio Chart. I’ve also included a column chart to better display visually how incredible Novak managed his Serve game.
The World’s First Rally-Based Tennis Tracking App – coming 2019 in the App Store
Djokovic’s Serve was a dominating force, 17 times his Serve did not come back from Rafa and 18 times, Rafa’s R1 (1st shot after the Return) did not come back into the court. Novak’s unstoppable First Strike Sequences were a big contributor to his 3rd straight Grand Slam victory. We will take a closer peak at the S/S1 combinations later.
Now the Return game for Djokovic, Rafa did have success with his Serve however he just didn’t have an answer anywhere else in the rally length categories.
Rafa’s only strength in the match was his Return of Serve, he picked up a few points in the R1 and R3 categories but for the most part couldn’t find a way to break Novak’s Serve this go around.
The First Strike Combinations are a great way to determine how to tactical break down your opponent. Djokovic knew one thing going into this match, take Rafa wide to his backhand (Outside Run Serve) in the Deuce court, and lure Rafa inside the court by hitting the Inside Run (T) Serve in the AD court, also to Rafa’s backhand wing. By executing this tactical decision on the Serve, the S1 was open for Djokovic to make Rafa run or reverse back to his Forehand. Djokovic did not give Rafa the pleasure of ‘running around’ his backhand to hit inside-out or inside-in Forehands. Djokovic stole this option away from Rafa with his precise S/S1 combinations.
Djokovic’s First Strike Sequence on the Deuce and Ad court was nothing less than brilliant. 15/18 Deuce serves were an OR/FH pattern (Outside Run wide to Rafa’s backhand followed by a Forehand to make Rafa either run to his Forehand or reverse back to his backhand). Novak’s plan was to keep Rafa off-balance and constantly guessing which way the missile Forehand by Novak was coming! Likewise, Novak played 15/19 IR/FH (Inside-Run, or T serve) followed by a S1 Forehand combination to the AD court with the same tactics in mind – run Rafa to his Backhand or reverse him back to the AD court where Rafa was hitting an off-balanced Forehand.
Here’s a column chart of the combinations:
Djokovic Return Combinations were spread out almost evenly on the Deuce and AD court and this chart breaks down how many times he played each combination when Rafa was Serving to him. It seemed Rafa was trying to find a R/R1 Combination that Novak was weak on, the only category it seems is Novak having to return 7 out of 9 FH/BH combos from the Deuce court, which would indicate that Rafa was trying to swing Novak wide off the Deuce Court Serve rather than pulling him to the inside and follow with a run-around FH (typically Rafa’s speciality pattern).
Momentum changes everything about a match, it can shift quickly from one player to another or storm forward with no mercy!
In this 2019 Australian Open Final, Novak definitely stormed through by winning a series of Momentum and Conversion points in all three Sets. The Momentum Scoring System (MSS) was developed to show players the important value of winning multiple points in a row to capture and/or build momentum. By focusing on the momentum score first and then the game score, players are able to keep their minds and emotions in the present moment for longer periods of time. Here are the Momentum Flow Charts for Novak and Rafa, the Momentum Equilibrium Line (MEL) is to help a player “see” how momentum is ‘with them’ when above the line and how momentum is ‘moving away’ from them when below the line.
Set 1: Momentum Flow Chart
As we can see, Djokovic was able to build momentum in the match from the early stages of Set 1 by winning 4 Conversion points, then 1 Momentum point, and finish the 1st Set with 3 more Conversion points totally 7 and winning 6-3. Rafa was only able to win 2 Conversion points and 3 Momentum Points.
Set 2: Momentum Flow Chart
Beginning the 2nd Set, Rafa captured back some momentum by winning 2 Momentum points (2 points in a row), however Djokovic countered with 1 Conversion and 1 Momentum point to pull back his way. Rafa countered again with a Conversion point, and then Djokovic shifted into another gear winning 3 Conversion and 5 Momentum points to clinch the 2nd Set, 6-2. Rafa at this point was caught up in the momentum avalanche!
Set 3: Momentum Flow Chart
In the beginning of Set 3, it was critical that Rafa capture back the momentum of the match and start pulling his way back. Being so far now away from the Momentum Equilibrium Line (MEL), there was about a 10% chance that Rafa could achieve this daunting challenge. At this point in the match, Novak had won 11 Conversion and 7 Momentum points to Rafa’s 3 Conversion / 5 Momentum. Rafa tried to hold back the tide, a mini-battle of trading points began the 3rd Set and Rafa prevailed by winning the 1st game. Djokovic responded to Rafa’s early burst of energy by countering himself and extending the momentum his way with 3 Conversion points back to back – a Triple Conversion. The Spaniard made one last effort but it was not enough to overcome the massive momentum Novak had built throughout the first 2 Sets of this Grand Slam Final.
The Final results were clear, Djokovic won multiple points in a row to capture and build momentum his way, below is the Match Momentum Scoring Chart, you can see that Momentum points are valuable, at the same time, the weight of Conversion points is the avalanche of winning multiple points crashing down at speeds that are hard to stop! The UnStoppable Force of the #1 Player in the World was undeniable in this Championship Final.