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.



How to solve the cheating problem in tennis

This article was written and collaborated by Dan Travis and Styrling Strother, The Art of Winning


Not calling the score is the number one problem in junior tennis, not cheating

Cheating is often described as the scourge of modern junior tennis. When you speak with a parent after they have spent a day watching their child, it is as if they have returned from battle. There is almost always an account of how their child was cheated out of winning by an opponent who should not have been allowed to get away with it. Parents are frustrated, angry, and ultimately feel powerless. Watching disputes between children and their perception of ‘cheating’, parents can have quite a traumatic time of it when they take their child to a tournament. In fact, it is the first thing that parents want advice on. They ask,

“How do I motivate my child because they are lazy?” and “How can I help them beat the ‘cheats?

The problem of cheating is compounded by the fact that the parents can become directly involved in the dispute. This can often make the situation far worse. What starts as a ‘dispute’ can end in catastrophe that spoils the match and the whole day. Nobody wins.

What is remarkable, when you look at the problem of dispute from a distance, is that it continues week in week out. I have met some parents who seem to have developed a persecution complex (when in every other way they appear very reasonable people). They act like victims. You can often hear them say at tournaments when the stirrings of a dispute threaten, “Oh no, here we go again!”. It has puzzled me for decades how the dispute phenomena in junior tennis continues and why parents turn themselves into victims of some conspiracy.

A very significant part of the problem of dispute, is that no-one really looks to see what is actually happening. There is so much emotion and ‘justice’ mindset flying about that the perception of the problem starts to contribute to its perpetuation. In other words, because disputes are not understood, the problem is made worse. For example, parents will highlight character flaws or moral weakness in young players as the cause of dispute. Parents also blame other parents when they feel their child is losing out to cheating. What is never understood is how the problem develops in the first place. The answer is surprising.

Most people characterize disputes in tennis as arguments over line calls. But this is not the primary cause of dispute in tennis. The primary cause of dispute is confusion over the score. Confusion about the score is, in fact, by far the biggest source of dispute in junior tennis. Line calls play a fairly minor role in comparison. Bad line calls only really develop into full blown dispute when there is confusion over the score. It is important to look at the source of this ‘confusion’ and perhaps re-characterize it as arising from two distinct situations.

The first of these situations arises when the score is not called at all by either player. When the score is not called, it is almost inevitable that confusion will occur and then escalate into dispute. At the very least, one player will feel that they have been hard done by and have been beaten by something other than a better player. More often there is dispute and bad feeling between both players that creeps into the the stands.

The second of these situations occurs when the score is called late. As the diagram below illustrates, the score is called as the ritual phase ends and just before the ball toss by the returner or the server.

score called incorrect

The problem here is that the non-caller has no time to confirm and therefore no time to question the call. The problem is compounded by the fact that although the caller called very late, the call was not disputed and therefore it must stand (this is regardless of what happens during the proceeding point). The non-caller does not have a defence, even though the calling of the score was very late. Late calling is the cause of numerous disputes. So not calling and calling too late are the causes of disputes. The consequences of not calling the score make the dispute even worse and more destructive.

The consequences of not calling the score


The first consequence of not calling the score is there is no ‘confirmation’ of what that score is. Without confirmation, you have to ASSUME that the opponent agrees with you. Without confirmation, however, you have no recourse if there is disagreement about the score. Without confirmation, there is no agreement and you cannot have competition without confirmation of the score. In the absence of agreement, you simply have participation (you are just there). For competition to exist, you need confirmation. Then there is no confusion.

You can’t plan

If you have not confirmed the score you cannot plan for the next point. Different situations in a game require subtle (or not so subtle) changes in tactics. You will often play a completely different type of point if you think the score is 15 -15 as opposed to 0 -30. If your player does not confirm the score, you will be playing under assumption, rather than agreement. Not being able to plan, at the right time, means you are reacting to shots hit by your opponent. You are less able to steer the match in the direction that you want.

Temptation and Opportunism

The problem with locating the problem of disputes as bad line calls is that it turns the problem on its head. Bad line calls do not necessarily cause disputes. It is calling out the score that prevents disputes from occuring. Commiting a sin (cheating) and doing evil acts are very rarely done by choice. A ‘sin’ is committed because of temptation. Temptation arises because of opportunity. When the score is not being called, it gives a player the opportunity to call the score in their favour.  Added to the temptation is the desire to win. The desire to win is often so strong that the player will take a ‘score win’ by awarding themselves extra points.  It gives the player the opportunity to cheat. Sadly, some players will take advantage of this situation and award themselves extra points at certain times in the match where they think they can get away with it. Because the opponent has not been calling out the score, he leaves himself open to this type of opportunism. This is a major cause of dispute in junior tennis and leads to a further problem.

The Circle of Trust

The foundation of a competition is an agreement of the score that is confirmed before the start of the next point. In tennis, this requires a level of trust between players who do not have the luxury of an umpire. It requires confirmation of the score before the next point begins. It requires that you take your opponent’s calls as accurate and that you can challenge them and resolve any dispute. This Circle of Trust is broken during dispute and ruins matches. It can be catastrophic.  The consequences of breaking the Circle of Trust can be felt during matches where disputes occur. It changes the composition of the game and makes playing and watching an entirely unpleasant affair. So uncomfortable are the consequences of breaking the Circle of Trust that the threat of it being broken acts as a form of deterrence.

Deterrence and the Circle of Trust

If one player breaks the Circle of Trust, the other player will resent them and will either retaliate or will ‘withdraw’ from the match. The player that withdraws from the match will go through the motions of playing. They will participate but they will not compete. This is heartbreaking for parents to watch. This is where parents and players feel cheated and can start to develop a persecution complex; typified by the “Here we go again” mindset.

The consequences of breaking the Circle of Trust are so bad that they are normally sufficient to deter both players from being tempted to cheat when the opportunity arises. Mutually assured destruction is almost inevitable once the circle is broken and there is no turning the clock back.  To permanently avoid dispute and the probability of a series of unpleasant experiences, we need to look at why players do not call the score.

Participation versus Competition

Defacto Chair Umpire

When our junior players are playing in tournaments we are asking them to take on a huge responsibility. We are asking them to ‘play their best” while at the same time (whilst serving) to be the chair umpire. Being chair umpire is a big responsibility that most players of this age are not prepared for. They simply do not have the maturity to cope with this role.

Every player can ‘get lost’ in the heat of a match. There are many pressures to negotiate through. This makes forgetting the score a very frequent occurrence for the younger players. Combine this with an almost overwhelming desire to win and the temptation will be there to cheat and change the score in their favor.

The Culture of Non-competitive Activity

As well as the pressure to be a chair umpire and trying to win a match, we leave our players uniquely ill prepared for competition when they are not taught to score in practice sessions. There has been a significant cultural shift in recent decades. The way that sport is played, taught and the meaning that we attach to it has changed. There has been a shift from ‘competition’ to ‘participation’ based activity. You can see this trend clearly in tennis when we look at the practice court. There is an emphasis on ‘how’ you hit the tennis ball, in this case, technique. This is where most tennis teaching time is spent. There is now an increased emphasis on the ‘physical’ side of tennis, making sure that the player is in good shape. There is repetition through rallying and drills. Unfortunately, what is almost completely absent, is teaching the players how to compete. We keep our players in this ‘Zone of Improvement’ and do not train in the ‘Zone of Competition’. This means that we are teaching our children to ‘participate’ (receive instruction and work hard) as opposed to compete (make tactical and strategic decisions and problem solve).

How to avoid Dispute

Teaching our children to score addresses a far deeper challenge than simply avoiding conflict and dispute (although many parents would accept this as a major benefit)!  When teaching to keep, call out and confirm the score we are teaching the fundamentals of competition.

-Without score, there is no competition-

We need to encourage them to play competitive games in practice and keep, call out and confirm the score. At first this is the coaches job with the parents helping along the way. It is not an easy task because often children are less confident and therefore less courageous. And yes, it will make them feel more self conscious. Some children have no problem calling out the score but they must be reminded to do it on every point and to obtain confirmation.

When the score is called

Just as important as calling the score is calling the score at the right time. The score should be called within 4 seconds after the end of the point. This allows for confirmation by the opponent. You must train your child to call out the score and get confirmation before the next point begins. Muttering the score quietly under your breath is not good enough. Your opponent must be able to hear and to respond. Rehearse this again and again. It has nothing to do with ability, standard or level. Very talented and highly ranked players can be just as guilty at not calling the score.

Final thoughts

I have recently been introducing a call scoring ‘clean up with my players’. Almost without exception, they were guilty of not calling the score. The excuses are hilarious. “I forgot” (why?! It is the most important thing!) “I’m not very good at math” (this is not math it is counting!) “I feel stupid” (Too cool for school?) “It’s not my job to call the score” (maybe not, but it is your job to win).

With my recent purge, parents have been relieved that they are not the only ones suffering from watching their child give away the match with free points. They say, “…before we even get to technique and training, they surely have to be able to score.”

When calling and confirming the score, the young player is learning about competition and part of that is learning to take responsibility. When I am at tournaments I hear it time and again from parents who complain of ‘cheats’ and the need for across the board umpiring. I feel like turning and around and saying “You’re encouraging your child to be a victim, rather than take responsibility. It is your child’s responsibility to confirm the score rather than play snow white’. (In fact, I have said this on several occasions to a mixed response).

Calling and confirmation have a considerable effect on the way a player plays the game. Scoring requires certainty and encourages focus. I think this is because the players both have time to prepare and plan for the next point. With uncertainty there is no planning and preparation. We have anxiety. We have to rely on the other player too much and we do leave ourselves open to being taken advantage of.

Dan Travis and Styrling Strother discuss this in more detail in the podcast. This is part of the Art of Winning project that helps parents, players and coaches negotiate their way through competition.

If you would like to talk about your own or your child’s competitive challenges, we would love to hear from you and help if we can. Please get in touch by Facebook Messenger.

Click on the link below to hear Styrling and Dan talk about this solution –>


How to solve the cheating problem – Podcast Episode


Setting Goals to the Present Moment

As you begin a new year, setting new goals is always exciting.  Something to think about is mapping those goals to the present moment.  The main objective is to achieve each goal within a certain time frame, this is typically the most difficult thing to do.  So many distractions can keep you from getting what you want.  Here is a brief outline of how to look at setting your goals towards the present moment and fulfill each one of them daily.



Start with a:

Someday Goal :  What’s the ONE thing I want to do someday?

Five-Year Goal :   This goal is based on the “someday” goal.  What’s the ONE thing I like to do in the next five years?

One-Year Goal:  This goal is based on the “five-year” goal.  What’s the ONE thing I can do this year?

Monthly Goal:  Based on the “one-year” goal.  What’s the ONE thing I can do this month?

Weekly Goal:  From the “monthly” goal, what’s the ONE thing I can accomplish this week?

Daily Goal:  From the “weekly” goal, what’s the ONE thing I can accomplish today?


how to make a goal a reality


The best way to accomplish your BIG goals is to reverse engineer the goal and then break it down into pieces that fit together like a jig-saw puzzle.  After making your list of the “pieces” that make up the BIG picture (goal), you could prioritize them if you’d like or sometimes if you just get started on laying one piece down (do a small task), you’ll find that the organizing starts to fall in place more automatically.  Getting started is the hardest step to take, and then momentum takes over and you’ll be on your way.

Writing these all down with PEN and PAPER is a powerful exercise to tackle first, then transcribe your notes to digital form to stay organized (if you choose).  I have a daily journal that I write all my thoughts in and these ideas turn into projects and from there I begin to reverse engineer them into smaller tasks.




Sometimes you just need someone to brainstorm your ideas with, if that’s the case, go for it!  The only thing holding you back from getting what you want is YOU!  So, take a leap of faith, contact a friend or colleague that will help you through your thought process by listening and asking objective questions to lead you towards more detail of what you really what to achieve.

All the best in 2018!