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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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.

goal-setting-photo

 

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.

 

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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!

Styrling

 

 

Why do You Play?

Below is an excerpt from the Chapter “Why do You Play?” in my new book 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State.  I explore the idea of winning EVERY TIME You Play in this book – pick up your copy today Click here at Amazon.com

 

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. 

                                            –  Fred Rogers

 

Why do you play? There are varied reasons why you may play the game of tennis. Some of us play for the simple enjoyment to interact with friends and family, others for competition and physical exercise, and then some of us play to relax and release the tension and pressure from our jobs or school. For whatever reason you decide to play tennis, it always leads to keeping score with someone winning and someone losing. Sometimes you win because you are more skilled than the other player, other times it may be a combination of being stronger mentally and emotionally than your opponent. Whatever way you happen to win in the score, being self-aware of how you win is rarely as valuable as the self-awareness gained when you lose on the scoreboard. My confidence in this statement is from observing players who win and lose and observing how they respond to each result. My belief is founded on the idea that winning and losing in the score can actually reveal the ‘why’ in playing the game.

Here is a fascinating quote from a recent article by Craig O’Shannessy July 2016 titled, The Percentages That Separate Djokovic And The Top 10:

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis shows that the current players in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings have won, on average, just 53.2 per cent of their points the 2016 season. The flip side of the coin is also sobering to contemplate: Top 10 players average losing 47 per cent of all the points they play.

Reflecting on this data, if some of the greatest players in the World are losing 47 per cent of all the points they play, then defining why one plays the game is important. There is certainly more players losing tennis matches than winning them. In a tournament draw of 64 players, there are 63 players losing and one player winning. Why and how a player responds when losing points and matches is an important question to ponder in a quest to discover and advance toward growing and improving their game. The tension of losing can change or form the why, when, and how to play again because it gives a player the opportunity to explore more options for improvement to win more often. The key is to find ways to play that will really add to your enjoyment of the sport and the value of the lessons that can be learned from tennis. You will win and lose points like a roller coaster ride drifting up and down the track. The most important thing to realize is how you respond when you lose points because there will be a lot of them in playing this game. The first idea to grasp is your response to losing will determine how much and how often you win.    

 

The words printed here are concepts.  You must go through the experiences.
– St. Augustine

 

Take a moment to reflect on the last tennis match you lost. How long did you reflect on the match afterward? How many times did you lose that match – once, twice, three times in your mind? How would you describe your mental state after losing? Do you easily get over losing and move on to the next thing without much thought, or does losing torment you to some degree? Whichever way you slice it, coming to a point of simple and objective reflection can really help and become the catalyst for growth. I would say that some amount of agony over losing serves as a form of motivational energy. Also, you don’t have to lose in order to improve. Even in winning you can reflect on points or games that were lost and then create objectives for training so that more points are won moving forward. In fact, I love to win more than I hate to lose. A champion’s mindset is exemplified through a consistent effort to become the best version of themselves on and off the court.

In an evenly played match, you may win very close to the same amount of points that you lose. 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.

 

The idea being that winning by a little can lead to winning a lot.

 

Taking the time to separate the losing points versus winning points can make a huge difference in moving forward in the game. You will lose as many points as you win, there will be times you are up or down in the game.

To give a bit of a preview of the value of this book, I am sharing some strategies to help keep you in the moment and enjoying the game. The strategy of ‘Ball-Player’ in the pages ahead explain how to shift your visual perspective in the present moment. Being in the present moment is the key to unlocking your best performances. ‘Spot on the Ball’ is a challenge of awareness to experience the art of visualizing where you want to contact the ball to control trajectory and direction of your shot. Play Patterns That Run, Reverse, and Cage is a chapter about how combinations of shots tell a story of how the match is playing out. Once the story is understood, then maintaining the same story or changing to a new plot becomes more realistic. Stories have beginnings, building parts, and finishing pieces. If someone asks how did you play that match the other day, you could recall the match in story-form. ‘1-2, Reset’ is a challenge to experience how to let the previous shot go, then immediately shift attention onto the next shot in a two-ball sequence. As a player, you will learn to see in the immediate present, neither thinking about the past or focusing too far into the future.

K.Juvan Wins Girls 18s Orange Bowl Championships – How did she do it?

Kaja Juvan (SLO) won the Girls’ 18s singles at the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Championships stifling top seed and No. 1-ranked Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-1, 6-4.  The ITF Grade A, USTA Level 1 tournament is the showplace where the best junior players in the world come to battle for the coveted trophy.

The 55th Annual Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship is one of the most distinguished and paramount junior tennis tournaments in the world! This globally recognized event brings together over 1,500 of the top ranked male and female junior players representing more than 76 countries.  Over the past 55 years, tennis legends such as Chris Evert, Jimmy Conners, Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have showcased their athletic talent as well as current pros, Caroline Wozniacki, Genie Bouchard, Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stevens, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, Kei Nishikori, and Andy Murray2012 Olympic and 2013 Men’s Wimbledon Champion.  As Kaja Juvan adds her name to this prestigious list of Orange Bowl champions, I’m sure she is looking forward to continuing her dreams of becoming the best she can be on the Pro Tour!

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Kaja Juvan 2016 Girls’ 18 Singles Champion

How did she do it?  Beating the #1 seed Potapova in straight sets 6-1, 6-4 was in no way an easy task.  My analysis of her match is based on a Point Tracking Chart I developed 4 years ago while tracking the length of points in junior tennis matches and tournaments.  It is evident when analyzing the numbers that Juvan was well-prepared in the First Strike Phase (0-4 shots) going into the Finals this year.  Breaking down and going beyond the numbers to get a glimpse into what led to her stunning victory is where we go next.

I’d like to add that this match was played on a “wet” clay court surface on December 11, 2016.  The numbers here were collected using the Point Tracking Chart, successfully mapping the length of each point.  Thanks to my friend and colleague Todd Nassief for the data entry.

Juvan played an absolutely flawless 1st set by winning 75% of the First Strike points (0-4 shots) when returning serve.  Here are the numbers:

Return of Serve – 1st Set

(0-4)  6-8  75% pts won

(5-8)  2-4  50% pts won

(+9)  1-1  100% pts won

In the 0-8 shots (First Strike Tennis and Patterns of Play), Juvan won 8 out of 12 points in these point phases winning 67% of the points.  I’m beginning with the Return of Serve numbers because this led to a big confidence booster for Juvan in the 1st set.  Putting pressure on the #1 seed’s serve right out of the gate set the tone for the Slovenian to storm through and break serve in the 2nd and 4th game of the set.

Serving in the 1st set was equally as lethal, Juvan won 9 out of 14 points in the First Strike phase projecting a commanding presence starting the point.

Serve – 1st Set

(0-4)  9-14  64% pts won

(5-8)  3-3  100% pts won

(+9)  4-4  100% pts won

 Juvan was perfect in the Patterns of Play (5-8) and Extended Rally (+9) phases, 100% pts won.  In the 0-8 shots, she won 12-17 points for 71%.  So what are these numbers really telling us?  Kaja Juvan was simply the better player between 0-8 shots in the first set, either serving or returning serve, she was on fire right out of the gate.  As my good friend and colleague Craig O’Shannessy http://www.braingametennis.com, lead analyst for the ATP Tour, says “Just when you think the point is beginning, it’s about to end, and that’s where all the action is!”  As you can see from these numbers, it’s exactly where all the action was played as well in the 2016 Girls’ 18s Final at the Orange Bowl.

After wining the 1st set 6-1, with a commanding lead Juvan took this great confidence into the 2nd set where her percentages may have dipped a little but her ability to keep the numbers above 50% in all three phases launched her towards victory.

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Juvan continued with a solid performance by applying pressure to Potavova’s service games in the 0-8 shots (21-33), winning 64% of the points played when returning.  Even though Juvan had a lower winning percentage in the +9 shot phase, she overwhelmed her opponent by winning the majority of points in the (0-4) and (5-8) shot phases.

Return of Serve – 2nd Set

(0-4)  14-23  61% pts won

(5-8)  7-10  70% pts won

(+9)  5-13  38% pts won

Serving in the 2nd Set, Juvan stumbled just a little on the Serve and S+1, winning just 53% and 50% of the points there, but was able to make up the difference once the point reached the extended rally phase by winning 63% of the points.

Serve – 2nd Set

(0-4)  8-15  53% pts won

(5-8)  5-10  50% pts won

(+9)  5-8  63% pts won

Winning 52% of the points in the (0-8) shot phases when serving and combined with her performance when returning was enough to finish the match with a win.  One of the keys to victory for Juvan was when leading 5-4 in the 2nd set and now serving for the match.  The 10th and final game was tracked and looked like this:

Point 1:  11 shots  (15-0)

Point 2:  13 shots  (30-0)

Point 3:  5 shots  (40-0)

Point 4:  3 shots (Game)

My sense after looking at the numbers of the 9th game, which lasted 10 points total, was that Potavova was trying to stretch out the rally length of points while hoping for a downtick in Juvan’s confidence and focus to finish the match.  But Juvan was able to maintain her focus out of a long point (+9) to the next short point that would ultimately land in the (0-4) shot phase.

I really enjoyed going through the numbers of this incredible match and found that player’s who train on the practice court like they will eventually play on the match court, find more wins, more often when it counts the most.  Handling the pressure of beginning a point well is a key factor to becoming one of the best players in the world.

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Drilling Deeper Beyond The Numbers

The first 4 shots are made up of the Serve and S+1, the Return and R+1.  The next two shots that a player plays is the S+2 and S+3 when serving.  The R+2 and R+3 when returning.  Here’s a chart to help see this a bit clearer:

Serve (1-shot)          Return (2-shot)

S+1 (3-shot)              R+1  (4-shot)

S+2 (5-shot)             R+2  (6-shot)

S+3 (7-shot)             R+3 (8-shot)

The shots played from the Serve player are the odd numbers:  1,3,5,7

The shots played from the Return player are the even numbers:  2,4,6,8

I found that even as well as Juvan played, there were places of improvement in her game.  Exactly “where” the adjustments and improvements can be made are found when drilling deeper beyond the numbers in this match.

The 1st set Juvan played was practically flawless in the (0-4) and (5-8) phases, as stated before winning 10-12 points when returning serve and 9-14 points when serving.  Total 19-26 points in the 1st set.  I’d like to focus more though on the 2nd set because the final set score was 6-4.  Here’s a closer look towards exactly where the errors (forced or unforced) showed up.

Return of Serve – 2nd Set

Return:  5 errors

 R+1:  4 errors

R+2:  2 errors

R+3:  1 error

Serve – 2nd Set

Serve:  1 DF

S+1:  5 errors

S+2:  1 error

S+3:  4 errors

Juvan returning serve in the 2nd set made the majority of errors (9-12) on the Return and R+1.  When serving, she made 5 errors on the S+1.  This is certainly a place to look when making adjustments and training on the practice court.  Combining the Serve and Return, Juvan made 15 errors in the (0-4) phase of the point and 8 errors in the (5-8) phase of the point.  Training these two phases of a point can make the difference between winning 6-4 and losing 4-6.  Juvan executed better in these phases of point play in this match than her opponent.

Congratulations to you, Kaja Juvan, on your impressive win at the 2016 Orange Bowl!

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Transforming the Practice Court – School of Tennis

Transforming the Practice Court is an innovative project to educate, inspire, and motivate tennis coaches to re-think and re-organize the ways we train players for the 21st century.  This project is more about innovating the old, tried and true methods of coaching towards a strategic mindset of transforming our players on the practice court with the necessary tools they need to succeed on the match court.

One of the biggest gaps in becoming a professional tennis coach and excelling in the art of coaching is mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities.  The School of Tennis provides for this type of opportunity to any tennis coach looking to advance the pursuit of becoming a better coach.  Transforming the Practice Court is the 1st course being offered by Styrling Strother to provide a pathway for you to become your best.  After being mentored by some of the best coaches in the industry, Styrling’s passion is to raise the bar of excellence in tennis coaching through interactive mastermind environments and personal one-on-one coaching.