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Korda’s Code: Strike Early, Strike Often

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2020

The first two times you touch the ball in a point account for half of the winners you will make in the match. That’s worth re-reading.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the first two rounds at Roland Garros this year identifies that 50 per cent (2154/4349) of all winners struck have been in the 0-4 rally length, which means either player had to have hit the winner in their first two touches of the ball.

Before robust analytics arrived in tennis, we preached consistency, shot tolerance and building a point ad nauseam. Now, big data identifies that short rallies greatly outnumber longer ones and striking first is the most effective way to arrive first at the finish line. The data set includes 63 matches through the first two rounds that were played on show courts where rally length was recorded.

Twenty-year-old Sebastian Korda, currently ranked No. 213, became the first qualifier to reach the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in nine years after defeating Andreas Seppi, John Isner and Pedro Martinez. Korda is also the youngest American male to reach the Round of 16 at Roland Garros since Michael Chang in 1991.

Korda, son of former World No. 2 Petr Korda, has not dropped a set en route to the biggest match of his life against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. Below is the percentage of winners struck in the 0-4 shot rally length through his first three rounds.

Percentage Of Total Winners In 0-4 Shots
• Round 1 vs Seppi = 55%.
• Round 2 vs Isner = 64%
• Round 3 vs Martinez = 46%

In each of the three main draw matches, Korda has been able to amass more winners in the 0-4 rally length than his opponents.

Winners in 0-4 Shots
• Round 1: Korda 18 / Seppi 13
• Round 2: Korda 24 / Isner 23
• Round 3: Korda 23 / Martinez 8
• TOTAL: Korda 65 / Opponents 44

The 0-4 shot rally length has also accumulated the majority of errors at Roland Garros through the first two rounds this year, with 56 per cent (5362/9622) of total errors happening in 0-4 shots. It’s important to note that rally length is predicated by the ball landing in the court, not hitting the strings, which potentially adds a fifth shot into the 0-4 rally length as an error only. For example, a fifth shot error in a rally means four balls landed in the court, therefore it would be designated in the 0-4 shot rally length.

Big data is shattering big myths in our sport and providing a clearer picture of what matters most to advancing further into the draw. The deeper we dig, the more evidence we find that the first two times you touch the ball matter more than the aggregate of shots that follow.

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Djokovic Overtakes Federer, Sets Khachanov Clash

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2020

Novak Djokovic moved clear of Roger Federer with his 71st Roland Garros victory on Saturday, claiming sole ownership of second place on the wins leaderboard at the clay-court Grand Slam championship.

The World No. 1 cruised past lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 to improve to 71-14 at Stade Roland Garros. Djokovic broke serve on seven occasions and saved all five break points he faced en route to victory.

Most Roland Garros Men’s Singles Wins

Rank Player Roland Garros Win-Loss
1 Rafael Nadal 96-2
2 Novak Djokovic 71-14
3 Roger Federer 70-17
4 Guillermo Vilas 58-17
5 Ivan Lendl 53-12
5 Jaroslav Drobny 53-14

Djokovic showed great sportsmanship throughout the third-round encounter. With rain falling heavily on Galan’s side of the court as the new Court Philippe-Chatrier roof was closing, the Colombian slipped over. Djokovic responded by calling a halt to the match in the fourth game of the second set until conditions were equal for both players.

The 33-year-old even helped the ground staff tasked with adding extra clay to Galan’s end of the court. Djokovic grabbed a brush and helped smooth the surface around the World No. 153’s baseline.

Novak Djokovic helps ground staff smooth the clay surface on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

With his 34th win from 35 matches this year, Djokovic equals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s Open Era record of 11 consecutive fourth-round appearances in Paris. Nadal and Federer reached the Round of 16 at this event each year from 2005 to 2015.

Most Consecutive Roland Garros Round Of 16 Appearances (Open Era)

Player Length Of Streak Years
Novak Djokovic 11 2010-2020
Roger Federer 11 2005-2015
Rafael Nadal 11 2005-2015
Ivan Lendl 9 1981-1989
Yannick Noah 9 1980-1988
Guillermo Vilas 9 1975-1983

Djokovic has showcased his best form to reach the second week in Paris. Through his opening three matches, the five-time year-end World No. 1 has dropped just 15 games. Djokovic is riding an eight-match winning streak, following his record 36th ATP Masters 1000 title run at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome last month.

”If you impose yourself from the very beginning on the court, which I have in those first three matches here, then it makes it hard for them to really believe that they can come back and make a turnaround in the match,” said Djokovic.

The Serbian will face Karen Khachanov for a place in the semi-finals. Djokovic owns a 3-1 ATP Head2Head record against the World No. 16, but Khachanov emerged victorious in the pair’s previous encounter in Paris. At the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters, Khachanov stunned Djokovic in the championship match to earn the biggest title of his career.

Djokovic took no time to find his best level against Galan on Court Philippe-Chatrier. The 2016 champion regularly used the drop shot to mix up play — as he has throughout this European clay swing — and dictated rallies with his forehand to win the opening eight games of the match.

Serving at 0-6, 0-2, Galan ripped a cross-court forehand winner to earn his first game of the match. The winning shot was met with applause from the limited number of fans sat courtside, which brought a smile to Galan’s face as he walked to his chair. After the brief rain delay, Djokovic maintained his advantage and broke serve once more at 5-3 with a forehand winner up the line.

After saving two break points to start the third set, Djokovic claimed his sixth service break en route to a 3-0 lead. The Belgrade native closed the match with another break, playing with aggression on his backhand side. Galan committed a cross-court forehand error to end the third-round meeting after two hours and eight minutes.

“You watch videos and you watch him on TV, and… it seems like he’s not playing that fast, like he’s playing heavy, with a lot of spin. But today it was like a rocket, every forehand,” said Galan.

“I was not able to even react. I don’t know. Maybe I was not moving… I felt like he was a rocket every time he was hitting his forehand.”

Karen Khachanov has reached the Round of 16 in each of his four visits to Roland Garros.

Earlier in the day on Court 14, Khachanov ended Cristian Garin’s run with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Round of 16 in Paris for the fourth straight year.

The 16th seed, who owns a 13-3 record at Roland Garros, landed 33 winners and broke serve on eight occasions to hand Garin only his fourth loss in 19 tour-level matches on clay this year. Khachanov will be attempting to equal his best Grand Slam result when he meets Djokovic on Monday. Last year, the 24-year-old reached his first quarter-final at a major championship at this event with a fourth-round victory against Juan Martin del Potro.

“[Against Novak, I will] try to be steady, to try to maintain the level that we will play [for the] most time possible… [I will] keep pushing to try to break the guy if something is going wrong on [my] serve,” said Khachanov.

“You don’t have to be surprised if you lose a few games even if you serve hard or not. A lot of balls are coming back, especially in the current situation. I think the most important thing for me [is] to stay steady, to believe in myself, to believe in the game that I’m playing. At the end of the day, [I need] to enjoy it. [I am] looking forward to a good match.”

Garin was attempting to become the first Chilean man to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam since Fernando Gonzalez’s run to the Round of 16 at the 2010 Australian Open. With a 15-4 clay record in 2020, Garin is in second place on the tour-level clay wins leaderboard this year. Only Buenos Aires champion Casper Ruud owns more victories on the surface this season (17).

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Herbert/Mahut Save 1 M.P. In Second-Round Scare

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2020

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut’s hopes of a second Roland Garros crown were almost ended in the second round on Saturday, but the French pair survived one match point to defeat Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-4.

The 2018 champions trailed 0/3 in a second-set tie-break and needed to save match point at 7/8, before claiming victory in two hours and seven minutes. Herbert and Mahut, who became the eighth men’s doubles team to complete the Career Grand Slam at last year’s Australian Open, dropped just five points on serve in the third set and converted the only break point of the decider to complete a memorable comeback win.

The Frenchmen will next face US Open finalists Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic in the third round. Koolhof and Mektic, who reached the Hamburg European Open semi-finals last week, are yet to drop a set in Paris.

Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski became only the second team to beat Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos on clay this year. The British pairing broke serve on three occasions to defeat the Rome champions 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Court 12. Granollers and Zeballos drop to 18-2 on clay in 2020.

Murray and Skupski have required a final set in each of their three victories at the event so far. The 13th seeds will meet reigning champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies for a spot in the semi-finals. The Germans saved three match points at 4/5 in the final set to defeat Benjamin Bonzi and Antoine Hoang 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(5) on Court 11.

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury continued their impressive run through the draw in Paris, notching a third straight-sets victory in as many matches in the French capital. The third seeds, who captured the Australian Open crown in February, beat last year’s finalists Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin 6-3, 6-2 in 65 minutes. Ram and Salisbury will face 12th seeds Jean Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau or US Open champions Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares in the quarter-finals.

Pablo Cuevas and Feliciano Lopez eliminated Generali Open champions Austin Krajicek and Franko Skugor 7-5, 6-4. Cuevas and Lopez will meet American duo Nicolas Monroe and Tommy Paul in the third round.

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Hold The Meat… Djokovic-Galan Battle Is Au Naturel

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2020

Daniel Elahi Galan lost in straight sets last Friday in the final round of Roland Garros qualifying. But the Colombian lucky loser has certainly made the most of his “luck” in Paris, and now he has the biggest opportunity of his career. On Saturday, he faces World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the third round.

“[I’m] really, really excited. Just looking forward really to playing him and playing on centre court,” Galan said. “I have never practised with him. Just sometimes see him in the locker room and that’s it. I have never even practised with a Top 10 [player].”

The last Colombian who reached the third round at Roland Garros was Santiago Giraldo in 2012. While Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah have won multiple Grand Slam doubles titles and are the top seeds in Paris, Galan and Giraldo are the only Colombians inside the Top 400 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.

This dream run might seem sudden for the 2019 Houston semi-finalist, but Galan has worked his whole life to get to this point. Tennis runs in his blood.

“My dad Santos is a tennis coach. At first, he coached my oldest brother and now we travel together,” Galan said. “Family is very important to me. My mom stayed home and raised all of us. I am the youngest of four children – three brothers and one sister.”

Colombia is more well-known for cyclists like Nairo Quintana — a former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana champion — and Rigoberto Uran, who finished second at the Tour de France. Galan enjoys cycling, too.

“I try to do it when I’m at home, but I don’t get the chance very often,” Galan said. “It’s not the best thing for a tennis player, because if you fall from the bicycle, it’s not a good thing.”

Galan’s parents, Santos and Doris, became vegetarians in their late 20s, believing it was a healthier lifestyle. They raised all four of their children that way. Galan has never tried meat, fish, chicken or eggs.

“For me, it’s a big thing and it’s difficult when you’re on the road around the world. It’s tough when you’re travelling in some countries. Normally, I’ll try to eat as many grains, beans and chickpeas as possible. Those are rich in protein,” Galan said. “Some places they don’t understand you and they don’t know what a vegetarian is. In the U.S. you have many options, but in a place like Turkey we ate pasta all week because they had no other options. Sometimes it can be very tough.”

In Paris, granola, oatmeal, soy milk and fruits have been on Galan’s breakfast menu. For lunch, he has enjoyed salad and pasta with mushrooms, tofu and pesto. The Bogota resident has eaten rice and grains for dinner.

Galan’s next opponent, Djokovic, famously went gluten-free. The Serbian has won 81 more tour-level titles than Galan, but that doesn’t bother the 2018 San Benedetto Challenger champion.

“I’m kind of quiet, but I’m really, really, really happy,” Galan said. “I’m also focussed on keeping going. I think I just have to focus on my game and that’s it. I know I play Djokovic, but in all matches any player you play, you have to do your game, just try to win and give it all you have. That’s it. At the end of the day, it’s just another match.”

Galan arrived at the clay-court major with four wins at ATP Tour events and none at Grand Slams. But he has steadily built confidence over the past year.

At last November’s Davis Cup Finals in Madrid, Galan took a set off then-World No. 11 David Goffin on a hard court, which is not his preferred surface.

“He was the toughest guy I have ever played and I was really, really nervous because it was Goffin, a guy you see on TV all the time. I just went on the court and I was expecting him to just play unbelievable or maybe he would beat me so easily,” Galan said. “But at the end of the day they are human. They also make mistake… They are trying the best they can. At the end of the day, we are all players.”

Galan reached an ATP Challenger Tour final this February in Newport Beach, also on hard courts. But the COVID-19 pandemic halted his progress. The 24-year-old played two matches before Roland Garros qualifying and lost both.

“During the quarantine I was not able to practise that much. I started practising again in July, but I was just trying to get again in that rhythm that I was playing with before, that confidence,” Galan said. “It was really not easy because when I got to Europe the first matches were really difficult. I just felt weird. Here I felt the same.”

Galan hasn’t shown it since getting into the main draw, beating Cameron Norrie in five sets and cruising past two-time major quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren in straight sets. Now he faces his greatest challenge yet: Djokovic.

“I have to take this match like all matches,” Galan said. “Just go out, do my game and that’s it. There is no other way.”

– Reporting contributed by Josh Meiseles

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