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Brain Game: Djokovic's Drop Shot Success vs. Tsitsipas

  • Posted: Jun 13, 2021

Forty-nine drop shots.

Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to win his second Roland Garros title on Sunday, with drop shots being an integral part of his stunning comeback victory. Djokovic hit 27 drop shots, including nine for clean winners, while Tsitsipas was not far off with 22 drop shots of his own.

The two players combined for an average of one drop shot every six points, or basically one a game for 48 games. The drop shot moved from a side-show, secondary tactic, to become a key strategic ploy to yank the opponent to all compass points of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The last drop shot of the match was hit by Djokovic with Tsitsipas serving at 30/15, 3-5 in the fifth set. Djokovic’s drop shot adroitly displayed the strategic cunning of the Serb to escape one pattern of play that favoured Tsitsipas and shift gears into another that attacked the Greek’s legs and spirit.

Tsitsipas hit two forehands cross court to Djokovic’s forehand to start the rally, trying to bulldoze a forehand error just like he had successfully done in the opening two sets. Djokovic bailed out of the Deuce court exchange by taking his second forehand high down the line to Tsitsipas’ backhand. The high percentage shot for the Greek was now cross court to Djokovic’s backhand.

That’s where the trap was set.

Djokovic stepped forward to the backhand groundstroke like he was going to rifle it back cross court to Tsitsipas’ backhand. He then switched at the last second and hit a deft drop shot up the line that Tsitsipas could only watch.

Wily from Djokovic. Deflating for Tsitsipas.

Djokovic started with a flurry of eight drop shots in the first set, while Tsitsipas hit back with nine of his own. These early drop shots were designed more as a clever surprise tactic by both players as well as inducing the lactic acid buildup in their opponent’s legs from sprinting forward.

Djokovic hit six drop shots in the second set, with two being outright winners from the forehand wing. He gradually moved away from drop shots with five in the third set and just one in set four. He had found other strategic ways to break down Tsitsipas’ game.

Djokovic came back to the tactic in the fifth set, hitting seven. As the match progressed, Tsitsipas attacked less and played neutral from deeper behind the baseline, which was to Djokovic’s benefit. Once the final set rolled around, Djokovic reached back into his bag of drop shot tricks to punish Tsitsipas for camping too far behind the baseline.

Break Points
In the initial two sets, Tsitsipas got a look at eight break points, converting three of them. In the remaining three sets, Tsitsipas failed to sniff a single break point, while Djokovic feasted on 13 break points, winning four of them. The depth of Djokovic’s groundstrokes pushed Tsitsipas back to a location from where he could not hurt Djokovic. Then the drop shot barrage savaged the Greek’s legs and lungs as he was constantly pulled to the front of the court. That took its toll as the break point opportunities evaporated.

Rally Length
The dominant grouping of points in the final was in the 0-4 shot range, where almost 54 per cent of total points were played. That means each player hit a maximum of just two shots in the point for over half of all points played.

Rally Length Breakdown

  • 0-4 Shots = 53.7% (167)
  • 5-8 Shots = 27.7% (86)
  • 9+ Shots = 18.6% (58)
  • Total = 311

When Tsitsipas had to hit two shots or less to win the point, he forged a three-point advantage (85-82) against Djokovic for the match. In the first two sets which Tsitsipas won, his winning margin in the 0-4 shot rally length was a healthy 40-25. Djokovic dominated the match when the rally reached five shots or longer, winning 82 points to 62. In the last three sets, that margin was a resounding 48-32.

Tsitsipas started so strongly, but the energy and focus that was required to build a two-set lead ultimately became unsustainable. Once Djokovic broke early in the third set, he said post-match, “I liked my chances from then onwards. I felt like he was starting to overthink… I got into his head,” he said.

Sprinting side to side against Djokovic in a Grand Slam final on the crushed red earth is challenging enough. Lunging forward to also cover 27 drop shots in the shadow of the net proved a bridge too far.

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With Two Voices Warring In His Head, Djokovic Picks…

  • Posted: Jun 13, 2021

Down two sets to love in the final of Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic walked out of Court Philippe-Chatrier for a brief break. Two and a half hours later, he was a champion in Paris after rallying back against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas to lift his 19th Grand Slam trophy. 

World No. 1 Djokovic was hitting differently, serving better and his body language was visibly much more positive throughout the final three sets of his 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory against the Greek player. 

The key, Djokovic said afterward, was using that small pause to make a big shift in his internal dialogue and silence the ‘voice’ planting seeds of self-doubt as Tsitsipas fearlessly blasted winner after winner past him. 

“To be honest, I was never really vocal when I speak to myself. I keep those internal conversations internally in my head,” Djokovic revealed in his post-match press conference. “There’s always two voices inside: one [is] telling you that you can’t do it, that it’s done, it’s finished. That voice was pretty strong after that second set. 

“I felt that that was a time for me to actually vocalise the other voice and try to suppress the first one that was saying I can’t make it. I told myself I can do it [and] encouraged myself. I strongly started to repeat that inside of my mind, [and] tried to live it with my entire being.” 

“Once I started playing in that third set, especially in the first few games, I saw where my game [was] at, it kind of supported that second voice that was more positive, more encouraging,” he added. “After that there was not much of a doubt for me.”

The result was a second Coupe des Mousquetaires for Djokovic – and another rewritten chapter in the tennis history books.

After becoming only the sixth man in the Open Era to pull off a two-sets-to-love comeback in a Grand Slam final, Djokovic sealed a historic second Career Grand Slam. He stands alone as the only player to achieve this feat twice in the Open Era, and is only the third player in history to do so alongside Aussie legends Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.

“Of course, I am thrilled and I’m very proud of this achievement. [Being] part of the history of the sport that I love with all my heart is always something that is very inspiring and very fulfilling for me,” Djokovic said. “I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the past 48 hours.

“[This] probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I [have] had in my professional tennis career: going through [a] four-and-a-half battle with Rafa [Nadal] on his court, then bouncing back after not practising yesterday, just coming in today with as much as recharged batteries and energy regained to fight another battle of four-and-a-half hours against Tsitsipas.”

Djokovic, who won a record-extending ninth Australian Open title to start the season, is now one of the rare few players to achieve the Melbourne-Paris double in the same year, and the only one to do it twice in the Open Era (also 2016). He sits just one Grand Slam title behind Big Three rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have each won 20, for the most all-time men’s singles titles.

He will head to Wimbledon with a chance to make it three Grand Slams in a row, and potentially eye a ‘calendar-year Grand Slam’ by winning all four majors in the same year. His coach, Marian Vajda, believes it’s possible. 

Djokovic, who seems to have rewritten the definition of ‘impossible’ along with the tennis history books, was not coy either when asked about his next big goal. 

“Everything is possible. Definitely in my case I can say that what I’ve been through in my career, in my life, this journey has been terrific so far,” Djokovic said. “I’ve achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would be not possible for me to achieve.

“I will enjoy this win and then think about Wimbledon in a few days’ time. I don’t have an issue to say that I’m going for the title in Wimbledon. Of course, I am…  I’ve had a great success in the past couple of Wimbledon seasons that were played. I won in 2018 and 2019 there. Hopefully I can keep that run going.”

By now, anyone should know better than to count out Novak… even Novak. 

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Djokovic Extends Big Titles Lead Over Nadal, Federer

  • Posted: Jun 13, 2021

Novak Djokovic extended his lead in the ‘Big Titles’ race on Sunday when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to win his second Roland Garros title.

The World No. 1 now has 60 ‘Big Titles’, putting him three ahead of Rafael Nadal’s 57. A ‘Big Title’ is a trophy at a Grand Slam championship, the Nitto ATP Finals, an ATP Masters 1000 tournament or an Olympic singles gold medal. This was Djokovic’s 19th Grand Slam title, moving him to within one of his great rivals, Roger Federer and Nadal, who have 20 each. 

The Roland Garros semi-final between the Serbian and Nadal could prove pivotal in the ‘Big Titles’ race. By defeating Nadal on Friday, Djokovic denied the Spaniard an opportunity to play for his 14th trophy at the clay-court major. A victory this fortnight would have pulled Nadal to within one ‘Big Title’ of Djokovic. Now, the 34-year-old has breathing room.

The 84-time tour-level titlist is the first player in the Open Era to complete the Australian Open-Roland Garros double twice, and his hopes of earning a calendar-year Grand Slam are still alive.

Djokovic has the best ‘Big Titles’ win-rate at one title won per 3.3 events played (60/198, while Nadal’s rate has slipped to one for every 3.5 tournaments played at this levels (57/197). Only two other players have converted more than once per five events: Roger Federer (4.4, 54/238) and Pete Sampras (4.9, 30/147).

Current and Former Champions’ Big Titles Won (Records Since 1990)

Player Grand Slams Nitto ATP Finals 1000s Total^ (Avg)
Novak Djokovic 19/64 5/13 36/118 60/198 (3.3)
Rafael Nadal 20/62 0/10 36/123 57/197 (3.5)
Roger Federer 20/80 6/17 28/138 54/239 (4.4)
Pete Sampras 14/52 5/11 11/83 30/147 (4.9)
Andre Agassi 8/61 1/13 17/90 27/164 (6.1)
Andy Murray 3/50 1/8 14/100 20/161 (8.0)
Boris Becker* 2/26 2/6 5/51 9/84 (9.3)
Thomas Muster 1/29 0/4 8/53 9/87 (9.7)
Stefan Edberg** 3/28 0/4 4/45 7/79 (11.3)
Gustavo Kuerten 3/33 1/3 5/67 9/105 (11.6)
Jim Courier 4/38 0/4 5/71 9/114 (12.6)
Marcelo Rios 0/26 0/1 5/56 5/84 (16.8)
Marat Safin 2/41 0/3 5/87 7/133 (19)
Michael Chang*** 0/50 0/6 7/86 7/144 (20.6)
Andy Roddick 1/46 0/6 5/75 6/129 (22.5)

^ Includes Olympic Games gold medals and tournament participations
* Becker’s four other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
** Edberg’s three other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
*** Chang’s one Grand Slam title came before 1990

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Tsitsipas Wins First Set Against Djokovic In Roland Garros Final

  • Posted: Jun 13, 2021

Stefanos Tsitsipas is playing his first Grand Slam final against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Sunday at Roland Garros, but the Greek has shown no nerves in taking a 7-6(6) lead.

The 22-year-old was in danger of losing the opener when Djokovic served for the set at 6-5, and he faced a set point at 5/6 in the tie-break. But the fifth seed has played daring, attacking tennis to seize the lead against the 2016 champion after 69 minutes.

Tsitsipas, who is trying to become the first Greek in history to lift a Grand Slam trophy, crushed 18 winners in the opener and took advantage of a momentary lapse in Djokovic’s concentration at the end of the set. Djokovic crushed a forehand return down the middle on his set point, but Tsitsipas stayed calm and hit a forehand winner into the open court, eliciting a racquet clap from the top seed. 

Infosys Stats – Djokovic v Tsitsipas (Through 1st Set)

 Stat  Novak Djokovic  Stefanos Tsitsipas
 1st-Serve Pts Won  85% (22/26)  62% (18/29)
 2nd-Serve Pts Won  25% (3/12)  67% (12/18)
 Return Pts Won  36% (17/47)  34% (13/38)
 Net Pts Won  67% (6/9)  100% (6/6)
 Break Pts Converted  33% (1/3)  33% (1/3)
 Winners  15  18
 Unforced Errors  12  10

The 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champion has been locked in since hitting a double fault long on the first point of the match. He earned his first set point at 5-4, but Djokovic found a way to squeak through a 25-shot rally. Despite dropping serve against Djokovic’s mounting pressure, Tsitsipas did not relent. He took advantage of the Serbian’s dipping first-serve percentage at the end of the set to step into the court and push the World No. 1 around the court. 

Djokovic has been far sharper than he was when he fell behind Rafael Nadal 0-5 in the semi-finals. But his missed opportunity to serve out the opener could prove critical.

These two clashed in a memorable semi-final on the Parisian clay last year. Djokovic sprinted to a two-set lead, before Tsitsipas mounted a spirited comeback in pursuit of his first major final. The World No. 1 locked down in the decider to advance to the championship match after three hours and 54 minutes.

More On The Final
Djokovic, Tsitsipas & The Biggest Mountain In Paris
A Deep Dive Into Novak & Stefanos’ Rivalry

Overall, Djokovic leads their ATP Head2Head series 5-2 and he has won their three clay-court clashes, including a three-set victory at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia last month. Tsitsipas’ last victory against the top seed came in Shanghai in 2019.

Djokovic is fresh off one of the matches of the season, in which he battled past 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in four sets to become the first player to beat the Spaniard at Roland Garros twice. The last time he defeated Nadal here, in 2015, he lost in the final against Stan Wawrinka. Tsitsipas let slip a two-set lead against Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals, but was able to regroup and blast his way into the championship match.

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A victory will make Tsitsipas the youngest major singles champion since 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro triumphed at the 2009 US Open. He is already the youngest Slam finalist since 22-year-old Andy Murray at the 2010 Australian Open.

History is on the line for the 34-year-old Djokovic, who is trying to keep his hopes of a Calendar-Year Grand Slam alive. No other player in the Open Era has completed the Australian Open-Roland Garros double twice, but Djokovic has a chance to achieve that feat, as he also won the year’s first two majors in 2016.

The top seed can claim his 19th Grand Slam title and moving to within one of his great rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, on the all-time list. Djokovic can become the first player to win the Career Grand Slam twice in the Open Era.

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