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Brain Game: How Medvedev Rewrote A Losing Game Plan To Stop Djokovic

  • Posted: Sep 13, 2021

Novak Djokovic needed forehands. He settled for backhands. The rest is history.

Daniil Medvedev defeated Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the US Open final Sunday evening in New York, stopping the Serb from being the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four majors in a season. Making Djokovic’s forehand a non-factor in the final was the strategic engine room of the stunning victory.

Medvedev’s cunning plan was to overload the Ad court with a plethora of backhand-to-backhand exchanges, where he could neutralise and torment Djokovic with his ultra-flat backhand that proved extremely difficult to attack. It worked in spades. Djokovic ended up hitting more backhand groundstrokes than forehand groundstrokes for the match.

Total Groundstrokes (excluding returns, volleys & overheads)

    Novak Djokovic

  • Total Forehands = 43% (122)
  • Total Backhands = 57% (161)
    Daniil Medvedev

  • Total Forehands = 46% (136)
  • Total Backhands = 54% (159)

Surprisingly, Djokovic ended up hitting 39 more backhands than forehands for the match. As a comparison, when Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters 1000 this year (4-6, 7-5, 7-5), he hit 58 per cent (266) forehands and 42 per cent (194) backhands.

Djokovic is partly to blame for the overload of backhands against Medvedev, as there were dozens of balls he could have hit a run-around forehand instead of a backhand. He either chose not to upgrade the stroke, did not fully comprehend Medvedev’s maddening strategy, or didn’t have enough gas left in the legs to seize the opportunity.

Medvedev struck almost triple the number of groundstroke winners (16-6) in the match while committing fewer errors overall (33-38).

    Novak Djokovic

  • Winners = Forehand 3 / Backhand 3
  • Errors = Forehand 18 / Backhand 20
    Daniil Medvedev

  • Winners = Forehand 11 / Backhand 5
  • Errors = Forehand 16 / Backhand 17

All tournament, Djokovic didn’t show his typical thirst to upgrade to a run-around forehand over a backhand standing in the Ad court. He was content to go toe-to-toe with opponents banging backhands back and forth. That strategy helped get him to the final, but it wasn’t a winning game plan against Medvedev’s menacing backhand, which gives you nothing to work with.

Djokovic Run-Around Forehands (Standing in the Ad court)

  • Total = 47 (39% of total forehands)
  • Ball came back in play = 38 (81%)
  • Winners = 1
  • Errors = 4
  • Forced an error = 4

Djokovic hit 39% of total forehands as a run-around in the Ad court, but they were not the lethal blows we are used to seeing from the Serb. He only struck one winner from a run-around forehand in three sets while committing four errors. More than 80 percent came back in play, rendering this normally potent tactic insignificant in the final outcome.

Djokovic hit only six groundstroke winners in 283 shots, which averages at one winner every 47 shots. That’s not the Novak Djokovic that won three majors this year. Medvedev hit 16 groundstroke winners from 295 shots, which averages as one winner every 18 shots. Medvedev clearly turned the baseline into his playground in the final.

Game plans can succeed, fail, or get lost in the wash and dissolve in a player’s mind in the heat of battle. Once Djokovic reacted emotionally to not breaking Medvedev when leading 0-40 at 0-1 in the second set, and failed to convert two break points in the following service game, the clarity needed to find a winning game plan vanished.

In the second set, Djokovic hit just 39 per cent (46) forehands and 61 per cent (73) backhands. That was good for just one groundstroke winner and 15 errors. Djokovic had defining moments of tactical lucidity after losing the opening set in his four previous matches in New York. That mental strength proved to be a bridge too far in the final.

In the 2021 Australian Open final, Djokovic defeated Medvedev by mauling his forehand. Medvedev committed seven forehand errors in the first three games of the final. The Russian only committed four in the entire first set in New York last night.

Ultimately, Medvedev attained victory because Djokovic did not copy and paste a winning strategy from Melbourne in January as well as not being able to diffuse Medvedev’s Ad court dominated backhand strategy with run-around forehands. In the end, Medvedev made Djokovic bend to his intentions, having to contend with ultra-flat backhand knuckleballs in endless, backhand-to-backhand exchanges.

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Ruud First Norwegian To Crack Top 10

  • Posted: Sep 13, 2021

Casper Ruud on Monday became the first Norwegian to crack the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings when he climbed to a career-high World No. 10. The 22-year-old is the 173rd player to join the elite group and is now the youngest in the current Top 10.

“I am very excited and happy of course to reach this milestone,” Ruud told “It’s something I’ve looked up to and worked hard for for many years. To achieve it is a very nice feeling.”

The Next Gen ATP Finals alumnus made history earlier this year by winning titles in Bastad, Gstaad and Kitzbühel in three consecutive weeks. Ruud was the first player to lift three trophies in as many weeks since Andy Murray did it in October 2011.

More On Ruud
Getting To Know Casper
How Ruud Is Surprising His Father
The Competitive Fire That Burns Within Casper

Tennis has been part of Ruud’s life as long as he remembers. His father, Christian Ruud, had a mini-tennis court in their backyard and would help Casper get a feel for the ball from the age of four. It did not take long for Ruud to start dreaming big and following in his father’s footsteps.

“I thought about playing tennis on the big screens around the world,” Ruud said. “It was always on my mind and my dream from eight years old.”

Casper remembers watching tennis on television and his father quizzing him on who was in the world’s Top 10.

“I would pretty much always be on point and know exactly who was in the Top 10,” Casper said. “I think it’s a big milestone, something many players look up to, including myself. I’ve done it for many years. To be able to be part of that group is something very special and something I feel very humbled and proud to be part of.”

Christian reached a career-high of World No. 39. Casper surpassed that mark last February and has now ascended to the upper echelon of the ATP Tour. His father, who is also Casper’s coach, has enjoyed the process.

“It is super fun. He always seems to do small steps, which I know is difficult. He is going one way in the [FedEx ATP] Rankings,” Christian said. “I am surprised he hasn’t had many setbacks. He is steadily going in the right way and I know his goal is to stay up there. I think he is surprising me with how comfortable he is in his position.”

Ruud is happy with his accomplishment, but there is plenty more he wants to achieve in the sport. According to his father, the five-time ATP Tour titlist — a four-time champion this year — has his sights set on the Nitto ATP Finals, to be played at the Pala Alpitour in Turin from 14-21 November.

“It is to reach Turin and finish in the Top 10,” Christian said. “He is focused on getting to the [Nitto] ATP Finals. Without clay, it may be a little bit tougher, but he can play well on hard courts, and mentally he is prepared.”

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Q3 Review: Medvedev Wins Maiden Major, Djokovic Foiled & Zverev Capture Titles

  • Posted: Sep 13, 2021

The third quarter of the 2021 ATP Tour season saw maiden major success, breakthrough runs and history made.

Daniil Medvedev ended Novak Djokovic’s pursuit of the Grand Slam to claim his first major title at the US Open, while Alexander Zverev backed up his golden triumph at the Tokyo Olympics with his fifth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati.

Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas continued to produce consistent performances to rise into the Top 3 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time and Felix Auger-Aliassime strengthened his claim for a spot at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals with a semi-final run at Flushing Meadows.

Below, reflects on a thrilling third chapter of the 2021 season.

Medvedev’s Major Breakthrough
The Russian had a North American hard-court swing to remember as he captured his first major title at the US Open, a month after winning his fourth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Toronto.

After arriving on the hard courts in Canada following a quarter-final exit to Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta at the Tokyo Olympics, Medvedev quickly clicked into gear on a surface he has now won 12 tour-level titles on. The World No. 2 battled past Alexander Bublik and Hubert Hurkacz before conquering Reilly Opelka’s thunderous serve in the final to lift the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers trophy.

While his bid to become the seventh male player to clinch the Cincinnati-Toronto double was ended by countryman Andrey Rublev in the semi-finals in Ohio, the 25-year-old quickly put this behind him. Medvedev stormed through the field at the US Open, dropping one set en route to a historic championship match clash with World No. 1 Djokovic.

In an enthralling final, Medvedev, who has now compiled an 18-2 record since Wimbledon, overcame Djokovic in straight sets to earn the biggest win of his career and become the third Russian, alongside Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin, to triumph at a major.

“You never know if you’re going to achieve it in your career,” Medvedev said following his victory over Djokovic. “Again I was always saying, ‘If I don’t, I just want to know that I did my best to do it’. That’s my first Grand Slam. I don’t know how I’m going to feel if I win a second one or third one. That’s my first one, so I’m really happy.”

Medvedev’s run in New York also means he has qualified for the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals, to be held at the Pala Alpitour in Turin from 14-21 November.

Daniil Medvedev
Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

Djokovic Foiled
On 11 July, Djokovic had just claimed his third major title of the season on the lawns of Wimbledon and had his eyes focused on capturing the historic Golden Grand Slam ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and the US Open.

On arrival in Tokyo, Djokovic said: “I am full of confidence and motivated to represent Serbia in the best possible way. I am yearning for a medal in Tokyo, hopefully, gold, and then I’ll go to New York aiming to complete it all.”

On the court, the World No. 1 seemed to be in control as he cruised through his opening four rounds to set up a meeting against Germany’s Zverev. However, after winning the first set, Zverev roared back to end the Serbian’s Golden Grand Slam hopes, leaving WTA legend Stefanie Graf as the only player to have completed the Golden Slam (1988).

The 34-year-old looked to put this disappointment behind him at Flushing Meadows and follow in the footsteps of Rod Laver, who was the last man to have completed the Grand Slam, in 1969. After dropping the first set in four of his six matches en route to the final, the pressure finally told as he succumbed to Medvedev on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Despite his defeat, an emotional Djokovic felt the full support of the crowd during the match.

“The amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever,” Djokovic said. “That’s the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. It’s as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That’s how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special.”

Djokovic On ‘The Reason I Just Teared Up’

Zverev’s Golden Patch
Having suffered a disappointing fourth-round exit at Wimbledon to Auger-Aliassime, Zverev did not let this get him down, as he responded with his best run of the season.

On his Olympic debut in Tokyo, the 24-year-old produced dominant tennis as he dropped just one set en route to becoming the first German man to win an Olympic singles gold medal in tennis. The World No. 4 ended Novak Djokovic’s hopes of a historic Golden Grand Slam when he upset the Serbian in the last four, before dismantling Karen Khachanov in the final.

Fuelled with belief and confidence, Zverev then extended his winning streak to 11 matches when he captured his fifth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati. The German, who cruised past Andrey Rublev in the final to stretch his ATP Head2Head Series against the Russian to 5-0, had never won a match in six previous appearances at the tournament.

However, he played aggressively all week as he moved to ninth position for the most Masters 1000 titles won since the series started in 1990. Arriving at the US Open in form, the 2020 finalist was then motivated for further success as he aimed to clinch his first major title.

The fourth seed made some waves at Flushing Meadows, dropping just one set as he charged into his fourth major semi-final to set up a rematch with Djokovic. Entering that clash on the back of a 16-match winning run, Zverev took the opening set against the top seed, but was unable to sustain this level, falling in five sets meaning his wait for a first major title goes on.

Tsitsipas Soars Into Top 3
The Greek arrived in North America in second place in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin, after running up an impressive 22-4 record on clay in the spring. The question posed at the 23-year-old, therefore, was whether he could maintain this form on hard, a surface he has won four tour-level titles on. The answer? Yes.

Following a third-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics, Tsitsipas posted consistent results in Toronto and Cincinnati, enjoying runs to the semi-finals in both Masters 1000 events as he strengthened his position in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin. The seven-time tour-level champion overcame Casper Ruud in Canada before recording impressive victories over #NextGenATP stars Sebastian Korda and Auger-Aliassime, before falling to Zverev in a third-set tie-break.

The 23-year-old’s performances saw him rise to No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings prior to him competing in Cincinnati, which the Athens native saw as a ‘significant’ moment in his career.

“No. 3 is a number that is very significant and it holds a big importance,” Tsitsipas said in his pre-tournament press conference in Cincinnati. “You don’t get many exciting moments like this in your career. I saw it come out, and I felt overwhelmed by it. It kind of pushes me so much to sustain that. That was my initial goal from the beginning of the year, to make it into the top three. Now the second phase of that goal is to remain there.”

With motivation high, Tsitsipas then arrived in New York and faced former World No. 1 Andy Murray in a blockbuster opening match on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he saved two set points in the second-set tie-break to avoid going down to sets to love before advancing in five. However, for the second consecutive year, the Greek fell in the third round at the US Open when he lost to inspired #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in a five-set epic. His strong results in North America have earned the Greek a spot at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.

Felix On The Charge
Canada’s Auger-Aliassime has continued to flourish since the end of the grass-court season, with strong runs in Cincinnati and at the US Open lifting the 21-year-old into contention for a spot at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals.

The North American hard-court swing did not start as planned though, as the Canadian fell in his opening match on home soil in Toronto to Dusan Lajovic. However, Auger-Aliassime quickly put this behind him as he toppled World No. 8 Matteo Berrettini in Cincinnati to reach his second Masters 1000 quarter-final.

The World No. 15 then backed up his run to his maiden major quarter-final at Wimbledon by going one step further at the US Open, as he advanced to the last four. Auger-Aliassime combined his powerful game with grit and determination as he became the first Canadian man to reach the US Open semi-finals in the tournament’s history (since 1881) and the youngest man since Juan Martin Del Potro, 20, lifted the trophy in 2009.

After defeat to Daniil Medvedev, the 21-year-old was in reflective mood as he aims to compete in Turin at the Nitto ATP Finals.

“It’s important for sure [to qualify],” Auger-Aliassime said. “I’ve put myself in a good position to attain this goal. Now I’m going to try to push and keep my focus on my game, trying to play better, trying to play good matches every tournament. It’s very good and healthy motivation.”

Ram/Salisbury Master North America
Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury had a hard-court swing to remember in North America. In Toronto, the American-British tandem finally turned the tables on Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, as they recorded their first win in their fifth attempt against the Croatians to capture their first Masters 1000 crown as a team.

The best was yet to come though, as they clinched their second major title together at the US Open, saving four match points in their quarter-final victory over Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell en route to the trophy. This run of success has earned them the second doubles spot in the Nitto ATP Finals, where they will join Mektic and Pavic and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in Turin.

Ram & Salisbury Capture First US Open Title

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Felix Jumps To Career-High, Mover Of Week

  • Posted: Sep 13, 2021

No. 11 Felix Auger-Aliassime, +4 (Career High)
The Canadian has climbed four spots to a career-high No. 11 in the FedEx ATP Rankings after he reached his maiden major semi-final at the US Open. The 21-year-old became the first Canadian man to advance to the last four at the US Open in the tournament’s history (since 1881) and the youngest man since Juan Martin del Potro, 20, lifted the trophy in 2009. 

View Latest FedEx ATP Rankings 

No. 14 Jannik Sinner, +2 (Career High)
The #NextGenATP Italian enjoyed a run to the fourth round at the US Open for the first time, defeating Gael Monfils in a five-set epic before being stopped by World No. 4 Alexander Zverev. The 20-year-old has therefore jumped two spots to a career-high No. 14.

No. 31 Lloyd Harris, +15 (Career High)
It was a breakthrough US Open for the South African as he reached the quarter-finals at a major for the first time. The 24-year-old, who defeated Canada’s Denis Shapovalov and big-serving American Reilly Opelka en route to the last eight, has climbed 15 spots to a career-high No. 31.

No. 38 Carlos Alcaraz, +17 (Career High)
The 18-year-old has moved 17 places to No. 38 in the FedEx ATP Rankings after he became the youngest US Open quarter-finalist in the Open Era (since April 1968). The #NextGenATP Spaniard captured the biggest win of his career when he upset World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round.

Other Notable Top 100 Movers
No. 5 Andrey Rublev, + 2 (Career High)
No. 7 Matteo Berrettini, +1 (Career High)
No. 10 Casper Ruud, +1 (Career High)
No. 17 Cristian Garin, +2 (Career High)
No. 19 Reilly Opelka, +5 (Career High)
No. 23 Daniel Evans, +4 (Career High)
No. 42 Sebastian Korda, +3 (Career High)
No. 57 Lorenzo Musetti, +3 (Career High)
No. 59 Pedro Martinez, +16 (Career High)
No. 62 Botic van de Zandschulp, +55 (Career High)
No. 67 Facundo Bagnis, +13
No. 68 Kevin Anderson, +9
No. 76 Benjamin Bonzi, +18 (Career High)
No. 81 Jenson Brooksby, +18 (Career High)

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