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Why Novak's 'Hard Slider' Is Paying Big Dividends

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Why Novak’s ‘Hard Slider’ Is Paying Big Dividends

Djokovic targets the forehand on second serve

Second serves to the forehand.

Players typically stay away from this higher-risk strategy and kick the second serve to the less potent backhand return.

Not Novak Djokovic. Not by a long shot.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of 41 matches against right-handed opponents this season shows that Djokovic actually prefers to hit second serves to the forehand wing. By going against the grain, he collects more second-serve aces, extracts significantly more return errors and wins a higher percentage of second-serve points overall.

Opponents are sitting on a heavy kick to the backhand return. A hard slider to the forehand is what comes at them more often than not. Djokovic hit 55 per cent (382/690) of his second serves at the forehand corners versus backhand corners in both service boxes, while opponents only hit 26 per cent (164/622) to the forehand corners against him. Interestingly, Djokovic served more to the backhand return against left-handers.

Djokovic is leading the Tour in 2023 with second-serve points won at 57.91 per cent (816/1409). It’s his third-highest season total after 2015 (60.2%) and 2013 (59.61%). Directing second serves out wide in the Deuce court and down the T in the Ad court is powering these Tour-leading match metrics as much as anything else.

Deuce Court: Second Serves Wide To The Forehand Return
The numbers that show the difference in how well Djokovic utilises the wide second serve compared to his opponents are dramatic.

Second Serves: Deuce Court Wide

Direction – Deuce Court Wid Novak Djokovic  Opponents
Made 174 60
Won 75% (130) 50% (30)
Aces 4 1
Return Errors Extracted 50 11
% Return Errors Extracted 29% 18%

The performance gap is staggering. Djokovic goes to this location almost three times as much as his opponents (174-60) and has won 100 more points (130-30). He extracts an error when targeting this location 29 per cent (50/174) of the time. His opponents only benefit from a return error 18 per cent (11/60) of the time.

One of Djokovic’s superpowers appears hidden in plain sight.

Ad Court: Second Serves T To The Forehand Return
Serving second serves down the T in the Ad court also clearly catches opponents off guard.

Direction – Ad Court T Novak Djokovic Opponents
Made 208 104
Won 70% (146) 50% (52)
Aces 13 1
Return Errors Extracted 41 18
% Return Errors Extracted 20% 17%

Djokovic collected 13 aces to this specific location, while opponents only managed a solitary ace. Djokovic won precisely 100 more points (130-30) than his opponents in the Deuce court out wide and won almost 100 more (146-52) with the slider down the T in the Ad court.

At some stage, you would think opponents should pick up on this surprise serve and shut it down. But Djokovic has been employing variations of this strategy for several seasons, and he keeps taking it to new levels. The reasons why it works so well are four-fold.

1. Djokovic wins the mental game of surprising his opponent. He reads the opponent’s mind better than they do of him. He knows when they are not expecting it.
2. The larger size of the forehand return backswing can be immediately attacked.
3. He hits this specific serve considerably faster than his regular kick second serve to the backhand. Multiple speeds to multiple directions create confusion in opponents’ minds.
4. He receives more Serve +1 forehands. He hit 50 per cent (473/945) Serve +1 forehands in these matches behind second serves, winning 57 per cent (271/473). Opponents only hit 44 per cent (514/1171) Serve +1 forehands, also winning just 44 per cent (227/514).

Djokovic’s favourite second-serve location appears to be a mystery to his opponents. He backs himself against their perceived strength by taking advantage of multiple weaknesses.

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Fritz Withdraws From Paris Before Second-Round Match

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Fritz Withdraws From Paris Before Second-Round Match

American dealing with an abdominal strain

Taylor Fritz withdrew from the Rolex Paris Masters on Tuesday due to an abdominal strain. The withdrawal puts his hopes of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals in jeopardy.

The American, who was not scheduled to play Tuesday, advanced to the second round on Monday with a straight-sets win over Sebastian Baez, but received treatment during the second set on his abdominal region.

“It’s something that’s been bothering me for a little bit… I didn’t think it was anything too bad going in [to this match], but one where I slid out and sliced that forehand, I felt like I did something that I had never done to it before,” Fritz said after the match. “Like maybe I tore something or pulled it. So I’m going to have to get it checked out and see what’s going on.”

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Fritz trails eighth-placed Holger Rune by 190 points in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. The American is still entered in next week’s Sofia Open, where if he recovers physically and wins the title, he could earn 250 points. However, if Rune defeats Dominic Thiem in the Paris second round, Fritz will be eliminated from Turin contention.

The player Fritz was set to face next, Daniel Altmaier, won his first-round match against Arthur Fils earlier Tuesday. The German will play the winner of Rune and Thiem in the third round.

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Djokovic Presents Women's Ballon d'Or, Catches Up With Beckham

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Djokovic Presents Women’s Ballon d’Or, Catches Up With Beckham

Serbian set to chase seventh Paris-Bercy title

Novak Djokovic is returning to action this week at the Rolex Paris Masters, but first he took advantage of cool opportunities off the court in Paris.

On Monday evening, the Serbian presented the Women’s Ballon d’Or award to Spaniard Aitana Bonmati.

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Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Djokovic enjoyed the evening and even caught up with David Beckham, who is the co-owner of Inter Miami, the club for which Men’s Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi plays.

Before taking to the football spotlight, Djokovic enjoyed the final of the Rugby World Cup between South Africa and New Zealand.

On Tuesday, the 36-year-old will take to the doubles court alongside countryman Miomir Kecmanovic against Gonzalo Escobar and Aleksandr Nedovyesov. He will open his singles event against Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry.

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Zverev Moves Closer To Turin Qualification, Hurkacz Advances In Paris

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Zverev Moves Closer To Turin Qualification, Hurkacz Advances In Paris

German chasing third trophy of season

Alexander Zverev looked as if he was going to miss the chance to fully cement his Nitto ATP Finals qualification claims after 40 minutes of play on Tuesday at the Rolex Paris Masters.

Two hours later and the German’s position in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin became comfortable again after he rallied past Hungarian qualifier Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 to reach the second round in Paris.

“It was just one or two points [that made the difference],” Zverev said. “He was playing incredibly well and tactically I think he was unbelievable… His slice was effective as I did not know what to do on this surface here. It was a very difficult match and I am happy to be through. I found my level and I am happy with that.”

Zverev recovered from a slow start at the ATP Masters 1000 event in France, where he won 63 per cent (15/24) of his first-serve points in the opening set. He recovered well, improving on serve as the match went on to earn his 52nd tour-level win of the year after two hours and 40 minutes.

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Zverev is currently seventh in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin on 3,540 points, 430 points ahead of ninth-placed Hubert Hurkacz, who is just outside the Top 8 cut. The 26-year-old is aiming to make his sixth appearance at the prestigious year-end event, having triumphed in 2018 and 2021.

The World No. 9 will continue the quest for his third trophy of the year against Ugo Humbert after the Frenchman beat Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-3.

Hurkacz kept alive his Turin hopes with a hard-fought 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3 win against American Sebastian Korda. The Pole failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, while he squandered a match point at 6/5 in the second-set tie-break. However, he recovered in the decider to earn victory after two hours and eight minutes.

Hurkacz, who is aiming to make his second appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals (2021), captured his second ATP Masters 1000 title in Shanghai earlier this month. The 26-year-old will next meet Roberto Bautista Agut.

In other action, Tomas Martin Etcheverry saved one match point en route to defeating Miomir Kecmanovic 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, while Dusan Lajovic beat Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi 7-5, 6-3.

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Opelka Makes Return On ATP Challenger Tour; How To Watch

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Opelka Makes Return On ATP Challenger Tour; How To Watch

The 26-year-old opens against Sandgren

Reilly Opelka is set to return to action for the first time in 15 months at this week’s ATP Challenger Tour 75 event in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The 26-year-old, who has been sidelined with a hip and wrist injury, will meet Tennys Sandgren on Tuesday in the opening round of the Jonathan Fried Pro Challenger, Opelka’s first tournament since August 2022.

A four-time tour-level titlist, Opelka enjoyed a career-best season in 2022 before suffering injury. The 6’11” American claimed two titles and reached a career-high No. 17 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in February 2022.

Fans can visit Challenger TV to watch all ATP Challenger Tour matches live and on demand at no cost. At the indoor hard-court event in Charlottesville, Opelka and Sandgren will follow seventh seed Denis Kudla and Chris Rodesch, who are scheduled to play at 4pm ET.

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Thiem Saves MP, Stuns Wawrinka In Paris

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Thiem Saves MP, Stuns Wawrinka In Paris

Former World No. 3 will next play defending champ Rune

Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka did not play for six and a half years entering their clash Monday evening at the Rolex Paris Masters, but the return of their Lexus ATP Head2Head rivalry proved well worth the wait.

Thiem saved a match point at 3-5 in the third set before rallying past his fellow former World No. 3 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 for a place in the second round. The tantalising encounter between two of the best one-handed backhands in recent memory ultimately ended after two hours and 31 minutes at 2:22 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“It’s very nice to share a great and close match like that with Stan because we have a history together of many great matches,” Thiem said. “Obviously he’s one of my big idols backhand wise.”

While Thiem hit highlight-reel shots throughout the match, especially with jaw-dropping passing shots, it was Wawrinka who was first on the verge of victory. The Swiss held match point at 5-3, 40/30 in the decider, but double-faulted long. It was one of six double faults he hit in the match.

Thiem took full advantage of the small opening, getting back on serve when Wawrinka missed a forehand long. In what turned into a battle of wills, the Austrian broke again in his next return game and did not let slip his opportunity to close out the match.

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When Wawrinka missed a final forehand return long, Thiem held his arms out in celebration and took a deep breath, a sign of how much the moment meant. The victory was his first at a hard-court ATP Masters 1000 event since the 2019 Rolex Paris Masters.

“The last two years I have lost more close matches than I have won, so this one is very, very important for me. The tennis has been getting better since Vienna. I beat two great guys in the qualies and now Stan in a match after saving match point, so it gives me a huge boost.”

The No. 108 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, who is continuing his pursuit of top form after suffering a wrist injury in June 2021, will next play defending champion Holger Rune. The pair met earlier this year in Monte-Carlo, where the Dane prevailed in straight sets.

Did You Know?
Thiem saved 10 of the 13 break points he faced and converted four of his five break chances on Wawrinka’s serve.

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Adapt For Alcaraz: Safiullin's Biggest Test Yet

  • Posted: Oct 31, 2023

Adapt For Alcaraz: Safiullin’s Biggest Test Yet

World No. 45 will play Alcaraz in Paris second round

Fifteen months ago, Roman Safiullin had never cracked the Top 100 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Now the World No. 45, he will face one of his biggest challenges yet on Tuesday at the Rolex Paris Masters against Carlos Alcaraz.

Having played Novak Djokovic in last year’s Tel Aviv semi-finals, Safiullin has gone from outside the Top 100 to consistently competing against the best players in the world.

“For this year, I made different preparation. So during the season, we changed maybe two or three times the preparation for tournaments, and it worked very well. For the next year, we’re going to change something and adapt to be even better,” Safiullin told ATP Podcast. “Like training schedule, training hours, fitness, tennis, physio, everything. We were mixing it up regarding the time and quality, everything.

“So we were changing, adapting, see what’s working, what doesn’t work. And slowly we were finding the solution which worked the best.”

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In short, Safiullin explained that it is important for him to focus on “better quality work than quantity”. That strategy has paid dividends. In 2023, Safiullin has earned more tour-level wins (19) than he had previously claimed in his career (12).

Next up he will try to secure the best win of his career in the Bercy second round against World No. 2 Alcaraz. It would be the biggest win of his career by Pepperstone ATP Ranking.

It has already been a year of firsts for Safiullin, who advanced to his maiden major quarter-final at Wimbledon before making his first ATP Tour final in Chengdu.

“It showed we are working in the right way. And by the ranking, by the game, it’s improving. Quarter-final of Wimbledon is really my best result in the Tour and Grand Slams as well,” Safiullin said. “It was a nice to play there and it was my first attempt in the grass-court season because once I played just once Wimbledon then another season I played one tournament on grass. And this season I played three tournaments before Wimbledon on grass and Wimbledon was great.”

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Getting To Know Roman Safiullin

Safiullin is no stranger to some of the best players in the world. The former junior No. 2 grew up with the likes of Andrey Rublev, but did not ascend the Pepperstone ATP Rankings nearly as quickly.

“I had many problems regarding my health. I had big injuries and after big injuries, it’s tough to come back and especially if it’s something like a wrist, shoulder or something like hip, I don’t know,” Safiullin said, referencing how injury has affected the likes of Dominic Thiem, a major champion. “My highest position before injury, it was 315, 325. Let’s say after the injuries, I had to start all over again, and then these guys are working every day while I was not able to work.

“So let’s say everyone has a different life and I had a harder life. But still, I made it and hopefully I will be improving and improving and catch up with them in Top 10.”

The 26-year-old has prospered under the guidance of former World No. 39 Andrey Kuznetsov, whose playing experience has proven valuable for Safiullin.

“A lot of advice, because he used to be also a Top 50 guy and he knows many things like how to play, how to act on court, off court. Also some coaching advice. I can’t say it here, but regarding my game, he’s also helping a lot,” Safiullin said. “And the second coach, [Adrian Noerstenaes], is also more kind of a positive guy and he gives these energies when we travel in tournaments. They are completely different guys, but I always feel better to travel with them.”

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Medvedev Tops ATP 500 Bonus Pool For 2023

  • Posted: Oct 30, 2023

Medvedev Tops ATP 500 Bonus Pool For 2023

World No. 3 won 500 titles in Rotterdam, Dubai

Daniil Medvedev finished runner-up in the Erste Bank Open final Sunday but still left Vienna a winner after topping the inaugural ATP 500 bonus pool standings for the 2023 season.

Implemented this year as part of ATP’s OneVision strategy, the bonus pool distributes $1.3 million to eligible players who earned the most Pepperstone ATP Rankings points at the ATP 500 level, which comprises 13 events.

Boosted by titles early in the season in Rotterdam and Dubai, and a runner-up finish to Jannik Sinner in Sunday’s Vienna final, Medvedev earned more points than any other player this year at the ATP 500 level.

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World No. 3 Medvedev moved past Carlos Alcaraz into first place of the bonus pool during his run to the Vienna final. The 20-time ATP Tour champion will receive a $600,000 bonus. Other players to finish in the top five of the bonus pool – Alcaraz, Sinner, Alexander Zverev and Alex de Minaur – will share $700,000 in bonus pool prize money.

“I’ve had an amazing season on many levels, but the 500s have been pretty amazing. I got a lot of points and good wins against great players,” Medvedev said.

“I started the year very strongly by winning the first two 500s I played in Rotterdam and Dubai, so that opened a big gap on a lot of players and I have managed to finish strong at the end here in Vienna.”

To be eligible for the bonus pool, a player must have played four ATP 500 tournaments in 2023, including one following the US Open.

“The 500s are a very important part of the Tour and you know they are going to be strong tournaments because of the points,” Medvedev said. “You win two and it’s the same as winning a Masters 1000 and almost like being in the final of a Slam.

“There was one moment in my career when I didn’t have a good record at 500s for whatever reason, but now I’m changing it.”

Medvedev is also in strong contention to finish atop the ATP Masters 1000 bonus pool, which will distribute $20m to the Top 30 eligible players, based on Pepperstone ATP Rankings points earned at the nine ATP Masters 1000 tournaments and Nitto ATP Finals. Medvedev currently sits second in the bonus pool, just 90 points behind Alcaraz.

Final standings in the ATP Masters 1000 bonus pool will be determined following this week’s Rolex Paris Masters, and the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin from 12-19 November.

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Fritz Keeps Alive Turin Hopes With Opening Win In Paris

  • Posted: Oct 30, 2023

Fritz Keeps Alive Turin Hopes With Opening Win In Paris

American downs Baez despite struggling with left abdomen issue

Taylor Fritz delivered a clinical display to keep alive his Nitto ATP Finals qualification hopes on Monday at the Rolex Paris Masters.

The ninth-seeded American wrapped a 6-1, 6-4 first-round triumph against Sebastian Baez at the ATP Masters 1000 event in the French capital. Fritz converted all three break points he earned to improve to 54-23 for the season and set a second-round meeting with #NextGenATP home favourite Arthur Fils or Daniel Altmaier.

“I’m pretty happy, especially with how the match started in the first set,” said Fritz, whose best Paris result is a quarter-final run in 2021. “I got an early break of serve in the second and luckily I was just able to hold on serve and finish it up.”

However, it was not all plain sailing on Monday for Fritz, who received treatment from the physio mid-way through the second set on his left abdomen. The 25-year-old spoke candidly after the match about the issue and he will hope it is nothing too serious as he next looks to move past Fils or Altmaier to set a potential third-round showdown with his Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin rival Holger Rune.

“It’s something that’s been bothering me for a little bit… I didn’t think it was anything too bad going in [to this match], but one where I slid out and sliced that forehand, I felt like I did something that I had never done to it before,” said Fritz. “Like maybe I tore something or pulled it. So I’m going to have to get it checked out and see what’s going on.”

With Monday’s win, Fritz moved above Hubert Hurkacz into ninth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. He is currently 190 points behind the defending Paris champion Rune as he chases a second straight appearance at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals.

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