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4-5*. 40-15. And you lose.

1 year later.

4-5*. 40-15. And, again… you lose.

It seems like a fiction story; two successive years, same tournament, same stadium, same round of the same tournament, same opponent, same day (Saturday).

This article analyses Novak Djokovic’s stunning 5-set win over Roger Federer at the US Open 2011. Djokovic and Federer both played very well, with Djokovic winning 6-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5.

Featured is text analysis with edited images for clarification and some thoughts on Federer’s rivalry with Djokovic; on the past, present, future and what, we, as viewers, can learn from professional tennis from this match.

If you haven’t already done so – I recommend reading my previous article Pushing The Boudaries, which analyses Federer’s match against Djokovic at Rolland Garros this year – much of the analysis in this match could be applied to that match; so the analysis on this article will be slightly different (and more in-depth; but with image clarification, one should have no problems understanding) to the analysis on the previous article due to the fact the analysis is being done on the same players!

Recovery Shots

Mentioned in “Pushing The Boundaries” is this –> ” with the remarkable defensive ability both players have, often the aggressive shot was counter-punched very aggressively, at times (Djokovic in particular) either player mystically lost the point after being in control of it due to the other’s remarkable defensive ability.

This describes the defensive ability of Federer and Djokovic; for them to be bullied out of controlling a rally, they have skills in defending incredibly well with their footwork, movement and technique, such that, they can not be in control of a rally, and from one amazing defensive shot, can change the whole momentum of the rally and take control of it.

This sole shot that can change the rally can be called the “recovery shot”, to turn your position of a losing position into a winning position in a rally, and in a sense, it is counter-pounching, one of the best players in the game for “recovery shots” was Lleyton Hewitt, who could be dominated in a rally and counter-punch out of nowhere and win the point.

Federer and Djokovic have taken this a level further – it is a normal part of their game, they are both aggressive baseliners, and when the opposing players attempts to take the aggression away from either by controlling the rally themselves, their aggressive defense is what helps them.

Federer and Djokovic have great defensive shots on either wing; Federer’s forehand is sensational in every category, whilst his backhand slice is one of the best when it comes to defending, Djokovic’s consistency on his backhand and the increased explosiveness with the forehand shot this year mean he is very reliable and dangerous from defense.

Both hit the ball on the rise when defending – some players prefer to stand-back when defending; both Federer and Djokovic stay up the court to console an aggressive position (will be explained later).

In the image above, Djokovic is the aggressor in the rally; he hits a DTL (down the line) backhand in an attempt to win the rally.

At this point Federer is in the losing position and must produce a forehand recovery shot to continue the rally or lose the point.

The  image shows just how dangerous Federer’s forehand can be – Djokovic seems to be in total control of the rally, Federer hits a down-the-line forehand in the black rectangle, as opposed to the theory that when you are out-side the court and are not controlling a rally (as Djokovic is in this point, with his backhand down-the-line giving him a large favour), you should hit cross-court, to an area like the white rectangle.

By being more risky – and more aggressive with his defense, Federer wrong-foots Djokovic, and now he controls the point, you can see in the image above Djokovic is off balance and looking at his racquet you can see he is only going to push/slice the ball back in play, Federer is already moving to the middle of the baseline – he has balance, and Djokovic does not.

Sufficient Depth

Either player is aggressive and looks to attack any short balls; so the biggest chance Federer or Djokovic can give to either is to deliver a short-ball, pperhaps near the service line, as opposed to deep shots.

For an effective, offensive shot, Federer should be looking for a deep, down-the-line forehand shot or a cross-court shot. Both of these shots are a) not in the middle of the court, b) nowhere near the service line, c) move Djokovic laterally on the court and d) allow Federer to recover back to the middle of the baseline for control of a very crucial point.

Instead, Federer hits a very short forehand deep inside the service line, disregarding any of the 4 (a,b,c,d) advantages listed in the description of the image previous to this. Djokovic has time to set-up his backhand, control the point from the middle of the baseline.

In this case, at such a crucial point in the set (and match), Federer should have known from experience to hit the ball much deeper, you cannot afford to give a modern baseliner like Djokovic time to hit the ball, especially as he very comfortable with his backhand; and Federer employing a pro-active style should not expect Djokovic to make a mistake; he should be aggressive, hitting near the service line against Djokovic should not be acceptable at any part of the match; but especially at such a crucial moment. A short ball allows Djokovic time to get into a good, aggressive position to attack the ball.

Djokovic hits a cross-court backhand, Federer is now forced to move laterally, from noticing that the black line indicates the middle of the baseline (desired spot for Federer and Djokovic to hit from), Federer is behind the baseline, moving away from the baseline, defending, and moving backwards. Djokovic is moving forwards.

When defending with a one handed backhand – you must defend aggressively, a player with a one handed cannot consistently, or rather, efficiently defend as well as a player with a two handed backhand when pushed to behind the baseline in a lateral fashion as Djokovic does to Federer.

This is because this takes away the advantages the one hander offers – fluidity, variety and touch, which all come from inside or near the baseline.

Federer returns another short ball to the service line and Djokovic thunders a cross-court forehand to save another set point.

It is in crucial moments like these – in the crucial rallies, points, that defending from 1 shot becomes so important. In this particular (set) point, Federer hit 2 poor defensive shots (both in the service line), this was enough for Djokovic to win the point.

To defend or to attack Djokovic in 2011 – you must consistently hit deep and not allow him to get into a rhythm when he moves you around the court, many players have quoted on how well Djokovic switches the ball from left to right in the court.

Backhand Brutality

One of the main talking points during the analysis of the Federer – Djokovic Roland Garros 2011 match was how aggressive Federer was with his backhand down-the-line; perhaps the slow conditions (compared to hard-court) allowed Federer time to rip his one hander on the Parisian courts, would the much quicker condition in Flushing Meadows make a difference?

Federer hit a superb topspin backhand down-the-line shot which caused a forced error from Djokovic to seal the first set.

Djokovic does not move to his right as he expects Federer to hit a cross-court backhand to the white rectangle; the theory supports this, as Djokovic’s return has moved Federer to the singles tramlines, thus more angle is open for the cross-court shot and the down-the-line shot is now even more risky due to the net being higher at sides than the middle.

Yet Federer hits a down-the-line backhand into the black rectangle despite being a huge distance from the baseline and registers a set point. This is an extremely risky play to make, but one that is needed to beat Djokovic from the baseline (how many times have we heard this about Nadal?).

Further-more, at such a crucial moment in the match, after losing a couple of set-points, to deliver such a breathtaking groundstroke from such a risky position to the best returner and the best defender in the game (currently), shows that Federer has an outstanding one handed backhand – perhaps not in the Haas, Kuerten or Lendl league with the topspin power, but when Federer’s ground-stroke game is on, his backhand is extremely dangerous.

His backhand punished Murray ruthlessly at the final of the 2010 Australian Open, he hit it extremely well against Nadal in Madrid and Roland Garros this year. Federer has worked on his backhand frequently since he became a professional player, comparing the grip he used on his backhand to one of his earlier career matches against Agassi to the one he is using in this [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U5rMXT2buw]video[/url], it shows a remarkable progression in technique and change in grip for the modern baseline game.

Another point here displays Federer’s superb backhand, it should be noted however, that Djokovic did the same in many points – both can attack with their backhands very well depending on the oppoonent.

Djokovic is the player in control of this rally – he is inside the baseline, hitting the ball on the rise, whilst Federer is behind the baseline and anticipating a defensive shot.

Djokovic is known for his dangerous backhand down-the-line shot, at 1*-1 15-30 down, he opts to go cross-court to Federer’s backhand – many of the top players do this when attacking Federer, because at first-sight, his backhand seems weaker than his forehand (which to an extent, it is).

However, again, at a crucial moment, Federer hits a superb down-the-line backhand passing shot. Noticing his excellent footwork in the image above helps to see just how cleanly he strikes the ball.

Losing this point, Djokovic now would face 2 break points – which is a huge danger against Federer, or any opponent who has reached a SF in a Major. Matches against the best players in the game come to close rally exchanges like these. Djokovic, who many claim has a better backhand than Federer or anyone, is and has continuously lost key backhand exchanges with Federer in Major matches – this kind of analysis is rarely, if ever, picked up by commentators, and thus is key to understanding the match-up between certain players.

The image shows just how far Federer is from the middle of the baseline (the only slightly visible ellipse); Djokovic has moved him laterally, but Federer defended aggressively by hitting through the ball. Federer deserves praise for executing such a stunning DTL backhand, but Djokovic should receive equal praise for moving Federer out of the court; few players can do so.

Cause and Effect

There wasn’t all joy with Federer’s backhand however – in the image above, Federer hits a topspin backhand to the black rectangle on Djokovic’s side, which is near the service line, allowing Djokovic huge amounts of time to prepare for a shot, which will result in the black arrow and the black rectangle on Federer’s side.

Had Federer hit a deeper backhand (to the white rectangle on Djokovic’s side), Djokovic now has not only a much more difficult shot to return – the return will not push Federer as wide as much and will more likely than not land in the service line.

It’s a game of cause and effect – hit a short shot, expect a deep return, hit a deep shot, expect a short return.

The 2 images above show Djokovic cracking a thundering forehand to Federer’s forehand, very deep in the court, and Federer making a forced error.

Had Federer hit deeper, he would have faced a much more defensive shot from Djokovic. In this instance – Federer’s aggression is beaten by Djokovic’s aggression.

Djokovic’s Agility

Even when Federer did everything right, Djokovic sometimes was too good (how many times have we heard this line used to explain Federer?).

Federer moves Djokovic out of the court (extremely) and naturally moves into the middle of the court for an expected cross-court return (black rectangle).

In Djokovic’s mind – he can be very risky and attempt to hit a down-the-line passing shot to the white rectangle, but this is very risky; and given the circumstances (Federer is facing 2 break points), it is Federer who is under pressure, not Djokovic.

Djokovic returns a sensational cross-court passing shot which dips very low (this is why Federer is bending in the photo above), Federer makes an error from the volley; but even if he made it, Djokovic is already running back.

This is one of the reasons why Djokovic is extremely hard to beat – it is hard to beat him from the net because of how fast he is to react to dropshots/volleys and how agile he is with his  passing shots.

Federer could have approached to Djokovic’s forehand – a tactic he employed at the Australian Open this year, but Djokovic’s forehand was on fire in that match and Federer was passed many, many times by Djokovic.

Djokovic’s Hip Rotation (Increase)

Djokovic here is hitting cross-court. He uses a huge amount of hip rotation in his forehand – something he did not do in the earlier part of his career. The huge amount of hip rotation means more of his body is used and he generates more power from his forehand. He uses so much rotation that it gives the illusion that he is jumping of the floor – he is not (literally).

This increased usage of hip rotation is one of the reasons his forehand has improved so much this season – he runs around his backhand more so he is hitting his forehand more during a match, as well.

How does this play to his match-up against Federer?

It means Federer cannot attack Djokovic’s forehand nearly as much as before, or look for a “rally ball” from Djokovic, it also means Federer cannot risk positioning himself to his favoured left-side of the court (running around the backhand) because Djokovic is now more lethal with his forehand and can expose his court positioning.

Early Returns

Here Djokovic serves wide to Federer’s backhand (the black rectangle). Federer hits an inside-in forehand return winner, which shows his aggressive returning ability.

Djokovic does not face this pressure on his second serve when faced against players Nadal and Murray, and can relax on his second-serves, but against aggressive returners such as Federer, he has to be careful of a poor first-serve percentage as Federer will eventually cream second serves for winners.

Djokovic had huge serving trouble in 2009 and 2010, the inclusion of Todd Martin as a part-time coach did not help, when he faced Federer in those 2 seasons, Federer had a much bigger look at his serve than he does now.

By having a higher amount of first-serves go in, Djokovic is naturally a tougher match-up for Federer.

Federer returns a serve with a top-spin backhand in the black rectangle, again this down-the-line backhand is not wide, nor deep enough to trouble Djokovic, who then has the task of crushing a forehand in the white rectangle – in which he does, and he wins the point.

Federer should have been more aggressive with his backhand down-the-line return here and on many numerous points during the match, he reaped the benefits of it when he did use his BH DTL (backhand down the line), in which he secured the first set (7-6) with a forced error from Djokovic after the Serb had to return a very powerful BH DTL, which was wide and right on the baseline.

Further-more, Federer exposed his court positioning (inside the baseline and no where near the middle of the court) by hitting short. If you are inside the baseline – already your movement in terms of defense is restricted as you have less court to “block” from the opponent to hit to, but by hitting short and to the middle of the court, you are essentially giving free points away.

With Federer at match-point, he serves a slice serve to Djokovic’s forehand in the black rectangle. Federer’s slice serve is one of the best in the men’s tour, yet Djokovic returns the ball for a winner in the white rectangle.

The next match-point, Federer missed an open-court forehand that he put away many times in the first 4 sets, and from there on, Djokovic grew stronger.

In the end, Djokovic took his chances – and Federer did not. Federer and Djokovic both played  a great match match, both strong in tactics, mental strength (Federer being able to survive and serve for the match after dropping 2 sets, Djokovic for winning the match despite being 2 sets down) and technical variety, this match was similar to the one in Paris earlier in the year.

Even when serving at 5*-3 in this match, Federer served extremely well – he served an ace to begin the game, yet with 2 match points, albeit 1 returned with “luck”, another a poor miss, he made a double-fault at 5*-3 after dropping 2 match points.

Leading

Federer lost to Berdych in Miami Masters 2010 after holding a match point, he lost to Baghdatis in Indian Wells Masters 2010 after holding a match point – these blips were a forecast for the US Open 2010 semi final and the US Open 2011 semi final, in which he has lost both times, despite holding a total of 4 match points. He has also lost to Djokovic and Tsonga in 2 Majors this year (2011) after holding a 2-set lead; never before in a Major had Federer lost after winning the first 2 sets. His ability to jump ahead after leading in a match was declined over the years.

Effects on Men’s Tour?

Certainly Federer showed how to beat Djokovic; to be aggressive, whilst not making errors. The way Federer played against Djokovic in the US Open & Roland Garros and the way Murray played against Djokovic in Rome is the pattern to follow to beat the Serbian. A mixture of incredible aggression (because of Djokovic’s amazing defensive ability) and consistency (not making errors in crucial stages) is required to beating Djokovic.

It seems that the level of play has increased on the men’s tour – from 2008 to 2009 to 2010 we had Federer and Nadal alternating around, both often in poor form (Federer in early 2008, and Nadal in late 2009); Djokovic has changed the tour slightly. He has some of Federer’s aggression whilst having Nadal’s consistency from the back of the court – he as no clear “weakness” to attack, and thus we have a world number 1 who is very much the perfect version of a modern baseliner.

Conclusion

Overall, this match was decided by how each player recovered in a rally (recovery shots); with how much depth each player hit in rallies as both are determined to hit deep and be aggressive (sufficient depth), Federer’s DTL backhand causing Djokovic trouble (surprising to some, but as this and the last piece explain, it’s a common occurrence when the two play) because he does not cover his right enough. The reaction’s players posed to each other after poor shots was crucial; would Federer be more aggressive on a short ball than Djokovic on a short-ball? Djokovic’s superb agility and increased hip rotation on his forehand was matched by Federer’s early returns, which put pressure on Djokovic’s first serve.

Federer should have won this and the match last year – it was his play that brought him to match point initially, not Djokovic. Yet the Serbian’s resilient defensive ability, combined with aggressive returning and offensive play when under extreme pressure, and Federer’s ground-strokes breaking down at the most important moment in the match (5*-3, 40-30, forehand, mid-court), this perhaps explain how this loss happened.

Djokovic later admitted he had his eyes closed whilst making the shot and was lucky, while Federer could not fathom how Djokovic made the shot at such a crucial moment. It seems that beauty does indeed, walk on razor’s edge. In the first 2 sets, Federer’s beautiful, smooth, free-flowing game took him ahead whilst in the next 2 sets it was Djokovic’s beautiful, aggressive and consistent play from both wings that put him back on the match. In the end, a thunderbolt return from the Serbian was enough to tip Federer over the edge.

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5 Comments

  1. Excellent analysis. I think I’m going to have to re-read this a few more times to get the full effect.

  2. This analysis sums it up really well.
    Thanx for the effort.

    As you wrote, Federer should have win this.
    But he made a lot of little mistakes you described really well on this analysis.

    Tennislovalova from tt forum

  3. Nice analysis. I really enjoyed reading it. Bringing up the US Open and comparing it to the Wimbledon is very smart.

    Thanks for the info.

  4. This is an excellent analysis. Not sure whether you’re still actively updating the blog, but I’d love to see an analysis of Murray v Federer at Wimbledon this year – what Murray was able to do right in the first two sets and how the match changed when the roof came into use.

  5. Great insight analysis. Brilliant.


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  1. By Destination Unknown « Tennis Analysis on 30 Jul 2012 at 1:21 am

    […] facing Federer. Murray did not face great returners on his path nor did he face players with great recovery shots, i.e. players who could get themselves out of a defensive position in a […]

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