Micro Not Macro Match Analysis
Djokovic vs Medvedev
This is the start of a new series called ‘Micro Not Macro’. It’s long been known in tennis that a small number of points in any match are far more important than the many. In this series I’ll be focusing in on a few particularly vital parts of matches, the influential points and periods of play that largely determined a certain result. This series will feature a mix of both men’s and women’s analysis and will be sent out whenever there are some interesting moments in notable matches. A few other examples of what to expect, here and here.
Djokovic d Medvedev: 7-5, 6-2, 6-2
First, The Macro:
Djokovic both served and returned better than his opponent, which against this version of Medvedev is not a trivial feat. This helped him win the majority of the valuable shorter points (0-4 shots: Djokovic won 50 to Medvedev’s 39).
Medvedev's 1st Serve Points Won This Tournament:
78% vs Pospisil
86% vs Carballés Baena
77% vs Krajinović
78% vs McDonald
80% vs Rublev
88% vs Tsitsipas
Today vs Djokovic? 69% (34/49)
Medvedev predictably fared even worse on 2nd serve points won: 37% or 9/28, and generally couldn’t work out what he wanted to do with that shot, between softer kick serves or trying to hit two first serves. Novak had every option covered.
Djokovic managed to chop down the usual tree that is Medvedev’s serving advantage expertly in this match, regularly putting 1st serve returns back in play, which would have gone down as un-returnables or aces against any other opponent, and forcing Medvedev into playing extra balls.
Medvedev (in post-match press): “The game that I lost at the start of the first set, I wasn’t tight, but he broke me even though I hit all my first serves in. Last point in the set, I also served good, but he returned stretching, I put it in the net, set done.”
The Russian meeting a similar fate as many of Novak’s opponents on a hard court.
When it came to his own serve, Djokovic brilliantly mixed up his spots to leave Medvedev guessing, and exploited the Russian’s deep return position with a never predictable mix of angles out wide and bigger T serves. Novak, aside from a brief wobble in set 3 in terms of 2nd serve speed, also averaged 97mph on that 2nd delivery, hitting spots that occasionally made that shot nearly as hard to return as his 1st serve. This combination kept Medvedev at bay on return for decent chunks of the match.
— Djokovic’s very even spread of 1st serve direction. Medvedev, even from his deep position was often forced to guess.
As for general rally strategy, Djokovic’s backhand predictably stood up to Medvedev’s backhand (his strength) more ably than any of Medvedev’s earlier opponents this tournament. This enabled Novak to more often than not be the first player to proactively change direction down the line, especially attacking Medvedev’s weaker forehand wing (14 unforced errors) and also very effectively spinning the ball out wide cross court, or inside in, from his own forehand when he had even a sliver of extra time on the ball. Novak also won 16/18 net points, although as impressive as the occasional serve and volley (2/2) and net rush were, many of these tended to come when already ahead in games or in non-pressure moments.
The most interesting parts of this match happened in the games where Medvedev was broken thanks to some brilliant Djokovic returning, and also in contrast a select few games where Djokovic felt a bit of pressure on his own serve in the form of Medvedev half-chances, but then managed to escape. This is the story of those important points.
1-0* 1st set (BREAK): Medvedev broken in his first service game of the match: He makes all 6 first serves, Djokovic puts them all back in play with only one of them offering Medvedev an opportunity for a comfortable 1-2 punch (most of them also went to Medvedev’s forehand, his unusually weaker wing). Simply way too good returning-wise from Novak.
— Djokovic forcing Medvedev to play a slightly cramped forehand as his shot post-serve with his trademark ability to play safe, ie not flirting with sidelines, but deep returns.
4-4 in 1st set, 0-15 (HALF-CHANCE). This was an important part of the match because the two players were still extremely evenly matched at this point. Medvedev opened up a 0-15 hole in Novak’s serve after a long point, and then looked to make it 0-30. But even with the help of a quite slow Djokovic 2nd serve Medvedev committed this backhand unforced error. This kind of mistake from Medvedev, on a half-chance in a rare-ish window of opportunity in a Djokovic service game, would become a bit of a theme:
5*-6 in 1st set (BREAK): Medvedev serving to stay in 1st set. Djokovic pounces on two Medvedev 2nd serves to go up 0-30, but it’s the 1st serve return again at 0-30 which steals the show here:
— This is one of those serves that no one else on tour is getting back and forcing a tough-ish 2nd shot. Medvedev hits pretty much exactly where he’s aiming on this delivery, 130mph right down the T, deep in the service box, but Novak’s incredible strength and flexibility at full stretch somehow puts the ball back in play. Yes the Medvedev backhand drive volley should have been better, and yes the Djokovic backhand pass is good, but it was putting the return in play at all, with added scoreboard pressure of 0-30, which did the damage to Medvedev here. Way too good.
Djokovic converts his 3rd set point in that 6-5* game and takes a one set lead. That set turned out to be huge as it was the only sustained period of the match which was very closely matched. Closing it out allowed Novak a certain degree of freedom and confidence in sets 2 & 3 which may not have come quite so easily had he lost it. Djokovic’s return performance in the 2nd and 11th games, and Medvedev’s inability to pressure Novak’s serve at 4-4, were key.
1*-0 2nd Set (DJOKOVIC BREAK): Medvedev serving up a break after Djokovic had a bit of a physical dip to start the 2nd set. But Djokovic hits back with some big 2nd serve returns rushing Medvedev’s 2nd shot post-serve, and another wonderful Djokovic 1st serve return at 30-30 to bring up the break back point (which he converts):
— Another big Medvedev T serve, another laser like Djokovic return onto the Russian’s baseline.
1-1 2nd set (MEDVEDEV HALF-CHANCES): Medvedev furiously fighting to get a foothold in this match opens up a 15-30 hole on the Djokovic serve. He hits a great 1st serve return into Djokovic’s baseline to set up a mid court forehand, but makes a forehand unforced error into the net. Opportunity for 15-40 and then 30-40 missed:
Then again at 30-30 Medvedev gets a good return in play but commits an unusual backhand unforced error:
Buoyed by the tough hold, Djokovic could then go on the attack once again. Interestingly at this point in the match Djokovic had made 21 sprints with 20 high intensity changes of direction, covering 0.91km’s. Medvedev had run about the same distance but had made 26 sprints and 45 high intensity changes of direction. As a result there were visible giveaways that Medvedev was the more tired of the two players for now. Having to do more work than he’d like on serve and not taking his fleeting chances on return.
2-1* 2nd Set (DJOKOVIC BREAK) Djokovic starts the game out with yet another fantastic 1st serve return right onto Medvedev’s baseline, going onto win another lung busting rally thanks to completely erasing Medvedev’s serving advantage:
Thanks to Novak compounding his opponents tiredness with such a brutal first point of the game, a ragged looking Medvedev is broken with some good 2nd serve returns from Novak and Medvedev unforced errors.
4*-2 2nd Set (MEDVEDEV HALF-CHANCE) Medvedev starts this return game off well, opening up a 0-15 hole with a long rally and has this opportunity to go 0-30 up, but can’t do enough with the either attempted pass (good volley stab from Djokovic though):
Medvedev pushes Djokovic to deuce in this game but an extremely timely unreturnable T serve gets Novak out of the game. The Russian then plays a loose, rushed service game, clearly still frustrated after that last game, and is broken for 2-6. Djokovic only one set away.
0-0 3rd Set (MEDVEDEV CHANCES). Medvedev once again starts the set out very brightly, and Novak a bit slow. A Djokovic double fault opens up 0-15 and a series of great Medvedev forehands sets up 0-30. Djokovic initially responds well with an unreturnable serve for 15-30, but then double faults to hand Medvedev two break points at 15-40. This is what happens next:
— Djokovic hits his weakest 2nd serve of the match (81mph and short in the box) and yet Medvedev doesn’t make him pay, offering up perhaps his cheapest error of the night. First BP gone.
— Great serve from Djokovic to save the 2nd break point. Pressure erased.
Djokovic held & broke Medvedev in the very next game for a 2-0 lead after two double faults from the Russian, and more good returning from Novak. Outwardly the damage looked like it came in the 2nd game as Medvedev was broken, but in truth it was done in that first game of the 3rd, with Medvedev visibly frustrated not to have broken and resultantly rushing his service game.
4*-2 3rd Set (MEDVEDEV HALF-CHANCES): Medvedev’s last stand. The Russian shows some final signs of life, opening up yet another 15-30 hole on the Djokovic serve with some booming groundstrokes and good returns. But Djokovic’s response is absolutely flawless this time. Firstly an unreturnable serve for 30-30:
And then a line licking Djokovic backhand, after Medvedev had thrown a forehand shaped kitchen sink at Novak earlier in the rally, to force an error from Medvedev:
Big point play at its finest from Djokovic, who for the nth time in the match had dealt with the dicey 15-30, 30-30 moments far, far better than his opponent.
5-2* 3rd Set (DJOKOVIC BREAK): If that 4*-2 game was Medvedev’s last stand, then that Djokovic serve and backhand combo were the mortal blow. Although for good measure Novak did then have time to rub salt in the wound by reminding Medvedev of one of the keys to the match a game later: a bruising 1st serve return helping him convert championship point…
- Yet another devastatingly deep 1st serve return from Djokovic, yet another point in his favour. A fitting way to close out his 9th Australian Open title
Medvedev this tournament, and on hard court in general, has regularly been able to get himself out of sticky situations via booming serves. The problem today was not that he wasn’t landing those usually devastating 1st serves. He was. It was simply that they weren’t having the same effect against the best returner this sport has seen. There were three distinct and decisive moments (outlined above), one in each set, where Djokovic set up break point on Medvedev’s serve with astonishingly good returns. Three distinct and decisive moments where Medvedev would have stood a chance at erasing that pressure against pretty much anyone else with a swift swing of his trusty serve. But no one has ever negated serving advantage on a hard court quite like Djokovic.
This match was also a masterclass from the world No.1 in how to capitalise on opponent’s moments of weakness. And an equivalent lesson for Medvedev that he couldn’t match Novak in that same area. The contest featured plenty of influential 0-15, 0-30, 15-30, 30-30 holes in each others serves, and yet Medvedev won practically none of the points that mattered. This was thanks to a mixture of clutch serving, backhands and returns from Djokovic, and some unfortunate missed groundstrokes from Medvedev.
Finally, while these were ‘unforced’ Medvedev errors in some of the aforementioned moments, Djokovic was playing so well for most of the match that those half-chances (and that’s really all they were for the most part, aside from the 0-0 game in the 3rd set) must have felt extremely high-stakes and hard to grip onto for the Russian, who had had to do significantly more physical work than Novak in the build up to many of those key points. A hybrid, somewhere in the middle of ‘unforced’ and ‘forced’ errors, is probably more accurate for some of those crucial junctures, which happens to be a recurring theme when faced with the mammoth task of trying to beat one of the Big 3 in a slam final - still one of the deepest moats in all of sport.
Congratulations to Novak, a brilliant performance regardless of whether you zoom in or out of the match.
You can find me on Twitter @MattRacquet.
// Looking for more?
The Modernisation Of Tennis: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/the-modernisation-of-tennis
Analysis of the Nadal Medvedev US Open Final Final: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/the-racquet-the-5th-set
Tsitsipas Slice Analysis:
Great analysis. One of the biggest reasons I am a Djokovic fan is that I consider him tennis's ultimate problem solver. And that includes causing problems for his opponent, as you've thoroughly detailed here. Every tennis opponent is a puzzle to be solved, and Djokovic handles that task better than anyone.
I enjoy your analyses. I've been studying forced errors and the combinations that yield them. It's interesting how much the deep middle backhand 'box' is attacked. I'd be curious how often aggressive shots to that 'safe zone' are returned to the forehand or with less velocity. If returned to the forehand side, oftentimes the next shot is to the deep crosscourt forehand 'box', then back again to DMB box. Novak seems to cycle through that box throughout matches, setting up combinations with it depending on the opponent's strengths and weaknesses.