Djokovic d Berrettini: 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3
First off I’m just going to quickly go over how much more of a step up this match was for Berrettini, in relation to his previous rounds, compared to Djokovic:
Djokovic performance today compared to pre-final:
I’ve highlighted some of the more important categories, or the categories with the biggest changes. As you can see above, Djokovic, aside from a 10% drop off in 1st serve return performance — totally understandable against the Berrettini serve — really didn’t find the final significantly more difficult than his average opponent this tournament. Novak even managed to post his best 2nd serve return performance (62%!) of the tournament and a lower than tournament average unforced error rate (more on this below), in the final.
Novak did also lose some %’s on unreturned 1st serves and ace rate vs Berrettini, but firstly he doesn’t need his serve to be point ending as badly as Berrettini does, and secondly Berrettini’s reach means that he’ll always dent ace numbers as a returner. Neither metric that important today.
In stark contrast…
Berrettini performance today compared to pre-final:
For Berrettini, Djokovic represented a completely different level of opponent compared to his run to the final. The Italian’s 1st serve held up pretty well, and he managed to hit more rally winners per game, but just about every other performance category got completely cratered by the brilliance of Djokovic. A couple of highlights:
Berrettini’s 2nd serve points won performance didn’t drop below 50% once this tournament pre-final. Against Djokovic it was 38%.
Berrettini hit 38% more unforced errors per game compared to his pre final average, and more than double the rate compared to his semi-final against Hurkacz.
Berrettini hit 11% fewer unreturned 1st serves and 18% fewer unreturned 2nd serves against Djokovic compared to previous opponents. This meant that Berrettini was having to play many more rallies in which his serve had been semi or fully neutralised.
So let’s take a look at how and why Djokovic was able to make such a large dent in Berrettini’s game.
Berrettini’s Serve + 1
Berrettini wants to hit as many forehands as his follow up shot to his serve (if Novak makes a return) as possible . This is how he fared today:
The easiest summary of the above is that predictably Berrettini got to hit his forehand 82% of the time when he landed a (non-point-ending) first serve, and just 43% of the time on 2nd serve. But the real takeaway from this is that the only scenario where Berrettini was winning more points than he was losing was when he got to hit forehands after a big first serve. Every other serving scenario was a losing one for the Italian.
These are the outcomes ranked by how often they happened (not including unreturned serves/aces):
(40 points) Berrettini hits a first serve and gets to play a forehand as a follow up shot: 55% win rate ✅.
(31 points) Berrettini hits a 2nd serve and hits a backhand as a follow up shot: 35% win rate ❌.
(23 points) Berrettini hits a 2nd serve and hits a forehand as a follow up shot: 30% win rate ❌.
(9 points) Berrettini hits a first serve and plays a backhand as a follow up shot: 33% win rate ❌.
Even if Berrettini landed his 1st serve and got to hit a forehand, he was only winning just over half of those points. And in every other scenario he was usually dead in the water.
Unfortunately for the Italian, on the points that mattered most today i.e the break points, he couldn’t find his 1st serve anywhere near as reliably as Djokovic:
Berrettini hitting more 2nd serves than 1st serves when facing break points today, and facing more than double the number of break points overall compared to Djokovic.
The biggest reason for Berrettini’s greater than usual struggle on serve in this final should come as no surprise to anyone. Djokovic, the greatest returner that has ever played the game, regularly stripped Berrettini of his serving advantage and got to work targeting the Berrettini backhand as rallies extended. Novak expertly moved the match away from his opponent’s strengths wherever possible, and into his own comfort zones.
Once Djokovic had neutralised some of Berrettini’s serves, he set about exploiting the Berrettini backhand. Endlessly trading cross-court, backhand to backhand until either Berrettini offered up the error, or Djokovic got a ball he could attack:
Berrettini’s 2nd serve strategy this grass court season has served him particularly well, contributing to his Queens title and Wimbledon final runs. Fast, 108-111mph 2nd serves (Berrettini has one of the highest avg 2nd serve speeds on tour right now), central into the returner’s body, that usually rush the opponent and offer up mistakes or short replies. Pre-final, 28% of Berrettini’s 2nd serves never came back. Against Djokovic though, who can elastically contort his body to thwart body serves like no one else, this strategy was left largely limp throughout the match (Djokovic put 90% of Berrettini’s 2nd serves back in play):
Djokovic got a better and better read on the Berrettini serve as the match wore on, the Italian’s serving advantage waned, rallies got more frequent, and Novak looked more comfortable as his opponent’s biggest crutch (serve) was slowly eroded away.
Average rally length by set:
1st set: 3.52
2nd set: 3.54
3rd set: 3.86
4th set: 4.14
Djokovic served effectively today for large portions of the match (after the blip in set 1), especially when it mattered. The Serb essentially had win-win situations on serve when it came to placement and his follow up 2-4 shot range. On 1st serve, Djokovic mixed it up close to 50-50 on wide and T serves on both sides:
Djokovic won close to 80% of points in each placement option above. This should come as little surprise considering he’d been posting the best 1st serve performance numbers of his Wimbledon career this fortnight. The final against Berrettini was no different.
But on 2nd serve Djokovic did something really interesting. Novak’s 1st serve speed average in the final was right in line with previous rounds at 115mph. But his 2nd serve average dropped off from 94mph to 88mph, 6mph slower. Commentators kept on remarking on this, how Berrettini wasn’t doing enough on the returns considering how slow some of Djokovic’s 2nd serves were, but there’s a decent chance this was intentional. On the AD side in particular Novak would usually roll low pace kickers out to the Berrettini backhand to force the Italian to generate his own pace with his weakest shot:
AD 2nd serves by Djokovic
30% wide to Berrettini backhand
48% body (all but two found Berrettini’s backhand)
Djokovic won 62% of his 2nd serve points on this AD side (compared to just 39% on the deuce side). Largely because he found the Berrettini backhand return with ease, and basically slow-balled him. Here are a few examples:
All of the above meant that Djokovic really didn’t have a particularly tough time on serve today. Novak’s 1st serve was dominant as usual and his 2nd serves, on the all important AD side, either coaxed errors from Berrettini, or set Djokovic up for his preferred baseline patterns.
Balanced beats unbalanced
Djokovic mostly played a solid match overall. He can certainly play better but he found the level required and was increasingly consistent and impressive as the match wore on. But really in its simplest terms, this final came down to one extremely complete player against a less complete one. Novak has built much of his tennis empire on how few holes he has in his armour rather than how many obvious and shiny weapons he has. Berrettini on the other hand, has the shiniest of serve and forehand weapons, that capably downed the rest of the field, but also many more chinks in that chainmail. Today, and frankly most days in this era of tennis, the more balanced and less vulnerable fighter won. Djokovic’s error rate per game decreased in the final relative to his earlier rounds, and Berrettini’s increased. Djokovic’s own tools on serve and return remained fairly constant or improved when it mattered, whereas Berrettini’s fell off a performance cliff in the face of a completely different type of enemy.
44% of the points Berrettini won in the final were his winners, and just 16% were Djokovic unforced errors. 21% of Djokovic’s points won were winners and 33% were Berrettini unforced errors. Some nice symmetry there.
Berrettini, to get the win or make the match more competitive, would have needed to travel far, far outside his comfort zone — hitting big and risky backhands down the line to break the chains of the backhand cross court rally patterns, net rushing more, taking even more risks on 2nd serves etc etc (there are some footnotes on what, if anything Berrettini could have done better.1) — whereas Djokovic never needed to leave his, considerably bigger, zone of comfort. The world number one can win this matchup on serve, return, at net (Djokovic volleyed particularly well today winning 34/48 net points), and from both his forehand and backhand corners. Berrettini can only really win, at least over the course of a best of five match, off the back of his 1st serve and forehand. That essentially leaves Djokovic with game-plans A through Z compared to Berrettini having to bet it all on plan A.
If you were going to plot their attributes like video game characters, you’d get something like this:
Djokovic, as arguably the most balanced player in tennis, can lean on multiple areas of strengths. Berrettini cannot.
This isn’t to say Berrettini won’t win titles like this in the future. The ‘Big 3’ of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have represented unique roadblocks who can ruthlessly expose the usually hidden weaknesses of their opponents. As those three freaks of nature age out of the game, what will be required to win big matches like this will suddenly look rather different. This tournament remains a huge step forward for Berrettini even if he, like so many before him, fell to one of the stars of the game when the trophy was on the line.
Berrettini won’t bump into many foes on grass right now who can disarm him of those brilliant, shiny weapons and expose the chinks in the armour. But unfortunately for the Italian, Djokovic isn’t a normal enemy.
If you have any questions on the above, let me know in the comments. No question is dumb.
I’ll see you on Thursday
The Racquet goes out twice a week, a (free) topical piece every Thursday and a (paid) analysis piece every Sunday/Monday.
Top: Peter Nicholls - Pool/Getty — Bottom:AELTC/Jonathan Nackstrand - Pool/Getty
// Looking for more?
Wimbledon - Slip, Slidin’ Away:https://theracquet.substack.com/p/wimbledon-slip-slidin-away
Berrettini Conquers Queens https://theracquet.substack.com/p/berrettini-conquers-queens
Djokovic Foils The Forehands https://theracquet.substack.com/p/djokovic-foils-the-forehands
Medvedev Loves(?) The Clay? https://theracquet.substack.com/p/medvedev-lovesthe-clay
Osaka Boycotts The Press: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/naomi-osaka-boycotts-the-press
Federer Redux - The Iceberg Flips: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/the-federer-redux
Rome Final Analysis - Nadal vs Djokovic: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/rome-final-nadal-vs-djokovic
Stop Screwing Umpires On Clay: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/lets-stop-screwing-the-umpires-on
Analysis of the Tsitsipas vs Rublev Monte Carlo Final: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/monte-carlo-final-tsitsipas-vs-rublev
Do Flatter Hitters Have it Harder On Clay? https://theracquet.substack.com/p/daniil-medvedev-does-not-like-the
The Modernisation Of Tennis: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/the-modernisation-of-tennis
Tennis’ Identity Crisis: The Umpire Problem https://theracquet.substack.com/p/tennis-identity-crisis
Analysis of the Djoković Medvedev Australian Open Final: https://theracquet.substack.com/p/the-racquet-micro-not-macro-match
Berrettini, for the first seven games of the match, barely used his slice. Instead preferring to drive through pretty much every backhand (in both rally and return) offering up plenty of errors or short balls. For a player who usually has such a good slice, and considering how much better Berrettini fared with the slice in some of the longer rallies during his comeback into set one, it was a strange decision.
2. Berrettini’s most successful patches of the final where when he could take the first big strike of each point with his forehand, and attack the Djokovic forehand (either cross court or inside in). Novak was having trouble, towards the end of the first set in particular, dealing with Berrettini’s aggression in that forehand corner. But for some reason Berrettini then proceeded to attack the Djokovic backhand, which held up far better defensively than the forehand, for large parts of the rest of the match.