The most dangerous situation in tennis right now is Novak Djokovic with his back against the wall.
The World No. 1 had just lost eight of the first nine points of the third set to trail 0-2 against Milos Raonic in Saturday’s Western & Southern Open final.
He had the Canadian right where he wanted him…
Djokovic rattled off 11 of the next 12 points as he broke Raonic twice in a row and stormed to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory that seemed highly improbable after a sluggish opening set and perilously falling behind a break to begin the third.
How does the Super Serbian do it? By swinging freely and peppering winners? By switching strategies and adjusting baseline patterns? The answer cuts to the core of why Djokovic currently dominates men’s tennis and will inevitably soon pass Pete Sampras to become second all-time with weeks at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
No. Free. Points.
When Djokovic turns the screws and his eyes enlarge like saucers when he is about to return serve, you can absolutely count on the ball coming back into play again and again and again. The conversation revolving around who would win the final started and ended with Djokovic’s fortunes being able to break Raonic, who had only dropped serve twice en route to the final.
An analysis of the three service games where Djokovic broke Raonic provides a snapshot of how Djokovic goes about his business when push comes to shove in the match.
Analysis: Raonic’s Three Broken Service Games
Raonic played 18 points in the three service games at 2-3 in the second set, 2-0 in the third set and 2-2 in the third set. He only won five points, with Djokovic winning seven consecutive return points in the third set from 0-2, 0/0 to 2-2, 0/40.
Djokovic ramped up the mental pressure on Raonic’s serve, causing it to miss more when he needed it most.
Raonic First-Serve Percentage
• Set 1 = 68%
• Set 2 = 67%
• Set 3 = 60%
• Three Broken Service Games = 50%
The pressure of the ball repeatedly coming back into play in the big moments forced Raonic to go for a little more, which in turn directly affected his first-serve percentage. Djokovic only missed three returns in the three games, breaking Raonic on the first Deuce point in set two, breaking him to love at 0-2 in the third set, and breaking him to 15 in the Canadian’s very next service game.
There were four ways a point ended in the three broken service games, and Raonic’s errors (10) totaled more than all three other outcomes combined.
Raonic’s Three Broken Service Games: End Of The Point
• Raonic winners = 2 points
• Raonic errors = 10 points
• Djokovic winners = 2 points
• Djokovic errors = 4 points
The average rally length in the three broken games was 3.7 shots. Raonic only won 33 per cent (3/9) behind his first serve and 22 per cent (2/9) behind his second serve. In the driver’s seat at 6-1, 2-3, Raonic started his service game with a double fault. It was a small crack that Djokovic pried wide open to break serve seven points later and sink his teeth into the match.
It’s important to note that Djokovic hit two winners from 18 points in the three games he broke Raonic. Winners are not the secret sauce of Djokovic’s current reign as the best player on the planet. Putting the ball back in play on any court against any opponent on any continent certainly is.
You don’t lose if you don’t miss.