Novak’s strength: exploiting Roger’s weakness

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Like other sports, tennis often boils down to who can use their strengths to take best advantage of an opponent’s weakness.

When Novak Djokovic needed a crucial point in the Wimbledon final, he went to Roger Federer’s backhand.

He didn’t just aim for a general area. He relentlessly targeted a specific area of weakness and pounded it until it broke down.

Down 5-6 and break points in the first set, Djokovic channeled Rafael Nadal and served kickers high up into Federer’s backhand. That set the table for his ace down the middle, which Federer left wide open in order to cover the expected backhand.

Later in the match, Djokovic took command by lasering returns deep down the middle, again to Federer’s backhand, and specifically to a spot where Federer would normally want to runaround and hit a forehand. Caught in two-minds, back on his heels and lacking angles to work with, Federer repeatedly shanked balls into the net or long and wide, especially in the crucial 5th game of the fourth set where Novak broke his serve.

Djokovic also disarmed Federer’s strongest weapons of the tournament — his serve and volley, and his net play. He nailed returns at Roger’s feet, keeping him on his heels when he wanted to go forward. He hammered forehands deep to keep Roger pinned behind the baseline, and when Roger did dare to venture in, Novak launched dipping missiles right at him.

Federer’s problem was he couldn’t find a weakness in Djokovic’s coverage. In the semi-final, Federer pounced on Andy Murray’s puffy second serves. But in the finals, Roger was handcuffed by Novak’s excellent deep second serves.

Roger did succeed in drawing Novak to the net and hitting precise lobs and backhand passing shots. He also did well when he got to the net and forced Novak to hit short lobs.

But Federer couldn’t do that enough to compensate for the times when Djokovic scored on Roger’s weakness. That ratio, ultimately, was the difference in a match between two players who do almost everything at the highest level. And it’s one of the main reasons why Djokovic is the one raising most of the trophies in 2015.

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(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media, all rights reserved)

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