Welcome to another Live ThoughtLog, where I’ll try to leave coherent thoughts of this important Djokovic-Del Potro match. For these posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:
BP: Break Point
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
GP: Game Point
SP: Set Point
S&V: Serve and Volley
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error
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— TennisTV (@TennisTV) November 7, 2013
— TennisTV (@TennisTV) November 7, 2013
Djokovic leads the H2H with Del Potro 10-3. In 2013 they've played 4 epic matches – Djokovic leads 3-1 #FinalShowdown
— TennisTV (@TennisTV) November 7, 2013
1. Tactically, I’m interested in seeing if Djokovic regains some of the trust in his BH DTL that he seemed to lose in the second set of the match against Federer on Tuesday. He opens the match by going for (and missing) a BH DTL by some margin.
Another thing to watch for: how effectively can Delpo take away one of Djokovic’s favorite serves, the slider out wide from the deuce court? So far, he’s gotten two great returns in, but can’t get three in a row, as Djokovic saves the first BP of the match at 15-40, 0-0 with that serve.
The second is won by Djokovic with a CC BH winner, after a long, passive rally in which Delpo didn’t seem intent on going for much of anything. Moments later, Djokovic holds for a 1-0 lead.
2. This is a fascinating little graph (and I love that the world feed has been showing this type of thing over the past few weeks):
Not a whole lot of variety from Delpo there. Which isn’t good against the best.
Moments later, a line judge gets hit in the head with a ball (not directly, fortunately), and Djokovic has his first BP of the match at 30-40, 2-1. The World No. 2 eventually gets a shot he likes, a spinny I-O FH, but misses wide.
At Deuce, the men play a fun rally, Djokovic is left with that same I-O FH he missed, but this time he doesn’t, and forces the error for another BP, which is saved by a huge Delpo thumper out wide.
Another BP comes after Djokovic outmaneuvers Delpo around the baseline so thoroughly that he is left with the easiest of tap volleys at net. And yet, it’s another BP erased by a monster Ace. Moments later, Djokovic misses a CC angled FH, and Delpo has held.
Novak Djokovic has been the aggressor early on in the match. His tactical plan is simple:
A. Neutralized Delpo’s FH by pegging the Argentine as wide as possible on his BH corner, and
B. Look to make the 6’5 native from Tandil hit as many uncomfortable running FHs as possibly by using the BH DTL wisely.
This sounds very similar to what Gasquet did the other day, but there’s a crucial difference: Djokovic isn’t looking to end points with the BH DTL, since he’s not really afraid to engage in FH to FH rallies. There is a larger margin for error using this tactic.
Del Potro, on the other hand, is basically just reacting to whatever Djokovic does at this point. He’s had plenty of chances to hit I-I FHs or BHs DTL, but he’s chosen to either hit CC BHs or I-O FHs. He’s served well in the important moments, and that’s why this match is still on serve at 3-2.
— Heather Watson (@HeatherWatson92) November 7, 2013
3. Unbelievable sloppiness from Djokovic on yet another BP (at 30-40, 3-2). He gets a 2nd serve to work with, returns it well, but then sends a regulation CC BH well long. He wasn’t even trying to be aggressive with it, either – that shot had a lot of air under it.
Still, after Delpo pulls a BH DTL well wide, Novak has his 5th BP of the match. And he’ll have a 2nd serve, too. This time, it doesn’t go begging: Djokovic changes the direction of at least the last 5 shots, making Del Potro play incredible defense. However, a great CC angled FH finally triggers the error, as Delpo is pushed well past the doubles alley.
Djokovic up a break, 4-2.
Take the string off your back, Juan Martin. Nole's pulling you all over the place. Djokovic breaks, 4-2.
— Andrew Burton (@burtonad) November 7, 2013
4. Here’s one thing Delpo can’t really control: Novak Djokovic is barely missing first serves. And then, at 40-0, triple SP, Djokovic hits a 2nd serve Ace.
Despite some early wobbles, Djokovic seemed firmly in command of this set.
Here are your full first set stats – the discrepancy in baseline points won is quite telling:
1. Not much to say about the first three games of the second set, other than this: Delpo is trying to go for FHs DTL and BHs DTL only when no other option is available. This kind of shot selection lowers the success rate of those difficult shots. I’d like to see Juan Martín try to “set up” those shots better, by trying to be aggressive with some CC BHs, or some CC FHs.
The other basic tactical point for Delpo is to avoid getting trapped in that BH corner and look to dominate points from the middle of the court with his huge FH.
2. The World feed just provided a wonderful moment during the changeover at 3-2. First they tracked every shot in the BP Djokovic converted in the first set:
Then we see where each ball landed. Look at all the depth, and then notice how the shots that aren’t that deep are actually close to the sideline (meaning, they had a nice angle):
3. An unexpected mixture of Djokovic sloppiness, Del Potro excellence (a glorious BH DTL passing shot), and then luck (a Delpo FH that clips the net and dies on Djokovic’s side of the court) combine to give Delpo his first break of the match.
Soon after, he consolidates the break with some aggressive, purposeful play, and is up 5-2.
A worrying but familiar trend about Djokovic’s BH DTL has returned: like against Federer the other day, he’s stopped using it, and when he finally does, an UFE is the outcome. The BP was case in point: the men engaged in a tough AD court rally, with Delpo hitting mostly I-O FHs to Djokovic’s stubborn CC BH defense. During that rally, there were a couple of instances where Djokovic could’ve stepped up to the baseline and fired a BH DTL to break the dynamic, or run around his BH and hit an I-I FH. He didn’t, and then luck punished his lack of aggression.
If this match goes the distance, it will be the fifth time in six matches that Djokovic and del Potro have done so.
— Jeff Sackmann (@tennisabstract) November 7, 2013
4. Djokovic seems irritated with himself, as he sends a regulation BH up the middle at 0-0, 5-3, and Delpo punishes it accordingly. Later, a worse error: Djokovic hits a great CC FH, has Delpo scrambling, but sends the resulting FH DTL well wide. It was at 30-all, so instead of a break point for him, it’s a set point for Delpo.
Which is converted via a great SW out wide.
Here are your second set stats – significant improvement by Delpo in most areas:
Remember how Djokovic had won 10 more Baseline points than Delpo in the 1st set? They're now dead even at 29 apiece.
— Juan José Vallejo (@juanjosetennis) November 7, 2013
That bit goes with this graph:
It's not HOW many points you win, but WHEN you them: del Potro won 25 points in set 1 & 25 points in set 2; 6-3 3-6 in 65 minutes
— Steph Trudel (@TrudelSteph) November 7, 2013
1. At 1-all, we get more inexplicable sloppiness from Djokovic: in the first point of the game, he sends a short putaway FH long by about 10 feet (no exaggeration). He then double-faults, and is down 0-30. Moments later, Djokovic misses a FH DTL wildly, and is down 15-40. Delpo isn’t playing around anymore, either: he’s taking bigger cuts with his FH, which is always advisable.
First BP is saved by an Ace up the T. The second goes by when Delpo has a look at a running FH DTL pass, but yanks it wide. Djokovic playing with fire, there. However, he ends up holding shortly thereafter, escaping his bout of sudden carelessness.
2. Delpo is fully engaged now. I wonder if his early passive play is simply a stage he has to go through before he becomes the aggressive baseliner who can beat anybody on this tour.
Djokovic, on the other hand, is a bundle of uncertainty. But luckily for him, his serve is working quite wonderfully.
Amazing to see how the match has totally changed as soon as Djokovic went out of his initial game plan. A little letdown and all turns.
— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) November 7, 2013
3. The sloppiness bug bites Delpo now: out of nowhere, he nets two straight FHs, and is down 0-30, 2-3. Then Djokovic gets lucky, as a BH DTL of his clips the net, and Delpo can’t handle the counter-drop shot. 0-40. Djokovic then manages to put back in play a thumper of a 1st serve, then sends a loopy BH to Delpo’s AD corner, Delpo runs around his BH and blasts a FH long.
That…was anticlimactic. Delpo just went off the rails completely.
Moments later, Djokovic consolidates the break for a 5-2 lead.
This has been a strange, strange match.
4. Much like on Tuesday, Djokovic produces a simply wonderful love hold to seal the match, and his passage to the semifinals. The last point? A nice BH DTL winner.
That shot went away for an entire set, but came back just in time to seal the deal. Up next for Del Potro: a do or die match against Roger Federer on Saturday, whereas Djokovic will get a chance to make it 8 straight wins against Richard Gasquet (and 10 out of 11) overall.
Here are your final match stats: