Novak Djokovic Below Par is Enough to Beat Tomas Berdych and Clinch Spot in London Semi-Finals - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Below Par is Enough to Beat Tomas Berdych and Clinch Spot in London Semi-Finals

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Novak Djokovic puts together a similar performance to the one that saw him lose in straight sets against Roger Federer on Thursday at the ATP World Tour Finals. A below par Djokovic is though enough to beat Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5 in 1 hour and 29 minutes. The Serb was assured a place in the semis after winning the first set. Four of the top five ranked players on the ATP World Tour will play in the semi-finals.

 

He needed one set, one set only to be sure he would still keep his bid to win 4 consecutive championships at the ATP World Tour finals alive. No one has ever done it before, and Novak Djokovic’s run to tennis history is yet to come to a halt. After all, against a player like Tomas Berdych – whom he had beaten 2o times out of 22 – even a below par Djokovic was enough to sail through, securing at least one set.

Analysing the meaning of below par, even a World No.1 capable of only firing one single winner, to 8 unforced errors, was enough to win a set by 6 games to 3 against the World No.6. The truth is that Novak Djokovic was a dull copy of the player seen so far in the season, something much closer in its essence to the player who lost in straight sets to Roger Federer in London on Tuesday.

Unable to dictate the play, hardly moving as fast as we have seen him doing all year long, the first player to miss on a regular basis in 5-shot or more rallies, clearly the Serb is struggling to find his best self in London this year. After a brilliant performance against Nishikori in his debut match at the O2, Novak has hardly been himself again. Passive in his shot making, almost to the point where he doubts his weapons, the same ones that have let him dominate the tour almost unbeaten this year.

The slower surface of the O2 Arena should help the Serb create his “Spider Web” – as Federer likes to call it – but is surprisingly working as a counter-punch to the Serb’s consistency.

That said, even winning just 52% of the points on first serve, and a -7 differential between winners and unforced errors, only firing one single winner on his backhand throughout the entire match, having no baseline winners to his name in the first set, Novak has managed to find a way and win the match in straight sets.

Rather than a disappointing performance then, the Serb can see this victory as a blatant revelation of his superiority on the rest of the field in men’s tennis. Sure Berdych helped, once again falling victim of his nerves and melting like snow in the sun on the most important moments, once again unable to find the extra something he needs to take the lead against the top competitors in the sport.

Djokovic needed one set, and took two. The Serb may have lost his first match since August two days ago, his first indoor match in three years, but he still is in the game. Right after beating the World No.1, Roger Federer said: “I see Novak as the favourite to win still. He is going to do well against Berdych and then in the semis he will be the favourite to win the tournament again to me”.

And that same feeling spreads across tennis experts, fans and competitors. After all, Djokovic has built a mental invulnerability that tells him he can still find a way out even when things don’t look great, even if his tennis is not responding to the Robo-Nole commands.

Now the tournament presents the semis with 4 of the top 5 players competing. The Serb is the favourite, because when tournaments hit the latest stages, he tends to be the one finding that extra sparkle and fire to tore off the competition and finish on top.

It has been a recurring story this year on the tour. Now the Serb has to fight for history.

 

MATCH REPORT

 

Novak Djokovic (SRB) b. Tomas Berdych (CZE)

O2 Arena, London

RR Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

 

Head-2-Head = Djokovic leads 20-2

 

Qualification Outcomes

  • Berdych wins in 2 sets = Berdych advances to the semi-finals
  • Berdych wins in 3 sets = Djokovic advances to the semi-finals
  • Djokovic wins in 2 sets = Djokovic advances to the semi-finals
  • Djokovic wins in 3 sets = Djokovic advances to the semi-finals

 

THE FIRST SET

 

Djokovic breaks in the second game attacking to lead 2-0. In the third game, Berdych breaks back to trail 1-2.

 

The Serb has three chances to take the lead again, when Berdych misses an easy forehand long to go down 0-40. Berdych saves all three break points, one with a first serve and then firing two consecutive aces. The Czech challenges Djokovic’s backhand and surprisingly as the rallies grow longer, it is Tomas who gains the edge. Djokovic so far looks a very close version to the player who lost to Federer in straight sets. With another first serve, Berdych saves the game and holds to set the score tied at 2-2.

 

The Czech has another chance on Djokvovic’s serve up 15-30 after winning an impressive point at the net with a backhand volley winner. The World No.1 reacts right away to regain the lead in the game and the set, closing the game with a first serve. 3-2 Djokovic.

 

As the match continues in being a baseline battle, it is the Czech who seems more capable of finding aggressive solutions to win the rallies. Berdych is the first player to take control of the court, advances at the net at 40-30 and closes the game with a stunning backhand drop volley to set the score at 3-3.

 

So far in the match, Novak Djokovic has only hit one single winner and 7 unforced errors, compared to Berdyhc’s 10 winners and 10 unforced errors. Clearly the Serb isn’t playing at his best, but is enough to keep the lead in the set at 4-3.

 

As it happens many times, Berdych feels the nerves when the match gets closer to a deciding moment. The Czech from 30-15 hits first a forehand and then a backhand both just wide, to face a break point at 30-40. Tomas uses his first serve yet again to exit trouble. Djokovic however finds a sparkle of brilliance right when he needs it the most. The World No.1 attacks Berdych’s backhand to get another chance to break at 40-A. As a response, Tomas fires an ace, the 4th in the match, to get back to deuce. On the following point, Berdych kills a forehand in the net and Djokovic has his 3rd break point in the game. This time, the Serb breaks thanks to a terrible unforced error committed by the Czech. Berdych fires a strong first serve wide, but then decides to step on court and try to close the point with an airborne forehand which finishes in the net. Djokovic breaks and leads 5-3 to serve for the set.

 

Djokovic has his first set points up 40-15. While on the first the Serb hits a backhand long, on the second Berdych hits a backhand return long. Djokovic wins the set 6-3 in 42 minutes and mathematically secures his access to the semi-finals.

 

Djokovic closed the set with 1 winner and 8 unforced errors. Berdych with 12 winners and 18 unforced errors.

 

With Djokovic qualified, 4 of the first 5 players in the rankings reach the semi-finals in London.

 

THE SECOND SET

 

No matter the score in the set, the semi-finals are already decided in London for the Stan Smith group, with Federer advancing as first and Djokovic as second in the group.

 

The second set starts with 3 break point chances for Djokovic, who breaks at 30 and takes an early lead up 1-0. The Serb soon leads for 2-0 and it seems the match is heading towards the predicted finish.

 

Despite being virtually already out of the tournament, Berdych has a reaction of pure pride as he strikes full swing and breaks back to trail 1-2. The Czech continues to push the Serb and the service games of both players start to go away easyer. With Berdych holding serve to 30 in the 7th game (despite a stunning forehand return winner from Djokovic on 40-0) the Czech now leads 4-3.

 

Knowing there is not much more than pride at stake, the match fails to pull the strings of excitement. Both players manage to stay strong on their serve. Djokovic serves down 4-5, but wins the game with a forehand winner, his 10th winner in the match.

 

At 5-5, the World No.1 has a chance to close the match as he raises to 0-30 on Berdych’s serve. The Serb gets to triple break points at 0-40. On the first chance, Berdych catches the net on a backhand drop volley and the ball barely bounces in Djokovic’s half of the court. On his second chance, Djokovic attacks Berdych on the forehand, the Czech hits long and Novak closes the game to lead 6-5.

 

Djokovic serves for the match in the 12th game after 43 minutes since the start of the second set. The Serb gets to match point attacking with his forehand on Berdych’s backhand to lead 40-15 as Tomas hits a defensive slice wide. Djokovic closes out the contest with a first serve on which Berdych returns a chopped forehand in the net. Djokovic wins 6-3 7-5 after 1 hour and 29 minutes.

He advances to the semi-finals as second in the Stan Smith group, after Roger Federer.

Djokovic closes the second set with 9 winners and 8 unforced errors, finishing the match with 10 winners and 16 unforced errors. Berdych loses with 26 winners and 31 unforced errors to his name. The Czech has dominated the play, but has failed to win the most important points, yet again.

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Statistical Deep Dive: Sinner At Rotterdam One Year Later

Jannik Sinner’s Rotterdam title compared with his run to the final last year.

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(@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

By Federico Bertelli

Let’s delve into Jannik Sinner’s triumphant journey at the ABN Amro Open and compare it with his 2023 campaign. Service and down-the-line backhands were the keys to victory.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. This is the version of Sinner that his opponents tasted, and it’s also the title of a Daft Punk song; the clip particularly reflects what the rest of the ATP circuit has been thinking about Jannik for some months now: an android emerging after a heavy upgrade. Jokes aside, as the sunshine double is about to start, we thought it wise to rewind and closely examine Sinner’s recent victories.

The focus of our analysis is the Rotterdam tournament: Sinner’s performance was spotless, a feat not seen since 2001 when Lleyton Hewitt, after his victory at Flushing Meadows over Pete Sampras, managed to repeat his success in Tokyo. If the Italian were to win next week under the California sun as well, he would be the first in ATP tennis history to win two consecutive ATP tournaments after the first Slam. But before we dive into the action of the Indian Wells, let’s scratch the surface of Sinner’s victory in the Netherlands a bit. The comparison is plausible as the Italian reached the final in both editions, playing 5 matches in each case.

Draw: The 2024 run was undoubtedly smoother compared to 2023, both on average and in absolute terms. In 2023, the average ranking of Sinner’s opponents increased significantly, from 50.6 in 2023 to 97 in 2024. This means that, in general, we can assume that the journey, at least on paper, was easier. Also, in absolute terms – considering the lowest ranking of an opponent faced – there was a notable difference. In 2023, the insurmountable obstacle was the Russian Medvedev, then the blue’s nemesis and number 3 in the rankings. In 2024, it was a more approachable De Minaur – number 11 in the ATP ranking – against whom the H2Hs have also always been in favour of Jannik.

Source, ATP data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Comparison of Opposing Players’ Rankings

Break Points: One aspect frequently discussed about Sinner in the last 12 months is his overall growth in all areas: technical, physical, and mental. However, it’s not news that Jannik is mentally tough. Surely, Sinner will continue to tirelessly work on this aspect, as he has always stated, but his starting base has always been enviable. And the results are there for everyone to see. Despite facing a number of break points in the tournament equal to 20 in both 2023 and 2024 – which perhaps was unexpected given the more modest caliber of opponents – the Italian’s response was undeniable. An 80% break point save rate, compared to 65% in 2023 and against an ATP tour average of 61%. (Note: The tour average refers to the average of the last 52 weeks of players who have competed in ATP level tournaments). This figure, among other things, underscores Jannik’s solidity, already above average in 2023.

Source, ATP data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Comparison of Break Points Saves, Years 2023-2024

Service – Overall Statistics: Another aspect that has been frequently discussed is Jannik’s improvement in his service game; indeed, the data speaks for itself. Both in terms of the percentage of first serves in play and in terms of effectiveness in converting such a play situation into a point, Sinner has significantly elevated his game. Working on the percentage of first serves in play was the number one priority to improve the Italian’s game performance, and the efforts of Vagnozzi, Cahill & co. have paid off handsomely. In 2023 in Rotterdam, the percentage of first serves in play was 57%, in line with the general performances recorded by Sinner up to that point. Considering that the ATP tour average was 62%, it’s clear this was an aspect still needing improvement until last year. However, the conversion rate from good became excellent. In 2023 in Rotterdam, the conversion rate of points on the first serve stood at 74%, a figure above the tour average, which is at 72%. In 2024, however, we witnessed a further leap forward, reaching the 80% threshold.

Source, ATP Data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Service Performance Comparison

To understand how high this figure is, just look at the leaderboard rankings of the last 52 weeks. In terms of first serves converted into points, 80% is the threshold of absolute excellence. Consider that the two most impressive serving machines ever seen on a tennis court, Karlovic and Isner, had career averages of 83% and 80%, respectively.

ATP Leaderboard

Finally, a somewhat surprising data point is the success performance on the second serve. The Italian won 60% of the points on his second serve in 2023, while in 2024, “only” 56%. This rate is evidently more than sufficient to win matches and tournaments, but in 2023, it was not a problem at all, on the contrary.

Delving further into detail and referring to more detailed analyses (for the metrics used, we also refer to the general description found here), the analysis is further enriched. The data reported are the result of TennisViz processing, on data owned by Tennis Data Innovations (TDI).

Service – Detailed Data: The service performance, in terms of precision and reliability of the shot under pressure, has improved from all perspectives. Among the various metrics available, there are some of interest. Starting with the accuracy on the first serve, i.e., the distance with which the serve is placed from the service lines, measured in cm. Referencing a post from the X Tennis Insights account, we have an overview.

Source: TennisViz on TDI Data

In Rotterdam in 2023, Sinner executed this shot with an accuracy of 57 cm, better than what was measured over the course of the year. But in 2024, this figure impressively dropped to a notable 52 cm, in line with that of Hurkacz. We’ll spare you the statistical details, but the result (highly debatable, given the small sample size) is as follows.

Of course, there are many other variables that explain the yield on the first serve, but the inverse correlation between serve speed and precision is not bad, and generally leads us to say that serving at 125 mph with an accuracy of 52 cm, combined with an average quality in return shots, guarantees an untouchable performance of 80% of points won on the first serve. If the quality is that of Sinner’s serving machine, even less will suffice.

Continuing with the quality of the service shown by Sinner, another data point that deserves further exploration is that of unreturned serves, where the opponent fails to return the serve back into play. Here too, Jannik performed exceptionally well, with aces and opponents’ missed returns bringing home an impressive 40% in 2023 and an exceptional 42% in 2024. Remember, in tennis, variations of 1% can make the difference between a solid top ten player and a Grand Slam title winner. To put it in perspective, the ATP average is 38%.

Source: @Tennisinsight

Finally, to conclude the chapter on the serve, one last piece of data, which we’ve kept in reserve for the most deserving who have persisted in reading up to this point; do you know what the percentage of first serve balls on break points was in 2023? And in 2024? Well, we’ll present it to you in a table, and we’ll add nothing more:

Source: TenniViz on TDI Data

In 2023, when serving on break points, the first serve landed much less than usual in crucial moments. In 2024, however, the Italian did not lose his composure at all, serving as if it were any other point… not bad at all.

Performance in rallies: in this case, we rely on [metrics developed by TDI and TennisViz, which obviously carry the ATP brand](https://www.atptour.com/en/news/insights-introduction); (bonus: if you happen to watch a match on ATP TV, these advanced metrics are just a click away, in the stats section of the App).

Source: TenniViz on TDIData

It’s notable how Jannik has leveled up both in his ability to convert points where he had the advantage (conversion score) and in managing to seize the initiative from opponents when they were in a favorable position during the rally (steal score). Lastly, the final data point: from the baseline, with the current form of Jannik, it’s tough to come out on top, and if we consider his aptitude for turning defense into offense, the puzzle for his opponents is almost unsolvable. Indeed, this explains the overwhelming 56% of points won from the baseline, significantly above the ATP average. This data also finds an explanation in a significant tactical adjustment, the more pronounced use of the down-the-line backhand variation. The backhand crosscourt is already a comfort zone for Sinner, which he can comfortably use to extract points, like a boxer working his opponent with jabs; if we add that now Sinner is also able to find the down-the-line solution at the right moment, again, it spells trouble for his opponents. In 2023, Sinner hit 19.5% of his backhands down the line, while in 2024 this percentage rose to 31.4% in the Rotterdam tournament. A change that helped him tip the scale further in his favor in baseline battles.

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Andrey Rublev Reclaims Prize Money, Points After Appealing Against Dubai Disqualification

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Andrey Rublev will receive ranking points and prize money from the Dubai Tennis Championships despite being disqualified from the event for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Russian world No.5 has won an appeal against the sanction he received last week at the ATP 500 event. Rublev screamed in the face of a lines judge during the third set of his semi-final match against Alexander Bublik. A Russian-speaking official told supervisor Roland Herfel that the tennis star had sworn in his native language, which he denied doing. As a consequence, he was defaulted from the match which usually carries an automatic penalty of that player losing all their points and prize money earned at the tournament.

However, the ATP appeals committee has concluded that those penalties are ‘disproportionate ‘ in this case. Regulating in Rublev winning back more than $150,000 and 200 ranking points. However, a fine of nearly $30,000 has been upheld. 

“The ATP has reviewed an appeal from Andrey Rublev, following the player’s default from the semi-finals of the ATP 500 tournament in Dubai,” the I Newspaper quoted an ATP official as saying
“The appeal process took into consideration testimonies from the player, officials, as well as a review of all available video and audio materials.
“The appeals committee concluded that, beyond forfeiting the match, customary penalties associated with a default – namely loss of rankings points and prize money for the entire tournament – would be disproportionate in this case.
“As such, Rublev retains semi-final points and prize money for the tournament.”

The initial penalty issues against Rublev caused criticism from some players with Daria Kasatkina saying it was a ‘joke’ that no video replay system was in place. The ATP plans to implement electronic line-calling at all of its events by next year. Meanwhile, Bublik said shortly after the incident that he had doubts that Rublev ‘said something crazy.

Rublev will return to action in Indian Wells later this week where he will be seeded sixth in the draw. 

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Indian Wells Chief Haas Backs Djokovic, Sabalenka For Title Glory

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Tommy Haas - Wimbledon 2018 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Novak Djokovic should be considered the favourite to capture the men’s title in Indian Wells despite not playing at the event for five years, according to its tournament director. 

Tommy Haas has lent his full backing behind the world No.1 who is set to return to action later this week for the first time since his semi-final loss to Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open. Djokovic hasn’t played at Indian Wells since 2019 due to reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the event was cancelled in 2020, he was unable to play the next three years due to travel restrictions that were in place. Under an emergency health law, foreign visitors to America were required to be vaccinated against the virus and the tennis star wasn’t. He applied for special exemptions to play but was refused by authorities. These restrictions ended last year. 

Djokovic, who has previously named Indian Wells as his favourite event, is a five-time champion. The only other male player to have won the tournament as many times as him is Roger Federer. He was also runner-up in 2007 to Rafael Nadal. 

Looking ahead to this year’s tournament, former world No.2 Haas told Eurosport that he considers the 24-time Grand Slam champion as the title favourite and played down the significance of his recent loss in Australia. 

“Djokovic has had such success there, he’s coming back. I feel like every time he doesn’t win a tournament, we all look at it as a failure, right? And I hate to use that word anyway,” Haas said.
“But even the semis at the Australian Open, we all look at it like, ‘Oh, he lost in the semis, he didn’t win the Australian Open.’ But you know how many people of players would love to get to a semi-final one time.
“It’s really outrageous, so you can never count him out. He’s obviously always gonna be a favourite and he’s always gonna look at himself as like, the favourite to win the title.”

Among those challenging the Serbian for the title will be Sinner, who is currently on a 12-match winning streak after also winning Rotterdam last month. Meanwhile, defending champion Carlos Alcaraz will be out to prove a point as he seeks his first title since Wimbledon last year. Daniil Medvedev, who lost in the final to Acaraz 12 months ago, will also be hoping for a strong run. 

As for the women’s event, Haas has not picked world No.1 Iga Swiatek and instead chose Aryna Sabalenka as the one to watch. After capturing her second Australian Open title, Sabalenka suffered a shock defeat in Dubai where she lost 12 out of the last 15 games played against Dona Vekic. The Belarussian was runner-up in Indian Wells last year to Elena Rybakina. 

“On the women’s side, Sabalenka, you know, she has such a big, powerful game. Gives her a little bit more time sometimes in Indian Wells too,” Haas explained.
“But she moves well, she’s feeling obviously very, very good about her game — defending her title at the Australian Open. So I kind of give her the edge also going in, no matter what happens the next couple of weeks.”

The first round of matches at Indian Wells will get underway on Wednesday. This year’s singles champions will each earn $1.1M in prize money. 

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