How Difficult Is It to Win against Novak Djokovic after Dropping a Set? - UBITENNIS
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How Difficult Is It to Win against Novak Djokovic after Dropping a Set?

Alexander Zverev just won the Olympics semifinal match by coming back from a set and a break down against the world number one. How many have achieved the same feat against the Serbian?

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857 – the days since Djokovic was last defeated after leading by a set and a break: it happened again during the Olympic semifinal that he lost last week against Alexander Zverev in Tokyo.

 

The last time Nole had lost by wasting such an advantage may be traced back to March 26, 2019: on that date, the Serbian faced Roberto Bautista Agut in Miami – a round of 16 bout – and started big by leading 6-1 1-0 and serve, before falling into a spiral that allowed the Spaniard to win the match.

Before losing to Zverev at the Olympic Games, Djokovic was coming off a winning streak of 22 matches (during which he dropped only nine sets) and a 6-2 head-to-head record against the German. After the defeat suffered in the final last May in Rome against Nadal, the Serbian secured three titles: the ATP 250 in Belgrade and, above all, both the French Open and Wimbledon, the latter two being huge wins that allowed him to equal Federer and Nadal at 20 Slam titles.

When Djokovic broke Zverev’s serve during the fifth game of the second set during the Tokyo Olympics semifinal, moving up to 6-1 3-2 and serve, the match appeared essentially to be going his way, a feeling also validated by the statistics that saw Nole winning the last 40 matches in which he had won the first set (66 when considering best-of-five encounters) – this streak began after the round robin match of the ATP Finals 2019 lost against Thiem in the decider’s tiebreaker.

Perhaps this is enough to understand the magnitude of the feat achieved by Zverev, who was good at not breaking down once he went at a clear disadvantage against the winner of the first three Grand Slams played in 2021 and then to be relentless when it came to exploiting the decline of his opponent. In doing so, Sascha earned the Olympic final with merit and then the gold medal, thanks to his emphatic win over Khachanov.

To contextualise further the comeback win of the new champion of the Olympic Games, we decided to further investigate how statistically the victory was unlikely for him when he went to the change of court at a 1-6 2-3 disadvantage. We went back in time trying to figure out how many times it has happened to Djokovic to lose matches in which he was ahead not only by a set, but at least by a set and a break. We have thus discovered that since the second round of the Masters 1000 played at Bercy in Paris at the beginning of November 2012, Djokovic – at that time already sure to end the year at number 1 in the ranking and focusing on the ATP Finals – lost against Querrey after leading 6-0 2-0, it had only happened in three other circumstances that the Serbian lost after taking a set and a break lead:

  • Rome 2013, against Berdych (the only one of the four comebacks suffered in the last eight and a half years in which Nole has actually been two games ahead in the second set; in the other three he got broken immediately after breaking his opponent’s serve)
  • Doha 2019, against Bautista Agut
  • Miami 2019, against Bautista Agut

Starting with the 2012 ATP Finals (which the Serbian would later win for the second of five times) to the Olympic semifinal, Djokovic has won the first set in best-of-three matches 284 times, actually winning the whole thing 273 times (or 96.1%). An impressive record that could have been even better, as can be seen by the unfolding of the 11 matches in which he led by a set, which are listed in the following table:

TOURNAMENTOPPONENTFINAL SCORENOTES
ATP Finals 2019Thiem6-7 6-3 7-6Two points away from victory
Shanghai 2019Tsitsipas3-6 7-5 6-3 
Cincinnati 2019Medvedev3-6 6-3 6-3Wasted a break point in the second set
Miami 2019Bautista Agut1-6 7-5 6-3Leading by a break in the second set
Doha 2019Bautista Agut3-6 7-6 6-4Leading by a break in the second set; two points away from victory
Queen’s 2018Cilic5-7 7-6 6-3Had a championship point
Monte Carlo 2018Thiem6-7 6-2 6-3 
Doha 2015Karlovic6-7 7-6 6-4Two points away from victory
Dubai 2014Federer3-6 6-3 6-2 
Rome 2013Berdych2-6 7-5 6-4Leading by a break in the second set; two points away from victory
Indian Wells 2013Del Potro4-6 6-4 6-4 

Against Cilic in the 2018 Queen’s final, Nole wasted a match point, while against Berdych in Rome eight years ago, against Karlovic in Qatar in 2015, facing Bautista Agut in Doha and Thiem at the ATP Finals in 2019, he was only two points away from claiming victory.

We then continued the analysis to try to have even more precise data by deliberately not considering the matches that Nole won by breaking the opponent’s serve in the tenth or twelfth game, or those won after winning the tie-break of the second set in the event that the Serbian had not previously broken the serve of the opponent – if Djokovic had never broken serve in the second set except in the final game of the match, technically he had not been ahead of a set and a break in the whole match.

After his defeat at Bercy in 2012, the Serbian actually found himself in the lead of a set and a break in 241 occasions, losing three times (as mentioned, with Berdych in Rome 2013, and Bautista Agut at Doha and Miami 2019). So, considering the last eight and a half years of the Serbian’s career, from a purely statistical point of view, in the middle of that second set at the Olympics’ semifinal in Tokyo, Zverev had a 0.012% chance of winning the game. An interesting point of view, but to be taken with a grain of salt: it is necessarily an incomplete analysis because – among the numerous variables that this number is unable to represent – it does not capture important factors such as the different value of the opponents faced and the current athletic shape or prowess of the contenders.

The numbers relating to the difficulty of coming back against Djokovic once the Serbian claims the first set become even more impressive when considering five-set matches in which the Serbian won the first set. Djokovic won 295 out of 301, or 98%. The only six losses are summarized in this table:

TOURNAMENTOPPONENTFINAL SCORE
2016 US OpenWawrinka6-7 6-4 7-5 6-3
2015 French OpenWawrinka4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4
2014 French OpenNadal3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4
2014 Australian OpenWawrinka2-6 6-4 6-2 3-6 9-7
2010 French OpenMelzer3-6 2-6 6-2 7-6 6-4
2005 Davis CupRochus1-6 7-5 6-7 6-1 6-3

An interesting detail is that in the four defeats suffered after winning the first set in the last eight and a half years, he has never – in addition to the set advantage – been ahead of a break in the second. Three times out of six (!) the opponent who managed to turn the match around was the uber-version of Wawrinka (Nadal did it once, when he came back against Nole during the 2014 Roland Garros final). It is also impressive that Djokovic has only suffered one comeback out of 249 games in which he has found himself leading two sets to love, against Melzer at Roland Garros in 2010.

The defeat suffered against Zverev may be due to a great psychological and physical fatigue following the great efforts made in recent months (perhaps exacerbated by having also played the mixed doubles in the key days of the Olympic tournament). Djokovic confirmed this in the final for the bronze medal he lost against Carreno Busta and, above all, during the ensuing press conference after the Japanese defeats.

In the mixed zone, the number 1 in the world has also casted some doubts on his participation in the North American swing, which is particularly important for him this year; the Grand Slam, which would be achieved by winning the US Open, is at stake.

Article by Ferruccio Roberti; translated by Michele Brusadelli; edited by Tommaso Villa

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US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major

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Serena Williams - US Open (photo Twitter @usopen)

After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.

 

The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.

That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of  Shelby’s biggest fans.

LOOK OUT FOR ROGERS?

Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.

Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.

Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.

WOMEN’S RACE TO TOP PRIZE WIDE OPEN

The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.

Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.

But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.

With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played  in the last 19 games Monday night.

WHO’S NEXT IN LINE

So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.

And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.

Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.

WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE’S DARIA!

Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep. 

The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.

At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.

So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.

NO NOVAK, BUT RAFA IS THERE

Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.

And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.

Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.

And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.

My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.

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James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Will Rafael Nadal Keep The Grand Slam Winning Feeling Going In New York?

Rafael Nadal has injury doubts heading into his search for a 23rd grand slam title in New York.

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Rafael Nadal (@usopen - Twitter)

Rafael Nadal will look to repeat successes from Melbourne and Paris by answering his doubters with triumph in New York.

 

The Spaniard enters the last grand slam with injury doubts having only just come back from an abdominal injury suffered in his Wimbledon quarter-final against Taylor Fritz.

It was injury that saw his calendar grand slam dream come to an end and ever since then has been recovering in the hopes of finishing the grand slam year strong in New York.

However in his first match back Nadal was defeated in three sets to Borna Coric in New York which has put doubts on whether the Spaniard can be a threat in the US.

Nadal will likely not have to worry about Novak Djokovic but a victory in New York could see him be world number one with current number one Daniil Medvedev defending the title.

The likes of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be standing in Nadal’s way and if the Spaniard isn’t match-fit then he could face an early exit.

However as tennis pundit Barbara Schett pointed out, ruling out Nadal at this stage would be foolish and the Spaniard always raises his level at the grand slams, “The match is always different from practice,” Schett told Eurosport.

“And whoever had an abdominal injury and a tear on the abdominal muscles knows how it feels. You have to be extremely cautious. You’re worried that you’re going to reinjure it again.

“And I think that’s what we’ve seen on Wednesday. When he played against Coric, he was a little bit uncertain how the body was going to hold up. And for sure he’s going to feel better and better.

“If there’s no damage to the abdominal muscle, then he still has a week and a half to improve his health, to improve the trust also that he can extend and he can’t bend on the serve because that’s the trickiest shot, the serve and the smash.

“When that is the case, Rafa Nadal certainly can be dangerous again at the US Open. I mean, he’s so fired up at every single Grand Slam. We’ve seen this year playing the best tennis of his life. You can never, ever write him off.”

Nadal is currently undefeated at grand slams and if fit, the Spaniard will certainly fancy himself to win another seven matches at the US Open this year.

Whatever it should be interesting to see if Nadal improves before the US Open with the tournament starting on the 29th of August.

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Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?

Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.

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Iga Swiatek (@TennisHandshake - Twitter)

The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.

 

First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.

However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.

After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.

Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.

But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.

As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.

“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.

“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit. 

“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”

It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.

It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.

The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.

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