Djokovic, on a 33-match winning streak at the Australian Open, faces a surprising challenge from Sinner, who beat him twice in one day and three times in two weeks in Turin.

Despite Sinner’s recent success, Djokovic remains a formidable opponent, especially with his track record in Melbourne. Sinner, acknowledging Djokovic’s incredible record, expressed his pleasure in competing against such a strong competitor.

However, Sinner’s journey hasn’t always been smooth, as highlighted by a lopsided defeat in the tour championship final during his hot streak in November.

Djokovic, known for his meticulous preparation, analyzed his previous loss, watched footage, consulted with his coach, and then delivered a stellar performance in the final. In essence, Djokovic figured it out.”

The data presented originates from ball and player tracking technology by TennisViz and Tennis Data Innovations (TDI). While Djokovic wasn’t entirely transformed in his two losses to Sinner, he strategically adjusted his game.

In response to the challenges posed by Sinner, Djokovic strategically adjusted his game, primarily focusing on aggression and improving his ‘conversion rate’—the ability to capitalize on advantageous positions. In the group-stage match, Djokovic’s conversion rate was 61%, notably below his season average, but he elevated it to an impressive 78% in the final. Conversely, Sinner’s conversion rate dropped from 67% to 54% in the final.

Recognizing the importance of a player’s ‘steal score,’ measuring the ability to win points after an opponent gains an advantage, Djokovic increased his steal score from 33% in the group stage to 46% in the final. In contrast, Sinner’s steal score collapsed from 39% to 22%.

[A ‘steal score’, measures how often a player wins a point after the opponent gains an advantage.]

Djokovic also addressed his serving, improving his first-serve rate from 61% in the group stage to 70% in the final. Not only did he increase accuracy, but his serves landed closer to the lines, allowing him to exploit Sinner’s vulnerabilities. This adjustment enabled Djokovic to set up his forehand, particularly the “plus-one” shot, with 62% being forehands in the final compared to 49% in the group stage. The forehands were delivered with increased speed, averaging 76 mph compared to 71 mph.

The strategic changes inflicted additional challenges on Sinner. Although Sinner maintained a consistent percentage of deep balls in both matches, Djokovic’s enhanced velocity and accuracy forced him into more errors. Djokovic’s adept play also meant fewer short balls for Sinner to capitalize on.

Djokovic attributed his success not only to studying his shortcomings in the group stage but also to a crucial attitude shift between his two matches against Sinner in Turin. These adjustments collectively showcased Djokovic’s tactical prowess and adaptability in the face of competition.

They say “tennis is a game of adaptation”.So question outstanding in Melbourne is can/will Sinner also adapt! History awaits!

Source: The Athletic 25Jan24