Sep 9·edited Sep 9Liked by Hugh Clarke

I think Daniil's FH deserves some more love – that shot felt equally instrumental to breaking down Carlos' FH in the same way he so expertly used his BH dtl. He was hitting it so flat and striking through it so well and with so much precision tonight that he was finally able to trouble Carlos' FH wing in a way that felt overdue. Not only was he doing a good job of rushing that wing despite not having the strongest weapons (in terms of straight power), he was also stifling that wing and frustrating Carlos in a way that he had seemingly overcome after the Novak final, and to some extent the little adjustments vs Zverev in the QF.

I think there's a weak spot that low, flat & particularly short balls can access against his FH that can keep him tied down. I mentioned it in my piece on the WIM final and tweeted about it here (https://twitter.com/AnettKord/status/1700346229887017446), if you're interested, because I've seen Novak & Zverev use it when they've beaten him (dating back to his 1st meeting w/Novak).

My view of it is that it's a trade that dangles the carrot without moving the ball close enough into Carlos' body that he can successfully unload on it, which means he pulls up on/away from it as he's very square-on, leaving his right leg with nowhere to go. I'm guessing that if he had a more Rune-esque FH technique, he'd more easily let the ball come into him and move through it to redirect and use pace with relative ease, but because he tends to explode through the shot instead, he ends up redirecting with a lot of unintended air in the ball. That made for a lot of soft redirects tonight.

When it has happened in the past, it's then limited him to playing almost exclusively cross court (Zverev @ RG nailed this imo with very short depth, mixed in with aggressive rushing), and that's how he then becomes frustrated by the lack of options. It's too far in front of him to power through the cross court angle, so then he either loses patience (= netted balls trying to power it dtl without a good base/overcooked cross court shots) or he uses the short angle, which players like Daniil, Novak, Zverev, etc. can easily retrieve. And, when they do get it back, it's usually with interest (Novak countered from out of position that way this year @ RG, of course, and there's a good example of Daniil doing so in the thread of mine I linked) to ensure that his redirect into the vacant space is retrievable. It's also a hugely beneficial strategy because it allows Carlos' opponent to stay close to the baseline, which takes away the dropshot.

Hopefully what I've said makes actual sense and maybe you can correct me on it or the finer details of why that's the result of it, but it's definitely a stand-out pattern I've noticed. Obviously, the aspect of rushing the FH, getting it on the run, etc. are all greater points of focus, but I think it compounds it well. As to why he unravelled without solution tonight, I think the H2H factors in (as well as Daniil's insane level), because he'd been made to learn by defeats to Novak, Zverev, etc, so this was a whole new challenge.

(just realised how excruciatingly long this message is, sorry about that, hope it's ok.)

Expand full comment
Sep 10Liked by Hugh Clarke

Stellar analysis as usual. Despite having a technically sound forehand, what do you think hinders Medvedev from getting more pop on it, as opposed to players with “livelier” arms or “easy” power (Alcaraz, Sinner, Shapovalov)? Do you think it’s simply his overall game plan that encourages him to take off pace? Or are there some technical flaws that are harder to notice?

Expand full comment
Sep 9Liked by Hugh Clarke

Interesting point about Daniil’s arm led backhand. My guess is that the biomechanics of Daniil’s long arms gives him long levers to generate that consistent power when hitting the backhand. Djoker has more normal length arms and would have to use that hip drive to get his consistent power in the shot. Any thoughts on this?

Expand full comment

Great post!! I keep thinking of both these matches as versions of the 2002 US Open final. I found this recap of the match very telling. https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/match-stats-report-sampras-vs-agassi-us-open-final-2002.696032/

Sampras basically serve and volleyed the entire match. He stayed back on two serves. He was 66/101 for a 65% percentage when serving and volleying.

The other interesting thing about Sampras and that match was how well he returned. He was aggressive on his returns so that the points would be short. He missed a lot but he also put pressure on the server.

So back to the points you have been making about the modern forehand. The model is probably still the 90's, Agassi, Sampras, Becker. The basic strong eastern/semi-western is the key to today's game. As you have noted Alcaraz and probably Shelton have the big forehand they can hit when given time. That forehand does not work for returns very well so the dilemma is stay back gain more time or slice from the front.

Alcaraz is taking a step forward. I think playing from way back the way Medvedev does will only work for so long. Eventually, it is too much space to give up for someone who comes to the net. Sure, he can run balls down for a while but eventually he will get tired or miss. Alcaraz is trying to adapt into a true all court player. The problem is that he, as you have noted, needs to simplify his forehand. At least it is not as severe a problem as Gauff, Sock, Tiafoe and Khachanov. The extreme grips work when there is lots of time and the balls are relatively high. For returns, half volleys and the other in-between shots, the extreme grips just do not work. Alcaraz and his team, I think, have realized that he cannot stay way back and try to win by grinding.

In terms of Shelton, we have the same dillemma. He is a great server and very athletic. But his return is just not good. In fact, I have been reflecting on Shapo and why he did not ascend higher. Again, a very bad return of serve. He doesn't have time to tee off on serves. Shelton has a lot of upside but if he is to win he will have to improve his net game and return substantially.

Which brings me back to the Sampras/Agassi rivalry. Medvedev and Djokovic are versions of Agassi and Alcaraz is a version of Sampras. Shelton is not in the club yet. But he could get there.

The question is whether they would be willing to come in on every serve like Sampras did. Everyone says it is not a tenable strategy but losing by taking a thousand cuts is not a winning proposition either.

I am wondering, do you think extreme S&V could pay off? O'shaughnessy over at BrainGame tennis keeps arguing that people should come in more. Alcaraz and Shelton seemed to back off when they lost a point. Maybe they should have kept coming with the idea that eventually, their opponents might blink.

Just a thought.

Thanks for your continue thoughtful posts.

Expand full comment
Sep 9Liked by Hugh Clarke

Two things that make me lean towards Medvedev for Sunday :

1. You mentioned first serve percentage and intangibles battle. If Medvedev brings the same level as he did today, I believe he can take over both. Medvedev net skills were great this tournament (per his standards), kinda like he did at USO 21 which is the last time I remember him serving like he did tonight.

2. Physical aspect. You mentioned this match up being a cagey war. I absolutely agree and we will see many robotic (but insanely pleasing) baseline rallies. Putting conditions aside, which could play a role, I believe at some point Novak could overdose on long rallies. He is 36 and has shown some small stamina and movement cracks when facing the best of the best (rune, Alcaraz, medvedev)

Expand full comment