19 July 2019

Get the Tie Break tied up!

How could Federer have lost Wimbledon? So many commentators said he played the better tennis, yet he lost two match points and three tie breaks to Djokovic. How did it happen and what can the recreational player learn from the pros?

They love a statistic at the ATP and Craig O’Shannessy, a member of Djokovic’s coaching team and writer for the ATP's website, has been studying the stats.  He knows exactly why Federer lost and Djokovic won. It was all down to how Djokovic controlled the tie breaks. 

Throughout the match, when Djokovic kept Federer back and was able to go toe-to-toe from the trenches, he crafted a vastly superior advantage,” says O'Shannessy. Of the baseline rallies, Djokovic won 59%; Federer won 41%.

In all three tie breaks, the Serb played to his strength. “Twenty of the 33 points (61%) in the three tie-breaks were contested with both players standing at the baseline, which played perfectly into Djokovic’s masterplan. Djokovic won 16 of the baseline exchanges, while Federer accumulated only four.”

Djokovic also extended the length of these rallies to suit the way he likes to play, as the following table from the ATP shows

Says O'Shannessy, Forcing Federer to play the majority of tie-break points in baseline-to-baseline exchanges is as close to the bullseye of why he won as you will get.” 

There are lessons here for the recreational player. You can win the tie break (and the match!) even if your opponent is playing better. Here is our 7 point plan to get you to 7 points first.

  1. A tie break is a set but smaller and more condensed. So try to isolate what has been working well and concentrate simply on doing that 
  2. At the recreational level, tiebreaks are decided more by unforced errors than anything else according to Brad Gilbert, author of Winning Ugly. So keep thinking: "One point at a time" and notice what is happening.
  3. Believe in yourself. “You have to have a positive mindset and really believe you’re going to win it,” says Grigor Dmitrov
  4. Focus on holding your serve.  “If you’re winning your service points comfortably, your oppoent is going to be under even more pressure,” says Magnus Norman, who coached Wawrinka to success in 3 Grand Slams
  5.  “Play steadier tennis, not flashier tennis,” says Brad Gilbert. “Go for your shots if they present themselves, but don’t try to jam in a winner just because you get impatient.”
  6. Play like Nadal. Nadal does not take a single point off, observed Kyrigos after losing to him at Wimbledon. Every point counts in a tie break and you need to concentrate on all of them.
  7. Plan ahead. It's hard to bring all these ideas together in the heat of the moment. The time to think about tie breaks is before you play them!
Main image: graphic montage detail from Wimbledon 2019 website

To start playing, find your nearest league at http://localtennisleagues.com/leagues