Match analysis: Nadal vs Djokovic, French Open QF 2022

by Evan Gaudreau

Coach Evan is back with another match analysis, this time of the much hyped-up match Nadal vs Djokovic, French Open Quarter-finals 2022.

Match analysis: Nadal vs Djokovic, French Open QF 2022

Ps. Check out more analysis and coaching pieces from Evan here. Ds.

Watch the highlights from Nadal vs Djokovic, French Open quarter-final 2022 here.

Nadal vs Djokovic (match 59!)

What I have seen up until this point is Novak using a variation of a four-ball combo during the clay-court season. He manipulates his opponent by what he does with his first few shots, whether he wants to start with a spread the first two shots of the point or keep the first few shots tighter. As you will see, this is an excellent strategy against most players; this methodical approach can sometimes backfire.

Most players train for technique and simple patterns. They can counterpunch. They can play aggressively.
Or they can shut their mind down and play instinctively.
“Players just play on instincts,” said a former top 250 player.
“You don’t think they break down video, analyze opponents….”
“They probably do that.”
“Just not at the extent I told you?”
“Yeah. They don’t have an analyst or a psychologist on their teams.”
I shrugged.
Maybe that’s why you never cracked 250, I thought.
Can a tennis coach be an analyst too?
Can a CEO micromanage a company?
And run it into the ground, for sure.
Can a professional tennis coach undermanage the team and sabotage the relationships due to a fragile EGO?
You can look at it both ways.
Alcaraz plays aggressive four-ball combos with force,
Djokovic plays a mixture, mixing aggressive and passive four-ball combos.
And now they are both out of the French.

Nadal sends a message

Novak groups the first two shots for the first couple of points in the first game, and then he goes to a “spread” for the rest of the game. He lost the two longer points at 15-0 and 40-30. Which is fine, but he showed his hand…
And for the first return game, Nadal isn’t messing around. Because Novak has been using the middle of the court to set the point up Nadal will be attacking from that position and sending a message to Novak….Not today.

Even though Novak won his second service game at love, the first point stood out. Nadal barely missed a winner off of Novak’s first ball to the center of the court. Nadal, at this point, is up 2-0 and sending the message that anything in the middle of the court will be crushed.
What sticks out about Nadal over the years is his fierce competitiveness. We are all competitive, but he seems to have another gear in that department…He reminds me of Lance Armstrong in more ways than one.
That’s a whole other story.

Game plan. Game plan. Game plan.

“If Novak hits to the same spot twice, attack that second ball,” Carlos Moya said. “If he hits the center of the court, attack that fricking ball,” he added and hit his left hand with his fist. “Send the message that that is not going to work.”
Terry Silver, the crazy sensei from Cobra Kai, sat behind Carlos Moya, giggling like a little school girl and playing with his ponytail. “You know what Novak is going to learn from us….Pain! In every part of his body! And FEAR in every part of his mind. And here is the kicker; he’s going to thank me for it. By the time that little twerp steps on the court to defend his title, he will find out what pain and fear really mean.”
“Shut up, Terry,” Carlos said.
Terry got up and went into the backroom to say hello to some white powder.

The following day, Sasha and Sergi Bruguera watched the match on the computer in the hotel room.
“On the Deuce side, if Nadal returns to your backhand, I want you to punish him. Rip that ball crosscourt and put him on the defensive.”
“And during the rallies?”
“To start…establish that early on, pulling him wide towards the AD side….”
“…and then I can double back to the Deuce when I see he is accounting for it….”
“…Yes.” Sergi took a sip from his macchiato. “Positionally. You can attack down the line when you see he is committing to the AD side.”
“What do you think about droppers too to the AD service box?”
Sergi’s head tilted up, looking at the ceiling as he scratched his chin.
“He snuffs those out like a Dragon. Maybe try them if you are up in the game…but I would be careful with those.”
They watched the match for five more minutes.
“You know he’s coming after your forehand, right?” Terry Silver said as he popped his head into the hotel room. The door slammed against the wall as he pushed open the door. He started throwing punches and front kicks. Then he spun in the air and did a roundhouse.
“Security! I need you to get rid of someone!” Sergi said into the phone.
Terry took off down the hall like a bat out of hell.

Djokovic is coming forward

By the end of the set, Djokovic is coming forward. He’s adjusting the plan he started with. And he was getting ready for the second set.
Nadal too is moving forward.
Nadal breaks in the first game. There’s jockeying going back on both sides. One thing to take away from the match is Nadal’s footwork. It’s exceptional. And it sometimes “breaks the code” we learn as players. As players, we are taught to split at locations on the court. Sometimes you can’t always get to that “location,” yet it is hammered into us.

“When you hit a crosscourt shot, you have to recover just off the center of the side you are hitting crosscourt,” the teaching pro said.
“What about when you hit down the line?”
The coach stood at the baseline on the Deuce side.
“If I hit down the line from here,” he said. “Then I have to recover over here.” He walked along the baseline to the Ad side of the court.

“Hey, BANANA HEAD!” Terry Silver said from outside the court as he jumped up and down and side to side like a gorilla. “What if Nadal hits an angle on you and pulls you off the court. Then where do you recover to? Huh! Huh! Answer that. What are you going to do? What are you going to do?”
“Who is this guy?” the coach asked.
“I’m your worst nightmare!” Silver replied and howled as he disappeared through the trees. A lady screamed in the distance.
-Side note. When you recover and can’t get back to your “Spot” the coach told you, do your mini-splits before your opponent contacts the ball, no matter what part of the court you are on.

Notice I said mini-splits. There is no such thing as a SPLIT-STEP. It’s mini-splits. The old-school split step you were (or are) taught makes your momentum stop. It’s like going to a green light and stopping and then starting again. If you do mini-splits, you can control your movements and your momentum is still moving forward. And when you are recovering from the corners, it’s just as crucial for the mini-splits to control your movements when shifting side to side instead of chasing out of the corner like a madman, like Terry Silver.
I think I want to be Terry Silver for Halloween this year and terrorize the kids.

Double back attack

Zverev….Please, double back your attacks. Especially after you rip the ball in the corner and put Nadal on the stretch, he recovers fast back to the center….manipulate that by paying attention to how much you double back and when you have to go open.
At least Tennis Channel is trying. But the stats they display still stink. It would be nice to have a color commentator to add life to the coverage. A couple of jokes would be nice.
Oh, wait!
Tennis people aren’t that funny.
Djokovic seemed to dictate as the set went on.
After winning the second set, he repeatedly pointed at his head with his index finger. Presumably to say, “Look at my perfect hair.”

One thing I like about Nadal is how he starts sets, especially after losing them. In the first game, he digs in while Djokovic lets up slightly.
Keynote: Nadal gets down to business. In the first two points, he sets up his forehand crosscourt, yanking Djokovic off the court. On point three, Nadal goes the other way. This is the playbook that Alcaraz is taking from Nadal.
In a way.
He’s also taking Juan Carlos’s too.

What is going on behind closed doors?

When I was training at Van Der Meer Academy, a player was also a professional stringer at the pro tournaments. He told us a story that Boris Becker, before the Wimbledon final, told the guys in the stringing room that he would win in straight sets or lose in straight sets as he picked up the rackets.
He lost to Edberg in straight sets.
The point being….wouldn’t it be nice to know a little bit about what’s going on behind closed doors?
It took me a while, but now I know what Novak was doing when he pointed to his head after winning the second set. He was pointing out that he and Goran have a full head of hair. Picture this:
Novak with a go-tee.
Now picture this:
Novak with a mustache.
Now with a foo-man choo.
Did that blow your mind?

True story.

I have a buddy who grows facial hair like a chia-pet. Add water and PLOOM; there it is. One night after coming home late from hockey and while his wife was already sleeping, he shaved off the beard and left the mustache.
When they woke up the next day, his wife screamed after she looked at him.
“Get out of this bed and shave that thing off your face!”
Do you know what’s crazy about tennis?
Breaking habits.

Djokovic loses the fourth game of the second set on a missed drop shot. He’s been using those throughout the clay-court season and on game points. It failed him here. I’m going to look more into the game points in another piece. But when Novak did have a breakpoint during that game, he loaded up on the Nadal backhand and lost the point. It’s easy to say he should have done something else. For instance, an analyst would know that would happen and account for it. But if your coach is the analyst too….YIKES….delegate duties. Stop being cheap and get yourself another set of eyes.
You can’t do everything yourself.

Mortal Kombat

“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“That music.”
“Kind of. Where’s it coming from?”
“The basement.”
“Did you leave the TV on?
“Get over here!” a man’s voice said.
The voice repeated and then there was a sound of lettuce being crunched.
They walked over to the basement and walked down the stairs.
“MORTAL KOMBAT!” Terry Silver yelled. He started pushing buttons on the Sega controller.
“Dude! Get out of my house.”
“I will in a second. But know this. You’re wasting your time analyzing the third set. Just go to the fourth and cover why Djokovic blew a lead.”
He looked back at the screen.
“Chuh Chuh Chuh Chah Chah….Chuh Chuh Chuh Chah,” Terry yelled.
“Finish Him,” the invisible man said on the screen.
“Watch this!” Terry yelled. “An Ice Clone Shower submission move by Sub Zero!”
Terry hit a few buttons and screamed. He got up and walked up the stairs. He grabbed a tennis racket and started waving it around.
“What the hell is this thing?” He said. He tossed it on the ground and, before leaving, grabbed three powered donuts out of the Entenmann’s box and shoved them in his mouth. The white powder was all over his mouth.

Fourth Set

Djokovic jumped out to a 3-0 lead and stood at 5-2.
I get that Djokovic feels like he will win this set and might be conserving energy. Or suffers a lapse of mentality.
Before I forget.
I’m racking my brain for a drill that junior players would benefit from. A footwork drill that would help them move side to side and up and back….almost like playing defense in basketball….and in a tight area.
Here it is.
No rackets.
Only a tennis ball. You can only use the service boxes on each side of the court, and you can only use underhand throws. You can play any scoring format. And you can play with one bounce only or two.
It’s actually a lot of fun. It is more fun than running suicides and the other goofy footwork drills….it incorporates different movements and, most importantly, is fast-paced.

Nadal is playing with house cards. Djokovic is laying up a bit on his pace and Nadal is taking advantage.
Djokovic has a set point at 5-3, 40-30, and plays a good point. He set up the first two shots to Nadal’s backhand and got a look at a crosscourt backhand of his own but hit the tape.
He came into the net on the second set point, and Nadal passed him back down the line.
What can you do?
It wasn’t a bad look either.
He saves a breakpoint.

Divorce theory

Here’s where I want to talk about the Divorce theory. When there is a Divorce, it’s not the break-up that should be looked at and discussed; it is what leads to Divorce.
You can look at how Djokovic “choked,” or you can look at what led to the choke. Look at how many long games they had and the magnitude of the game points. Like chess pieces, tennis points are weighted. Some points have more value, others not so much.
Have you ever had a match where you had a ton of game points on serve only to get broken? Those hurt.
Have you ever had a match where you had a gazillion breakpoints and failed to convert?
Those hurt too.
How about a match where you only had a few breakpoints and had to make them count?
And failed.
If you look back at the match…all the 30-all games…all the game points….they all add up. So when the announcers talk about Djokovic not having enough matchplay this year, it’s partly true. They’re not explaining to you that just because Djokovic won all these Majors and other tournaments…you still have to “re-learn” how to win games.

Re-learning how to win

For the players at home. If you play matches sporadically, that’s not enough. You will always be “re-learning” how to win matches.
For the players at home who clinic too much and don’t play a lot of matches….Play more matches.
For the players who play a lot of matches and hit the wall….Try to win a new way (even if it means losing for a few months or an indoor season.
Ya. You can play 30-all games. Or Deuce games or whatever manipulation scoring you want to work on, but in the end, you need to be in the “real” situation.

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