Depth of return and clutch play: Novak Djokovic trumps Nick Kyrgios’ serve-reliant game to win 7th Wimbledon crown

An aggressive return strategy and subtle adjustments to his baseline game allowed Novak Djokovic to pick up a seventh Wimbledon title, this time against Nick Kyrgios on Sunday. The Serb’s well-rounded technique and grasscourt ability was on full display and he showed up his opponent by amplifying his weaknesses rather than focusing on his own strengths.

Kyrgios went big on serve

The key to Kyrgios’ high-profile wins over Djokovic in the spring of 2017 was a high-risk high-reward service strategy, particularly into the Serb’s forehand in order to close the angle for the next shot. One of the Aussie’s strongest traits is that he is able to maintain similar power and accuracy on his second serve as he does on his first.

This trend continued, and worked to an extent, particularly in the first set. Kyrgios served 30 aces throughout the match and his 73% first serve success rate (far better than Djokovic’s 63%) was solid considering how much of his game depends on the shot.

But Djokovic’s return has legendary status for a reason, and he began to put more and more balls into play. The sheer depth of his return was enough to make Kyrgios think, and overthink, about his next shot, allowing the Serb to take control of the rallies.

In doing so, the Serb may not have won too many return games but he prolonged Kyrgios’ service holds and made him work much harder to hold serve and lose confidence in the shot.

Failed on the big points

A Grand Slam final is decided by fine margins. While Kyrgios may have been outplayed in the longer exchanges of the match, the Aussie lost all three sets from advantageous positions.

In the second set, Djokovic’s level dropped while serving for it at 5-3 and Kyrgios failed to take advantage of a 40-0 lead. In the third, while serving at 4-4, he dropped a 40-0 lead after he was put under immense pressure by a red-lining return game from Djokovic, and a heckler in the crowd.

In the fourth set, after being made to work hard as ever to drag it to a tiebreaker, his concentration dropped and he made a few casual errors on serve in the breaker, giving the Serb five match points and he eventually finished it on the third.

Djokovic prolongs rallies, attacks the Kyrgios forehand

Kyrgios’ forehand is capable of producing powerful and flat winners, but when engaged in long exchanges from the baseline, they can be too loopy with too much spin, and when he was unable to hit through it, it gave too much time to the Serb.

Djokovic was onto this from the get-go, angling his first serve to the Kyrgios forehand and encouraging him to hit high-risk shots or engage in longer rallies from that wing. Even while going crosscourt to his opponent’s backhand, which is useful while redirecting pace but lacks the firepower to create its own, he was happy to keep the longer exchanges going.

Invariably, Kyrgios would hit an error in trying to go big or mix things up with a drop shot, and as the match went on, a majority of those points went the Serb’s way.

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