10:23 PM GMT November 18, 2018
The first set was from another world.
Alexander Zverev defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 in the championship match of the Nitto ATP Finals in London on Sunday on the back of one of the best sets of tennis he has ever played.
Zverev was soundly defeated by the World No. 1 6-4, 6-1 in round robin stage at The O2 earlier in the week, and also lost 6-2, 6-1 in the semi-finals of Rolex Shanghai Masters last month.
Then this set roared to life…
Zverev’s overall first-serve percentage this season is 64 per cent (3277/5117), but he made an eye-opening 86 per cent in the first set. He averaged 135 mph on his first serve in Set 1, which was simply on another level from Djokovic’s 123 mph average.
Zverev crushed seven aces in the opening set, and just three in the second set. He hit no double faults in Set 1, but three in Set 2. Zverev won a remarkable 86 per cent of his first-serve points in the opening set, and just 67 per cent in the second set.
Set 2 was solid. Set 1 was the launch pad to end-of-season glory.
Djokovic reached the London final on the back of putting so many serves back in play - but 48 per cent of Zverev’s first serves were unreturned in Set 1, which was much higher than the 33 per cent in Set 2.
As good as Zverev’s first serve performed in the opening set, his second serve metrics may have been better. Zverev averaged 104 mph on his second serve against Djokovic in the Round Robin stage, but that elevated to 109 mph in Set 1 on Sunday evening. In Set 2, it significantly dropped down to 98 mph. Zverev won a dominant 67 per cent of his second-serve points in the opening set, but that fell away to just 50 per cent in the second set.
Zverev brought the farm in Set 1, and it paved the way to the biggest title of his career.
Once the rally matured past the serve and return stage into a baseline contest in Set 1, Zverev employed a very aggressive down-the-line strategy that was aimed at making Djokovic have to hit the ball on the run.
Zverev Groundstroke Direction
• Set 1 = 33% line / 67% cross
• Set 2 = 21% line / 79% cross
Zverev’s return of serve was also much more dominant in Set 1 over Set 2. Zverev put 81 per cent of Djokovic’s first serves back in play in the opening set, but just 69 per cent in the second set.
Zverev stepped into returns in the opening set and blasted them back at Djokovic at will.
Zverev Average Return Speed
• 1st Serve Return Speed - Set 1 69mph / Set 2 61mph
• 2nd Serve Return Speed - Set 1 78mph / Set 2 76mph
In the opening set, Zverev was dominant in points won under nine shots, winning that metric 25-17. In Set 2, he lost it 23-24.
After two recent lopsided losses, Zverev had to make an adjustment. He had to come out swinging, and land as many punches as he possibly could. Almost every single one of them landed in the opening set and paved the way to victory.
Editor’s Note: Craig O’Shannessy is a member of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.