A Deeper Look: Li Vs Jankovic
Published October 24, 2013 12:12
The scoreboard can sometimes prove to be just as important of an opponent as the person standing across the net.
Jankovic continually dug herself into holes and it eventually caught up with her. There is a limit, both physically and mentally, to how many times you can keep coming back in a match. A cat has only so many lives.
Jankovic got off to the worst possible start by losing her opening service game to love. A double fault at 0-15 sent things headed in a bad direction. She went through a stretch of losing 13 of 14 points to quickly fall behind 3-0 and also down 0-40 on her serve. That's the edge of the cliff right there.
Then, out of nowhere, she started to find her game. Things amazingly flipped on their head and Jankovic won 11 of the next 12 points to break Li to love and then saved three break points at 2-3 with some power hitting, especially off the backhand, to pull back even at 3-3 in the first set.
Serving at 3-4, Jankovic quickly fell to 15-40 but came up with a big serve out wide in the deuce court and unloaded with a crosscourt backhand that Li could not handle. Jankovic got unlucky at 30-40 as she hit such a good serve out wide that Li shanked the return short, cross and low and it actually became a very tough shot for Jankovic. Running in, the only place to hit it was cross court and Li knew it. Li then hit a ridiculously good short angle roll passing shot and Jankovic couldn't control the forehand volley. Tough break and she was behind again.
Jankovic lost the first set mainly because she could never get ahead and use the pressure of the scoreboard against Li. When you play a tennis match there are three opponents you battle: the person on the other side of the net, the scoreboard and yourself. Jankovic definitely spent more time wrestling the last two than Li did.
A clear example of Jankovic shooting herself in the foot was at the beginning of her service games. SAP analytics showed that in her 13 service games she lost the opening point to fall behind 0-15 in 10 of them. Every time she won the first of the game she rolled to win that game. Jankovic only won four of 10 when she dropped the opening point. Li, by comparison, also served 13 times and lost the opening point only five times - exactly half of her opponent. Li won 75% (six of eight) of her games when she won the first point and only 40% (two of five) when she didn't. Holes are clearly to be avoided early in a game.
The pressure of playing from behind simply creates more opportunities for opponents to break you. While Li only had to face nine break points, Jankovic had to deal with a whopping 21. With a scoreboard that appears quite close, these numbers tell the inside story of what was really going on. Jankovic had to face break points in her first six service games in a row and 10 of 13 overall. That's a lot of accumulated pressure.
True to form, Jankovic faced three break points in her opening service game of the second set but saved all of them. A new set and some new confidence from dodging those bullets helped her mentally to break Li in the next game for a 2-0 lead. It was Jankovic's backhand that was turning up the volume. At 15-30 Jankovic was hammering backhands all over the court but those missiles were especially intended for Li's forehand. Hawk-Eye visualization showed Jankovic directed a sizeable 64% of all her shots to Li's forehand, which committed 40 errors (Jankovic had 28 forehand errors).
For the first time in the match Li was misfiring and Jankovic was completely dialed in. Just as Jankovic was about to put the foot down and grab the match by the throat she threw in a double fault at 15-15, which always puts the breaks on momentum. She would be broken a handful of points later with a forehand in the net. Li saved two break points to get to 2-2 but would not win another game for the rest of the set as Jankovic started playing bigger all over the court.
Jankovic opened the third set saving two break points but even though she won the game she lost valuable momentum. Jankovic led 40-15 in that game and it was time to make a statement after winning the last four games in a row. But at 40-15 she committed two passive unforced forehand errors at a time that called for aggression, not caution.
The 1-1 game in the third set was where Jankovic really lost the match with a combination of bad luck and negativity. At 15-30 she crushed a first serve that was very close but called out. Instead of challenging or letting it go mentally it unnerved her and she lost the point. At 15-40 she hit what she thought was an ace but Li challenged and it was wide by the smallest of margins. Jankovic had already got two balls for the next point but when it was called out she kicked one of the balls back to the ball boy. Irritation was clearly evident. She would still end up winning that point but the focus was not what it needed to be. At 30-40 they played a crazy kind of point that ended up with Li hitting a backhand winner down the line on the dead run that also clipped the tape. Everything seemed to be crumbling for Jankovic.
She dug out of one last hole to get back to 3-3 in the third when Li went for a very risky backhand down the line. It was a gift. Jankovic had expended a lot of energy to get back even late in the match and it had taken its toll. She would lose both her last two service games of the match as Li pounded almost everything crosscourt and forced Jankovic to come up with something special. Unfortunately for the Serb she had run out of lives.
Craig O'Shannessy is an Australian tour coach who studies matches to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. He runs a tennis academy in Austin, Texas and a website called www.braingametennis.com.