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Pound the backhand to get off to a flyer. Pound the backhand to put two hands on the trophy.

Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-0, 7-6(5) in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final on Sunday by unleashing against the Greek’s one-handed backhand in a straight-sets final that actually had three very distinct phases.

Overall, Tsitsipas hit 100 forehand groundstrokes and 90 backhand groundstrokes for the match, but the road to a record-extending 38th ATP Masters 1000 crown for the Super Serbian definitely went through the Greek’s backhand wing.

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Phase 1: Set 1 Djokovic 6-0
Djokovic was mentally locked in to begin the match, winning the first six points of the final to lay the groundwork for the first-set bagel. Tsitsipas committed an error on four of the first 10 backhands he struck, ultimately coughing up nine backhand errors in the opening set while collecting no winners.

The backhand was misfiring. Djokovic swarmed.

Too many backhands hit the frame or landed short as the Greek tried to roll the ball up high to Djokovic’s backhand wing. It appeared Tsitsipas had very little time to prepare for the shot as Djokovic was stepping into almost every ball he hit. What is even more startling is that Tsitsipas had zero backhand groundstroke winners in set one, and not one backhand groundstroke in the opening set extracted an error from Djokovic.

Phase 2: Set 2 Tsitsipas led 5-2
Tsitsipas raced to a 4-1 then 5-2 lead in the second set courtesy of Djokovic missing more and becoming increasingly agitated with his game as the pro-Greek crowd came alive, throwing their support behind Tsitsipas to extend the match to a third set.

Tsitsipas hit 29 backhands in this second phase of the match and remarkably committed zero errors while also hitting one winner and extracting two errors. It’s like a light switch was flicked and the Greek figured out a way to immediately stop the bleeding off this wing. Tsitsipas hit 34 forehand groundstrokes in the second period of the match, committing seven errors and collecting just one winner.

The backhand had suddenly become the star at the Foro Italico.

Phase 3: Set 2 Djokovic wins 7-6(5)
Tsitsipas had a break point with Djokovic serving at 1-4, 30/40 in the second set, but yielded a backhand winner to the Serbian, who was on the front foot desperately trying to play through Tsitsipas to save the set. Had Tsitsipas won that point, he would have served for set two and the final outcome could have been much different.

From 2-5 in the second set, Djokovic doubled down on pounding Tsitsipas’ backhand, making him hit 36 backhands in six games. In the second phase, Tsitsipas hit 29 backhands for no errors. In the third period, Tsitsipas hit 36 backhands for seven errors. In the third, Tsitsipas’ forehand only yielded two groundstroke errors.

It was once again the Tsitsipas backhand that was misbehaving.

Tsitsipas Backhand Groundstroke Performance
– Phase 1 = 6 games/25 backhands/9 errors

– Phase 2 = 7 games/29 backhands/0 errors

– Phase 3 = 6 games/36 backhands/7 errors

It was clearly the backhand groundstroke that faltered at the start and end of the match for the Greek. Djokovic mentally and emotionally lost his way in the middle of the encounter but took care of business when it mattered at the end of the match to notch his first title of the 2022 season.


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