How We Draw It Up
(Not always how we do it)
Marco Cecchinato, the free- swinging Italian, took down Novak Djokovic in the Quarterfinals of Roland Garros thanks to his purposefully chaotic style of play. Mixing drop shots with outstanding court positioning and a firm understanding of the game’s percentages, Cecchinato flew around court Suzanne Lenglen as freely as a world #72 ever has.
Unable to beat Djokovic with pure speed of serve, Cecchinato stood closer to the alley on both sides than a typical Top 100 player would. Standing farther away from the centerline opens up more potential angles for his serve, and keeps Djokovic honest. With such a wide array of spots to cover, Djokovic can’t lean too far one way or the other and start to take advantage of the Cecchinato serve. Ryan Harrison and Pierre Hugues Herbert use the same tactic often, as well as the Argentine Leonardo Mayer. The guys we usually see on TV don’t often need to move wide, because they can dominate with speed of serve, but this strategy is common on non-TV-courts, and in tennis’ lower professional levels. For righties serving on the ad side, standing out towards the backhand doubles alley and serving kick wide is a great way to get control of the point. Taking some speed off the serve, and hitting it more like a rainbow into the shortest possible part of the ad service box gets your opponent way off the court stuck hitting a high backhand. Cecchinato was backing this serve up with an aggressive forehand; the success he found today only confirmed why it is one of the most common patterns of play on the men’s tour.
He knew Djokovic’s backhand could not beat him up the line. Completely peppering the Djokovic backhand, Cecchinato hit 73% of his shots there. This shows a firm belief in, and commitment to the idea that, ‘Djokovic cannot beat me with his backhand.’ Cecchinato did not say that, but he was obviously thinking it. Full commitment to this strategy puts a player at ease, and allows him to focus on other things than shot selection; unless he could hit a winner, Cecchinato was hitting the ball to Djokovic’s backhand side, no two ways about it.
Marco Cecchinato is the #72 player in the world for a reason; on any day a guy like him is capable of beating the best players in the world. Most of the drama we felt watching that match was from our belief in Djokovic to come back, as opposed to our disbelief in Cecchinato’s ability to keep that high level of play. His willingness to move forward and end points from the net was a fantastic showing of what a good competitor should do; he knew he wouldn’t outlast Djokovic, so he didn’t try to. He went on the court with all his strengths, and a firm belief in his strategy and he was not to be denied. Regardless of the outcome of this match, it was beautiful to watch a guy compete as hard mentally as he does physically; our sport needs guys like Marco Cecchinato.