Paris Fed vs. Rafa Preview
There’s quite a bit of hype going into tomorrow’s semi-final at the French Open, but I don’t think the match is going to be very close. Rafa is a clear and substantial favorite. Here’s why:
Fed’s forehand is sometimes whispered as the greatest shot in tennis, but in the matchup with Rafa, this is clearly not the case. One way to look at the DOMINANCE of a stroke is to see what percentage of the time that stroke ends the point with either a winner or an unforced error. When Rafa played Tsitsipas a couple of weeks ago in Rome, his point-ending forehands were at just over 23%. Against Djokovic in the finals at Rome, it was just over 22%. In contrast, when playing Wawrinka in his last match, Fed’s forehand dominance number was only 15.5%.
Rafa’s backhand dominance number is right around 12% for both matches. In both matches his winners on this wing outnumbered his unforced errors. Fed, in contrast, had just over 15% of his points ending with a backhand AND had a large negative differential of -13 (many more errors than winners).
So, where are we so far? Fed’s forehand is not as strong and neither is his backhand. What about the serve? Essentially, they are both ending about 9% of their points with aces, service winners, or double faults. Against Djokovic, this number was only slightly above 4%, but it helps to recall that Novak is the strongest returner in the game. Serving is about equal, but it remains one place where Fed could make a dent as his serve has the potential to do more damage than Rafa’s.
One final dimension to check out is rally length: 0-4, 5-8, or 9+ shots. Both Fed and Rafa have dominated their opponents in the 5-8 category by a substantial margin. Craig O’Shannessy of Brain Game Tennis calls this particular rally length: Pattern Play. This is a crucial battleground for both players. If Fed is to have a chance, he must find a way to construct patterns which disrupt Rafa. This is a tall order as players have been searching for many years to find this and have come up empty.
Fed fans (and I’m a big one!) … it doesn’t look good … but, it still has to be settled on the court!