By Jack Edward
Earlier today, Daniil Medvedev defeated Matteo Berrettini in a crucial three-set singles match, keeping Russia’s hopes of qualifying for the semifinals alive (which they went on to do).
Tied at one set apiece, Berrettini having raised his level to take the second set, the commentators had a little natter on which player had the best shot.
“John Fitzpatrick: Who has the best shot and what is it? And how does it affect the outcome of the match?
Jim Courier: The best shot on the court for me is Medvedev’s return of serve.
John Fitzpatrick: Petch?
Mark Petchey: Honestly a little bit left-field, I actually think Berrettini’s slice backhand is the most important shot for me out here. It allows him to stay in the longer rallies without running out of air, you’re able to hit it and doesn’t take as much energy out of you, keeps the ball low, Medvedev can’t step in –
Jim Courier: It’s not what he asked. He asked what’s the best shot, not what’s the most important shot. Come on counsellor, don’t sidestep the question.
Mark Petchey: Berrettini’s forehand then.
John Fitzpatrick: I think it’s Berrettini’s forehand. I mean I hear that return of serve, he’s a genius at it but if Berrettini gets his forehand, the racket-head speed, if he makes it, if he starts making it which I guess it’s impossible to do, if he makes such a high-percentage – gee he can cause some damage.”
A fun debate with a classic bit of Courier-ribbing! Fitzy put them all on the spot so they might all revise their answers having had a little pause for thought. Either way, I’ll take their answers with a pinch of salt and throw my hat in the ring…
Berrettini’s Best Shot
Let’s start by determining the best shot from each player.
Berrettini’s arsenal is pretty difficult to assess, most of his shots erring on being tailor-made for grass-courts:
- The first serve can be untouchable on grass when he gets it right.
- The slice can be incredibly effective, skidding low on the turf.
- Though the forehand is extremely loaded with spin and tends to bounce through at a hittable height, this point is fairly moot – Matteo hits it so big, he can dictate points with it regardless.
But it’s only a relatively small portion of the year. And in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic exploited the slice, (somewhat) neutralised the first serve and (somewhat) overheated the forehand.
A player’s best shot totally depends on who they’re playing and where they’re playing. For me, the question has to be: who has the best shot on the court? (It has to be, right? Someone argue with me for fun!)
With that in mind… in his match-up with Medvedev, Berrettini’s best shot is either the first serve or the forehand.
I know what I said on Twitter…
… but when Berrettini placed his serve better, as he showed he is capable of doing consistently, this dynamic completely changed.
Chalk it down to nailing the wide serve, 66% of Berretini’s serves went unreturned from thereon in. He complemented the serve with some repeatable forehand approaching brilliance, mopping up another nine service points on the + 1 shot.
Here’s how we can argue which shot is better in this match-up – the forehands that immediately proceed the first serve are really crediting the first serve. Let’s compare how often Berrettini used his forehand to graft an advantage in a neutral rally (basically all forehands that weren’t a +1 to his serve) to how often Berrettini missed a makable forehand (basically all forehand unforced errors).
- 16 forehands used to win neutral rallies (roughly)
- 21 forehand unforced errors
In my opinion, making more mistakes off the forehand than winning neutral rallies puts Berrettini’s first-serve top of his list – I must stress – in this match-up.
Once it got going from the second set onwards, he was only broken once. He only dropped four more points when he landed the first serve and the game in which he was broken was riddled with three forehand unforced errors.
Berrettini’s first serve steps into the ring.
Medvedev’s Best Shot
For the life of me, I couldn’t believe the commentators didn’t mention Medvedev’s backhand. It may not always blow your socks off but, boy, has it won him a ton of matches.
For me, Medvedev’s best shot is either his backhand or his return (the quality of his serve could also be argued). Which was more important in this match-up?
Here are a few stats:
- Medvedev backhand unforced errors = 6
- Medvedev backhand forced errors + winners = 15
- Medvedev returns made = 75/105 = 71%
Given Berrettini’s biggest weapon is big enough to trouble Medvedev’s return (71% is low given the Russian’s ridiculous returning record), there is absolutely the potential for Berrettini to scrape his way through a match under the right conditions on his first serve + forehand combo alone.
The reason the stars are unlikely to align for Berrettini is the same reason many a foe have had running into Daniil – his backhand is the best in the business and, in this match-up, trumps Berrettini’s by a country-mile.
Six unforced errors on this wing throughout the match.
Plenty of points injected with a bit of backhand brilliance.
Medvedev faced two break points because he was able to lock Berrettini into the ad court over and over again. Even when Berrettini found his range on the slice, Medvedev dealt with it better than I expected him to (I definitely think he has been working his ass off to improve his counter to the slice).
This is why Matteo’s forehand was so loose. This is why when the rally extended past five shots on Medvedev’s serve, Berrettini could only win 32% of the points, so often losing the point in the ad-court.
It’s difficult for me to convey the gravity of Medvedev’s backhand without pulling the match apart point-by-point. So often Medvedev won points by hitting to the Berrettini forehand, the Italian expecting the shot to go to the ad-court, Medvedev’s huge brain plus his backhand equalling even more free points…
And was it the weakness of Berrettini’s backhand rather than the strength of Medvedev’s backhand that won this mini-battle?
Who has the best shot?
This self-indulgence could go on for hours so I’ll come to a conclusion.
Berrettini is yet to prove to me that any of his shots have the wherewithal to sway the outcome of this match-up.
In my opinion, It’s Medvedev’s backhand. It was the the Lynchpin holding together his surreal game, the seminal foundation on which every point was somewhat influenced. I could even see Medvedev beating Berrettini on clay using this shot alone!
I might post a whole analysis of this match later in the week depending on whether or not it’s relevant i.e. Russia win the ATP Cup. If they do, be sure to look out for it! In the meantime, fight me on Twitter on my thoughts on this article @jackedward1994!