Three keys to Novak Djokovic’s win over Marin Cilic in the Tel Aviv Open final

Novak Djokovic in action at the ATP Tel Aviv Open.

Top seed Novak Djokovic beat second seed Marin Cilic 6-3 6-4 in the final at the ATP Tel Aviv Open to win his third title of the year on Sunday. The match lasted just over one and a half hours with the Serbian delivering another clinical display to win his 89th career title. It was a promising week overall for the Serb, who did not drop a single set, though he still faces a battle to qualify for the ATP Finals. But what were the keys to his victory over Cilic?

1. Djokovic’s slice backhand:

There were a lot of cross-court backhand exchanges between the two players early on in the match, but instead of going for his reliable two-handed backhand, Djokovic used his backhand slice frequently. It proved to be an effective strategy. Cilic struggled to redirect the ball or bring his own two-hander into play, instead becoming trapped in backhand slice to backhand slice battles. Djokovic took advantage, getting the all-important break of serve in the sixth game of the first set and continued holding own his serve to win the set, finishing it with an ace. Once Djokovic was a set up, it was always going to be difficult for Cilic to stop him.

2. Djokovic’s forehand winners:

Djokovic hit a lot of forehand winners from the baseline in the match. With his backhand being one of the most effective shots in the men’s game, the Serb is almost unstoppable when his forehand is also firing and that is exactly what happened on Sunday. Djokovic hit a handful of excellent drop shots off his backhand in the second set which kept Cilic off-balance. Djokovic again managed to go a break up in the second set and remained largely unthreatened on his own deal, facing just one break point all match.

3. Cilic’s attacked blunted by outstanding defence

Cilic, as expected, was the more attacking player throughout, looking to dictate terms with his big serve and forehand. However, it was not enough to get the better of Djokovic’s outstanding defence. That is no great surprise with Djokovic having dominated their rivalry with this his 19th victory in 21 meetings with Cilic. Particularly concerning for Cilic was Djokovic’s dominance on serve.

Djokovic won a superb 89% of the points on his first serve. Cilic managed to win just 71% of the points behind his own first serve and, crucially, he struggled to defend his second delivery, winning just 58% of the points when he missed his first serve. The Croatian did hit 22 winners compared with Djokovic’s 21, but also committed 20 unforced errors, while the Serb committed only 11. That ultimately proved to be the difference.

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