AO Analyst: Djokovic v Chung

  • Craig O'Shannessy

After a week of sun-bathed tennis and after 28,389 gruelling baseline points, the best player in the men’s draw from the back of the court is … Hyeon Chung. 

The second best is Novak Djokovic.

Chung and Djokovic face off on Rod Laver Arena on Monday night for a spot in the 2018 Australian Open quarter-finals. Their baseline exchanges will have a massive impact on who stays in Melbourne, and who will be packing their bags early.

MORE: All the latest scores and results

The tournament average for baseline points won is 46.7 per cent (13,271/28,389). Both Djokovic and Chung are personally smashing that to pieces.

Baseline points won
Chung = 60.8% (174/286)
Djokovic = 57.3% (202/352)

To understand just how tough it is from the back of the court, only 22 men have won more than 50 per cent of their baseline points so far for the tournament. The average winning percentage at the net is 67 per cent (3992/5977), which identifies where players should be spending more time if they are not as proficient from the baseline as Chung and Djokovic. 

MORE: Full men's draw

Twenty-one-year-old Chung, from South Korea, knocked out No.4 seed Alexander Zverev in the previous round, with baseline performance being a big reason why. Chung won 53 per cent (76/143) from the back of the court, only allowing Zverev to win a lowly 42 per cent (68/161). In the deciding fifth set, Chung crushed Zverev from the baseline. He won 14/17, while Zverev won only 3/20. 

What does Chung do so well from the baseline? Well, pretty much everything, but his forehand is the preferred weapon to finish the point. Chung has amassed 50 forehand winners while just hitting 13 backhand winners. That does not mean that Chung’s backhand is sub-par. Far from it, actually. A lot of those forehand winners were undoubtedly set up by cross court and down the line backhands.

Thirty-year-old Djokovic, a six-time champion here in Melbourne, is widely regarded as having one of the greatest backhands of all time, but it’s his forehand that is doing more damage here in week one. Djokovic has hit 45 forehand winners and 25 from the backhand wing. 

This is a very intriguing match-up because their style of play is so similar, and they are both in great form when rallies naturally evolve. Chung plays very mature baseline patterns, primarily going cross court with depth to begin the point, trying to extract a short ball back so he can aggressively change directions down the line to get his opponent on the run.

Court position will be a very important factor for both players in this match. Whoever feels the magnetism of the baseline more will find themselves leaning on the ball, and forcing their opponent slightly onto the back foot. This subtle battle of balance changes the ball speed, which therefore changes the court position, which therefore changes when you book your flight home.

Since both players run so well, the emphasis on direction won’t be as high as it normally is. The premium will be on depth, especially early in the point. Hit it deep, receive it shorter, then move forward and attack out wide with naturally better geometry. 

PREDICTION: Djokovic in four sets