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AO Analyst: How Caro’s backhand ruled the night

  • Craig O'Shannessy
  • Ben Solomon

The shield owned the spotlight.

How do you play 218 points in a ridiculously high-level Grand Slam tournament final and only make six backhand unforced errors for the match?

Caroline Wozniacki defeated Simona Halep 7-6(2) 3-6 6-4 to win her first Grand Slam tournament title, ascending back to the world No.1 ranking in the process. The backhand stood very, very tall. 

MORE: Great Dane: Wozniacki wins maiden slam

It’s important to understand the different roles of forehands and backhands. The forehand is the sword. It does most of the attacking in our sport. The backhand is the shield. Its role is not to miss, and hopefully provide a little offence along the way. 

Wozniacki’s backhand was rock-solid for the past two weeks, but somehow found another level on Saturday night on the world’s biggest stage. 

How do you play 1006 points over two weeks and only commit 40 backhand unforced errors for the tournament? Please. 

Of the 128 players in the draw, only two made fewer backhand unforced errors. A third of the tournament committed 10 per cent-plus backhand unforced errors, while Wozniacki only made 3.9 per cent. It’s a weird stat, but all you need to know is that we should all drop to our knees and bow in respect. 

Everyone gets loose with backhands. Not Wozniacki. Not Down Under.

In the deciding third set, with Halep serving up a break at 4-3 and reaching for the finish line, it was Wozniacki’s backhand that got her back to level ground in one of the most impactful games of the final. 

That game contained eight points, and every one of them was touched by Wozniacki’s spectacular backhand: 

0-0: Halep made a backhand error forced from a deep cross-court Wozniacki backhand.
0-15:  Wozniacki hit a backhand cross-court winner.
0-30: Wozniacki made a backhand, but sprayed a forehand long.
15-30: Wozniacki made three backhands, but misses the fourth long. Only error.
30-30: Wozniacki made two tough defensive backhands. No mistakes.
30-40: A ridiculously good backhand return extends the point.
Deuce: A backhand cross-court forced a short lob for a volley winner.
Ad Out: Wozniacki made a tough defensive slice backhand in the short rally.

Overall, Wozniacki made six backhand unforced errors for the match, while Halep committed 20. That’s a 14-point difference in a match where Wozniacki won 110 points and Halep won 108. Not much else you need to know.

When you add up winners and subtract errors (forced and unforced), Wozniacki ended up -14 on the backhand side. It doesn’t sound great, but it was significantly better than Halep’s -35 (7 winners/42 errors). 

What else did Wozniacki do well that significantly contributed to victory?

In short order, nothing. 

Both players won 11 points at net. Wozniacki won 60 points in the 0-4 rally length, and Halep won 58. Both players won 50 points each when a rally extended past five shots. Both got broken five times. Both hit two return winners. Wozniacki made 81 per cent (93/115) of her returns. Halep made 80 per cent (77/96). 

Wozniacki’s backhand was the difference-maker. It chipped in for eight winners, and withstood a baseline barrage from Halep. 

It was what made Caroline Wozniacki a Grand Slam champion.