The effectiveness of the first shot behind the first serve is an underrated statistic. First of all, it is extremely hard to keep track of it despite how easy it is to recognize when it occurs. There are many intangibles, not in the execution of the 1-2 punch itself, but on the consideration of which ones belong to the statistics’ count. Do you consider every single shot that is hit after the opponent returns the ball? Do you consider every winner on that shot when, in some of those points, it was really the serve that got the job done and earned a weak return that sat high inside the service line? What about when you hit a big serve and follow it up with even a bigger shot, yet you still end up hitting one or two more shots to finish the point although you clearly gained the advantage thanks to the serve and the next shot (example: Wawrinka serving, 4-5 in the second set, 0-15)? Do you add that to the statistic? Finally, do you give the same consideration to the shot hit behind a great second serve? These are all subjective approaches, and there are many coaches who keep a close eye on this stat depending on their expectations from their player. It is also why you rarely see the main media offer statistics on this shot.
Wawrinka is a unique case in this category due to his approach to the follow-up shot behind the serve. When he is focused and his game is ticking with the precision of a Swiss clock, he smacks the second shot of the rally following his first serve, regardless of his position in the court. If you want to see a good example of what I mean – and I am sure replays of the match will pop-up on various TV channels over the next 48 hours – watch the 40-30 point at 6-3 3-2. You will see Stan serve, and Tsonga make an above-average return that bounces close to the baseline and pushes Stan back. Yet, Stan will still go for the big forehand winner to the deuce corner (while he is backing up, mind you?), and hit the clean winner somehow. Now, this example was an extreme one, although similar points took place a number of times, both against Tsonga in the semis and Federer in the quarters. The more usual case is when the return falls short due to a powerful serve and Wawrinka simply nails the forehand to the open court or behind the opponent who is recovering from the return corner. Two prime examples are the first and the last points of the 6-3 2-1 game.
Of course, for this simple and efficient game plan to work you need a high first-serve percentage and powerful ground strokes, both of which Stan possesses in his arsenal. On a secondary level, it also helps to avoid double faults. Wawrinka did not commit a double fault until the later stages of the second set (he committed none against his third-round opponent Steve Johnson and against Federer in the quarterfinal). In fact, when Tsonga broke Wawrinka’s serve in the eighth game of the second set, that was the first time the Swiss got broken since his match against Gilles Simon, in the round of 16s. Even as Tsonga won the second set, coming up with a solution to Stan’s 1-2 punch still remained a priority. It was Wawrinka who decided to render his 1-2 punch less of a factor in the second set, by hitting only 31% of his first serves in, after 69% in the first set. In other words, one of the two key components (see the first sentence of this paragraph) of an effective 1-2 punch was missing.
In the crucial third set, Tsonga found his top-class serve that helped him win so many matches in big stages. It was not until his fourth serving game that he lost a point on a first serve. The seventh game constituted a minor turning point for Wawrinka. His serve finally came back and carried him through that game precisely when Tsonga was starting to receive a large amount of amour from the French crowd and was giving some of his own right back at them by holding his fists up. Stan knew the importance of that game and pulled two of his most animated “Come on!” yells, the first one coming after an ace served wide to the deuce side at 30-30. The 4-4 game was another crucial one. Stan’s first serve deserted him through the long game in which Tsonga first made a silly return cross-court forehand winner attempt from far outside the court at 0-30, and then, could not capitalize on two break points later in the game. The tiebreaker was inevitable.
In the tiebreaker, Stan stood tall in the string of grinding points from 1-1 to 4-3, and closed the set out by winning the next three points. When he walked to the bench two sets to one down, Tsonga probably understood how Wawrinka felt at the end of the second set and was asking himself “How did I let this set get away?” After all, the Frenchman served very well throughout the set while the Swiss remained below 50%, and had six break points (of which he converted none) while his opponent did not even garner one.
I reckon, there were many tennis fans who predicted during the third set that, considering the scorching heat in Philippe Chatrier court, the loser of that set would perhaps lose his energy, lower his level of tennis, or even fold in the fourth one. Tsonga did not exactly fold, but slowly faded away after he squandered additional break points away at 1-2 down that would have helped him get back on serve. Wawrinka held his serve for the rest of the set and triumphed, after 3 hours and 46 minutes, by the score of 6/3 6/7 7/6 6/4
At the end of the day, the main story of the match was Wawrinka’s ability to serve-and-finish (and no, that does not equate serve-and-volley) in two shots, and Tsonga’s frustrated attempts at countering that crippling disadvantage in order to find some type of equilibrium. Stan was throwing something at Jo and asking him to deal with it. Jo had two options: either deal with it, or find something else to throw back at Stan and balance the “headache” count. He could do neither. The Swiss now finds himself in his second Major final, first Roland Garros one. A big challenge awaits him, but he has shown enough in the past that he is not to be discarded when it comes to big stages in the Majors. Stan’s unique 1-2 punch helped him build his singular résumé that seems to shine during the weeks of Majors and glimmer for a large majority of the other weeks in the ATP calendar.
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