Mon Feb 21 03:00pm EST
Renowned tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou breaks down Novak Djokovic's game and explores whether or not the Australian Open champion can surpass Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to reach No. 1 in the rankings.
A champion has to believe in his own greatness. That never seemed to be a problem for Novak Djokovic, who has long been known as someone who may have been too confident in his abilities. But over the past few months, from his win over Roger Federer at the US Open to his Davis Cup-saving victory against Gael Monfils to the win at the Australian Open, he's started to truly buy into his success. He's gained a feeling that nothing bad can happen to him. Djokovic is now more sure than ever sure of his ability to succeed and to reach his goals. As I'm used to telling my players: confidence comes only from winning. Novak Djokovic is the perfect example. What makes him so good?
Djokovic is physically the ideal tennis player. Tall and slender, he has the height to serve well and the lightness needed to be explosive in footwork. The Serbian is an amazing athlete. He's supremely trained, possesses explosive muscles, has the strength to keep his balance while playing fast, the flexibility demanded to reach balls even in a tough position and the cardiovascular capacity to handle long rallies without any recovering issues. All those abilities, coming from his daily training, allow him to be efficient in all types of game: explosive and short or longer and more drawn out.
Nole's physical abilities help the Serbian adjust to many different paces. He knows how to play aggressive when he gets the chance to, especially with turning on his backhand in order to use his forehand (he often does this after a first serve). He's really efficient on that shot, mainly because he knows how to stick his opponent in order to push him to pick a side before hitting to the other one. He has a lot of safety on his forehand, proof of a nice balance between speed and a big topspin effect. His backhand is played more flat and it's the shot he uses the most in order to counterpunch. That's why he loves when the game is played in the backhand diagonals. When it happens, he goes one of two ways. If his opponent is playing fast, he strikes a backhand down the line and relies on the speed of the ball to win. If his opponent is forced to play slower, then Novak has the time to turn around his backhand in order to strike with his forehand.
Djokovic can change his game at will. He takes a step back and defends, because he perfectly knows how to keep his ground. His speed and his dexterity make him a really tough opponent to overpower. He's winning a lot of matches because he pushes the other to the mistake, by forcing him to go for the lines. Like Caroline Wozniacki or Rafael Nadal (to a lesser extent), the Serbian leads his rivals to enter a real physical fight. Points are long and demanding, so each opponent knows he'll have to fight a lot and this is a big mental edge for Novak.
Efficiency on serves and returns
In order to complete his whole technical package, it has to be noticed that Djokovic owns an amazing return of serve. For me, he's among the close group of the best in the world. His eye, his speed and his aggressiveness on that shot are keys he uses to return nearly flawlessly. As for the serve, it's back. He was completely disturbed by a new technique which tried to erase his loopy motion in order to get more speed. But that didn't work as well as expected, so he took his old motion back and now he's using the slice at deuce and the kick on the advantage side to prosper in service games. He's also more comfortable in serving flat and it's helped his first-serve rate reach 60 percent.
Novak is a true character. He was knocked for using medical timeouts too much and grew a reputation for being soft. That's not at all true. He's a fighter and has an ego that doesn't let him go down without a fight. He's been waiting for the time when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal slipped and stayed confident even when they were dominating. He keeps improving and I'm convinced that it'll pay off. He has the will and the means to reach No. 1 in the rankings.