At the end of January, Novak Djokovic wowed his fans with a record seventh Australian Open title, with arguably his best ever performance against great rival Rafael Nadal in the final. Since then, things have gotten a little rough for the World #1. With just five wins in his last three events and going into the second clay court Masters of the year just weeks before Roland Garros, many are wondering just what is wrong with Novak Djokovic.
Perhaps this has already been answered by Novak Djokovic himself. Earlier this year he very clearly stated “I really want it,” referring to the record for the most Grand Slams of any player. He later added, “Whoever won the most has left a mark in the history of tennis.” Keeping this in mind, if you look at his performances in and out of Slams you find big differences statistically, namely with the serve and winner to unforced error counts.
Novak Djokovic has never been seen as one of the biggest servers in the game, but that isn’t to say his serve hasn’t severely aided him to his 15 Grand Slam titles. As good as he is off the ground, a fair amount of his game has always been reliant on a first serve with excellent placement putting him on the upper foot allowing him to dictate play.
Below is a table of the Serbian’s first serve percentage, first serve points won, and second serve points won in his last three Grand Slams, all which he won, and his last four ATP Tour events, all without a single final.
|US Open 2018||64.66%||74.13%||61.41%|
|Aus. Open 2019||69.27%||79.36%||71.53%|
|Ind. Wells 2019||63.40%||71.65%||56.45%|
|ATP TOUR AVG.||61.93%||71.33%||56.68%|
Immediately, it’s pretty clear to see the differences in numbers for the World #1. In all three Grand Slams he’s hitting a higher number of first serves in, as well as winning more points behind the first and second serve. At the bottom is an average taken of the three Grand Slams and four ATP Tour events just to highlight what a big difference there is.
While not hitting his groundstrokes well off the ground will obviously impact his points won percentages, a poorer amount of first serves in can contribute to a player’s own downfall. For example, looking at the Serbian’s last loss in Monte Carlo to Daniil Medvedev, he struggled on serve all match. Missing so many first serves allowed the Russian an easy in to return points giving him the chance to grind his older rival down. Ultimately, Medvedev did and Djokovic won just 30.8% of points on the second in the final set before losing it comfortably.
Winners to Unforced Errors
When you think of Novak Djokovic at his best you think of the free flowing attacking man we saw throughout 2011 and 2015, the man who could seamlessly turn defense into attacking regardless of how far on the back foot he was. Whilst we do see that version of the 31-year-old show up occasionally, more often than not these days we find him opt for a far more defensive style of play. Here’s a look at his winners to unforced ratios in his last five losses on tour.
|Vs Khachanov – Paris||18||22|
|Zverev – London||8||23|
|RBA – Doha||44||45|
|Kohlschreiber – IW||15||31|
|RBA – Miami||25||31|
|Medvedev – MC||26||41|
In each and every one he’s hit more unforced errors than winners, even as bad as in the Tour Finals–hitting almost three times as many. With the sole exception of against Bautista Agut in Doha, his winners numbers are poor. For someone who possesses a game that is able to hit 34 winners past Rafael Nadal in a Slam final with just nine unforced errors, you question why in ATP events he’s mostly opting for a defensive style of play, which strangely is also yielding more errors. If he’s going to lose, at least do it on his own terms?
|Khachanov – Paris||18||31|
|Zverev – London||8||20|
|RBA – Doha||44||28|
|Kohlschreiber – IW||15||16|
|RBA – Miami||25||26|
|Medvedev – MC||26||26|
To make matters even worse, by being more defensive than usual, he allows his opponents the chance to swing freely and decide their own outcome. Looking at the same six losses, in all but one did Djokovic not hit more winners than his opponent. If we also look back at Wimbledon 2016, when Djokovic was looking for a fifth major in a row, it was defensive play which let Sam Querrey dictate play and blow him off the court. Similarly, the same happened against Denis Istomin the next year at the Australian Open, stopping the Serb from a third straight title.
I take two things from this: The serve right now is poor, as is Djokovic’s style of play and form. Right now he just needs something to build off from Madrid and Rome. If not, even though he’s won the last three Grand Slams and has openly admitted they’re his main goal now, it’s hard to imagine him upping his game by a huge amount at Roland Garros without a single good result in the last four months, especially with the likes of Nadal and Thiem around.
Main Photo from Getty