His return of serve:
Novak Djokovic is undisputably the best returner the sport has seen. From a great serve his opponent hits, Djokovic can hit an even better shot, and somehow what should have been a point for his opponent ends up as an offensive shot that pushes his opponent into defense.
Yes, it is obvious that the serve itself is not one of the most important shots in a player’s repertoire, but it comes in handy. Many times we have seen great servers like the Williams sisters and Federer(except for that 40-15 lead us Fed fans will never forget), get themselves out of trouble by hitting a couple of great serves that aren’t necessarily aces, but had great placement and spin.
No matter how good players’ serves are they will hit a brick wall sooner or later if they cannot break their opponent’s serve. If that didn’t matter, John Isner would have 85 Grand Slam titles by now. (Nothing against John, of course.)
Would I pick an average serve but a great return, over the opposite combination?
Nobody should be content with having a “good-enough” shot, but I would not easily trade having a great return.
His shot selection:
Djokovic is one of the best players at shot selection; he knows when to hit what shot and when. As a big fan of drop shots, I would love to see pro players hit them way more often. However, hitting them at the wrong time often leads to match-changing games. Especially for why players decide to use them, generally when they don’t find any other way to beat their opponent when there is no chance of beating them at the baseline.
Too often we see players not being able to finish off points when they are supposed to, they build the point nicely, force their opponents to hit a short floating shot, players approach the middle of the court, and many times they don’t choose wisely, they either hit it back to the opponent leaving them in a bad position or simply chose wrong and don’t even high a ground stroke but pick a drop shot instead that lands no sod close to the net and what was supposed to be a straight forward shot to close a well-constructed point turns into a big mess.
For a long second, I thought about making this topic part of the previous one. I was thinking that there couldn’t be one without the other. No patience= bad shot selection. But since that is not always the case, I’ll explain why it deserved its own little paragraph…
There has to exist a balance between the two, one simply cannot overpower the other. The system of checks and balances. I suddenly feel back into a U.S. government high school class.
Oftentimes, players are too passive, wait too long to attack, and give away the control of the match to the player on the other side of the net. Sometimes they hit the right shot at the wrong moment because they don’t have enough patience to wait for the right second. That is a characteristic the members of the Big 3 have in common. Very similar to how a wild animal patiently awaits for the right instant to launch an attack on its prey, they know that a second earlier or a second later makes all the difference.
Roger, Federer, and of course, Djokovic know when to effectively unleash all their artillery.
He said it himself when asked about what makes the difference in a match. How every player [already] has great groundstrokes. No matter the score, no matter how good or bad you can be playing at any second you have to stay focused. Even though a little cliche, it is true that the game doesn’t end until the last ball bounces twice. Knowing to stay calm will ultimately be successful when trying to achieve the other three things we mentioned above.
A strong mentality will allow for a clear head when making decisions. Clarity when returning, focus when choosing what shots to hit, and when to hit them.
Keeping a cool head when things don’t go your way might be the best thing that can come out of it because at any moment it can all turn your way.
It is also key to not show much of your feelings on the court. Don’t let your opponent see you frustrated or mad at yourself.
Overall, there is no coincidence all the success Djokovic has been able to achieve over the years, but even more lately, you can see how he is at another level than all the rest of the players on tour.
Learning from the greatest of the sport will benefit every player, no matter their level.
Build a good mentality, find a way to stay focused on the court, and let the rest play out accordingly to your game plan.