Nobody Knows How To Play Novak
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Nobody Knows How To Play Novak

2023 Wimbledon Match Updates: Bottom Of The Page

Nobody knows how to play Novak.

Novak Djokovic has won 28 straight matches at Wimbledon since 2018 and is looking to tie Roger Federer with eight titles at The Championships this year. Why is the Super Serb so dominant at SW19? Because opponents don’t do their homework, don’t modify their game plan, and don’t bring nearly enough pressure to the front of the court.

They stay back where they feel safe. It’s a killing zone.

Novak cleverly picks them off one by one at the baseline. He has only lost one baseline battle in four years (vs. Soonwoo Kwon) and adapted his game plan that day to dominate at the net. Problem solved.

Consider the following match stats since 2018.

  • Novak has served and volleyed more than his opponents (86 to 84).
  • Novak has been more to net than his opponents (785 to 748).
  • Opponents finished the point more at the baseline (3078 to 3041) – and got smashed.

These three statistics are all in reverse order for Novak’s less-prepared opponents. 

Novak’s twenty-eight straight victories are less about Novak than you think. Opponents play a game style that feels comfortable to them but actually has almost zero chance of securing victory.

Beating Novak lately at Wimbledon has proven mission impossible.

He has the ball on a string on the exquisitely low-bouncing grass courts. The match is over most times before both players even walk out onto Centre Court.

Let’s break down the three strategic areas where Djokovic dominates.

1) The Baseline

Novak is the best in the world from the back of the court and has been for at least a decade. Trying to consistently beat him in groundstroke exchanges is an absurd proposition.

Baseline Points Won – 28 Matches (2018-2022)

  • Opponents = 37.7% (1160/3078)
  • Novak = 53.9% (1639/3041)

It does not matter what baseline win percentage you have before you play Novak. He is going to grind it into flour. Novak has won 53.9% of his baseline points in four years. That’s actually a really impressive number, as it groups together all points he has won against opponents at their baseline and net. 

If you do even a modicum of pre-match homework, you will realize that going toe-to-toe against Novak from the back of the court is a really, really bad idea. 

Sit down and consider this…

Only seven times from 28 matches has Novak won less than 50% of his baseline points. 

Not one single opponent has won 50% of their baseline points against him. The highest was Soonwoo Kwon at 47.3% (53/112). 

And this is where things get bat*&^% crazy. Novak’s opponents think it’s a great idea to stay back and rally against him from the baseline. Novak’s opponents have finished the point 3078 times at the baseline. Novak has been back there 3041 times. 

That’s a failed, broken, ridiculous strategy. It is quite possibly the worst thing you can do against the best player of all time. 

  • Nick Kyrgios finished the point 100 times against Novak in the 2022 final. He won just 33 of those points.
  • Thanasi Kokkinakis (27.8%), Kevin Anderson (29.0%), Ugo Humbert (29.3%), Horacio Zeballos (29.0%), and Tennys Sandgren (28.7%) all won less than 30% of their baseline points against Djokovic. They combined to play 393 from the baseline. Why? Why?

2) Net Points Won

This is a no-brainer. You have to attack the best baseliner of all time. You have to come to the net as much as possible to escape the onslaught from the back of the court and also dine on the higher win percentage at the net. It’s common sense. It didn’t happen.

Net Points Won – 28 Matches (2018-2022)

  • Opponents = 60.8% won (455/748)
  • Novak = 72.9% won (572/785)

Novak came to the net more (785 to 748) than his opponents and won 12 percentage points more at the net. Opponents won 60.8% at the net and only 37.7% on average at the baseline. Why in the world would you not be swarming the net simply by following the winning percentages?

Denis Shapovalov won a solid 76.9% (30/39) at the net against Novak in their 2021 semi-final. He only won 34.7% (35/101) at the baseline. Thirty-nine times at net for Denis is commendable. 101 times at the baseline is not. It begs the question, “what would have happened if the Canadian swapped out another 20-30 baseline points into net points?”

3) Serve & Volley

Shapovalov served and volleyed twice in his semi-final against Novak and won both of them. Why didn’t he do it more? His big lefty serve is not easy to return on grass. Think of the net pressure another 15-20 serve and volley points might have produced.

Serve & Volley Points Won – 28 Matches (2018-2022)

  • Opponents = 69.0% won (58/84)
  • Novak = 86.0% won (74/86)

Serve and volley is an ideal way to immediately switch out a baseline point for a net point. It is imperative opponents serve and volley more than Novak because they are just going to get chopped from the back of the court anyway. Novak served and volleyed 86 times, and his opponents were slightly less at 84. They needed to be at least double his total – whatever that might be.

Roget Federer served and volleyed just 15 times in the 2019 final against Novak. He won 13. Roger won 40% at the baseline (88/220) but 86.7% serving and volleying. The math here is so obvious. Roger also won 78.1% (50/64) overall at net. The net was his safe haven. The back of the court was never going to produce a winning percentage over 50% against Novak. Yet, the Swiss stayed back there 220 times. Novak won 49.6% from the baseline against Roger. Novak won this battle and saved two match points and won the match.

What would have happened if Roger came to the net more? Let the win percentages answer that question for you.

Novak’s 1st round opponent at Wimbledon this year is 68th-ranked Pedro Cachin from Argentina. He has won three Grand Slam matches in his career. Let’s see how Pedro organizes his game plan today against Novak.



2023 Wimbledon Match Updates

Round 1: Novak Djokovic def. Pedro Cachin 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4)

There is a really good chance Pedro, from Argentina, is a big fan of playing from the  baseline. As we read from the analysis above, that’s not a good idea against Novak. Here are the key metrics from their Round 1 match.

Serve & Volley Points

  • Pedro = Won 7/9
  • Novak = Won 6/10

Firstly, it’s impressive that Pedro served and volleyed nine times in the match. Only Roger Federer (15) and Nick Kyrgios (14) served and volleyed more than Pedro in the previous 28 matches. So that alone is a small win. Winning 7/9 is also impressive. But it also begs the question… what would have happened if he came in double or triple that amount? The general rule of thumb is Novak can’t serve and volley more than the opponent. So that stat ends up as a narrow loss.

Net Points Won

  • Pedro = Won 21/33
  • Novak = Won 23/35

Pedro came to the net 33 times, which is very commendable over three sets. It should have been more. Don’t stop doing a good thing for goodness sake! Coming to the net 11 times a set on grass is okay but there is certainly room to come in a lot more.

Baseline Points Won

  • Pedro = Won 30/88 (34%)
  • Novak = Won 48/84 (57%)

This is where Novak squeezes the life out of you.

Pedro finished the point 88 times at the back of the court and only won one out of three points. If you have already read the analysis above, you know this is to be expected. Novak won an extremely healthy 57% of his baseline points. The baseline feels like a safe place to be – but it’s a trap. Stay back in your comfort zone, and you will fall further and further behind in the point against Novak. Picture him as a finger puppet, controlling every move of the person standing on the other side of the net.

Summary: Pedro performed better than I thought he would in serve and volley and net points won. He perfromed exactly how I thought with baseline points won = not good at all.

Next up for Novak = Jordan Thompson. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi.


2023 Wimbledon Match Updates

Round 2: Novak Djokovic def. Jordan Thompson 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-5

Finally, someone played Novak the right way. It wasn’t a win, but it was certainly a step forward in the strategy department. Let’s break it down.

Serve & Volley Points

  • Jordan = Won 40/60
  • Novak = Won 5/6

Jordan won 12/14 service games, which is certainly a commendable effort against Novak in the Big House at SW19. Serve and volley was a key component. Jordan won 67% of his serve and volley points which helped create a lot of pressure at the front of the court. This was a masterful strategy that brought the average rally length down to just 2.9 shots. Jordan was always coming forward and Novak knew it but quite often could not counter this aggressive strategy.

Baseline Points Won

  • Jordan = Won 16/58 (28%)
  • Novak = Won 42/73 (58%)

All of the serving and volleying helped reduce the amount of baseline points Jordan had to play against Novak. Jordan played 58 points from the back of the court and could win 28% (16) of them. Jordan did a good job of not trying to battle Novak from the back of the court.

Net Points Won

  • Jordan = Won 46/73
  • Novak = Won 25/36

Jordan played 58 points (44%) from the baseline and 73 points (56%) at net. That’s a huge step forward in avoiding Novak’s favorite pattern of play = baseline strangulation.

Next up for Novak is Stan Wawrinka. Gotta love that match-up!


#Play #Novak

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