Novak Djokovic is peaking. 🏔
Just. At. The. Right. Time. 🦘🏆
After defeating Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the semi-finals of the 2021 Australian Open, Novak said in his post-match press conference that “I feel as best as I felt so far in the tournament. Physically, mentally as well. I was hitting the ball very well, mixing the pace. Didn’t give him the same looks at all. Always kind of kept him guessing and served well,” Novak said.
He added, “I’m just very pleased with the performance. It came at the right time. Before the last match in a Grand Slam, couldn’t be better timing for me to play my best tennis.”
If you are a fan of Novak’s, of which there are legions, this is music to your ears after an injury scare and tough, exhausting battles against Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Milos Raonic, and Alexander Zverev. That is a mountain to climb to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
So if Novak is super-duper happy with the way he went about his business against Aslan Karatsev in the semis, what would you be anticipating from the stats sheet? Again, Novak won 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. If Novak is in self-proclaimed “beast mode”, what metrics, particularly from the baseline, would you be expecting?
Novak played 147 points in the match, winning 88 (60%). How many combined forehand and backhand winners do you think he hit? In three sets?
Maybe 15. Possibly 20? When Daniil Medvedev defeated Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 (an identical scoreline), Medvedev was credited with 18 forehand and backhand winners. Does Novak surge to 20+ in his semi-final victory?
No. Not even close.
I tagged the match this morning to get the real number of groundstroke winners. Returns are not included in the total. Either are forehands and backhand hit inside the service box at the front of the court. No volleys counted. No overheads. Approach shots are included, as long as they were hit behind the service line.
You may want to sit down before reading this…
Novak Groundstroke Analysis vs. Karatsev
- Forehands Groundstrokes = 104
- Forehand Winners = 4
- Forehand Errors = 11
- Backhand Groundstrokes = 107
- Backhand Winners = 3
- Backhand Errors = 9
Forehand & Backhands Combined
- Combined Groundstrokes = 207
- Combined Winners = 7
- Combined Errors = 20
Remember, Novak is pumped about his level of play. But he only struck seven winners from 207 groundstrokes. That doesn’t seem like a lot from a guy who is seeing the ball like a watermelon.
The fact is, we all have this slightly warped view of WHO Novak really is when he is playing at his peak. It’s not just Novak, actually. It’s pretty much everyone. We equate hitting winners with winning matches and playing in the zone. It’s just not true.
“Peak Novak” isn’t a guy running around the baseline salivating over a short ball to knock the cover off it for a winner. That’s not what gets him out of bed in the morning. “Peak Novak” wants you to miss. And miss again. And miss some more. He has you on a string like a puppet master, shaking errors out of you like a rag doll.
“Peak Novak” is a master manipulator of TIME and SPEED.
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He hits the ball hard enough to make the opponent uncomfortable but still at a controlled speed he can trust to continuously put in the court. Fast. Just not too fast.
His speed of foot is a joke. He is ultra-quick. He knows how hard he has to hit the ball to make the opponent uncomfortable, and he knows with his phenomenal speed that the opponent has basically got to paint the line to get it past him. Speed of ball. Speed of foot. Angles instantly calculated. All manipulated to his advantage. When he gets all these speeds and angles just right, that’s what makes him feel good on the court.
That’s what he felt against Aslan.
BASELINE LOCATIONS A,B,C,D
The baseline is a big area. Different outcomes occur at different locations.
- When two right-handed players compete against each other, most balls flow from Position C to C. That’s where the traffic is.
- Position D is a building location where you look to be better off in the point after dispatching a quality shot to that corner.
- Most forehand and backhand winners go to A.
- Position B extracts a ton of errors if you can hit it deep, but you get severely punished if you don’t. Go to B at your own peril.
FOUR BASELINE LOCATIONS
BASELINE PERFORMANCE: NOVAK SERVING vs. ASLAN
The following metrics are all Novak serving to begin the point.
- Position A = 28 hit / 4 errors
- Position B = 15 hit / 3 errors
- Position C = 15 hit / 1 error
- Position D = 1 hit / 0 errors
- TOTAL = 59 hit / 8 errors
It’s clear to see that Aslan was trying to attack Novak wide to Position A to his forehand. Also, Novak turned 15 backhands into forehands from Position C. Novak did not hit a single forehand groundstroke winner after starting the point with his serve. Normally you would think that is not good, but remember, Novak came off the court beaming with his performance. He loves the style of play that produces these metrics.
- Position A = 0 hit
- Position B = 1 hit / 0 errors
- Position C = 34 hit / 1 error
- Position D = 38 hit / 6 errors / 1 winner
- TOTAL = 73 hit / 7 errors / 1 winner
These are all solid numbers for Novak. Aslan was peppering Novak’s backhand in Positions C and D. Seven errors from 73 backhands is very serviceable.
BASELINE PERFORMANCE: NOVAK RETURNING vs. ASLAN
The following metrics are all Novak returning to begin the point.
- Position A = 20 hit / 3 errors / 1 winner
- Position B = 17 hit / 0 errors / 1 winner
- Position C = 8 hit / 0 error / 2 winners
- Position D = 0 hit /
- TOTAL = 45 hit / 3 errors / 4 winners
When returning, Novak was not able to hit as many run-around forehands in C. When serving, he hit 15. When returning, he hit 8. Just a tougher dynamic when returning. Also, Novak had zero forehand winners when the point started with the serve. He had four when returning, signaling his intention to be more aggressive when returning.
Attack more when attacked.
- Position A = 0 hit
- Position B = 5 hit / 0 errors
- Position C = 11 hit / 0 error / 1 winner
- Position D = 18 hit / 2 errors / 1 winner
- TOTAL = 34 hit / 2 error / 2 winner
These are outstanding numbers for Novak. Typically, players are naturally more defensive when returning serve and more errors accumulate. To hit 34 total backhands with 2 errors and 2 winners canceling each other is a win in my book.
“Peak Novak” is not a machine that spits out winner after winner after winner.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Peak Novak” does not try to simply outlast you either.
“Peak Novak” makes you miss. “Peak Novak” makes you uncomfortable hitting shots you normally feel good about – but not this time.
“Peak Novak” hits mainly cross-court, until the risk/reward equation gets a green light in his mind to attack you down the line. He wants you on the run because he is better at a running game than you are. Welcome to Novak’s world.
So, in Sunday’s final of the Australian Open, when you see his opponent miss their shot, you know Novak is relishing the way the point ended. Because he is going to go right back to work to make it happen again. And again. When you see Novak hit a winner, you know that’s just the icing on the cake.