In the first three and a half months of 2022, Novak Djokovic played just three matches.
- Dubai def. Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-3
- Dubai def. Karen Khachanov 6-3, 7-6(2)
- Dubai lost to Jiri Vesely 6-4, 7-6(4)
Last week in Monte Carlo, he played another one:
4. Monte Carlo lost to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1
Four matches are simply not enough of a foundation to bounce back to form and start winning titles again. Monte Carlo was always going to be a bridge too far to go deep because he simply was not fully prepared. By his own admission, he was “hanging on the ropes the entire match”. He is speaking both physically and mentally.
Djokovic’s next match is Wednesday in Belgrade against Laslo Djere (not before 2.30 pm). If he wins that, then he plays the winner of John Millman and Miomir Kecmanovic. I think Kecmanovic wins that, and if so, I think Kecmanovic starts as the favorite against Djokovic. Kecmanovic has already played 24 matches this year and is scintillating recent form, playing 10 matches combined in Indian Wells and Miami.
So let’s have a close look at Djokovic’s Monte Carlo loss to Davidovich Fokina and figure out what exactly went wrong. I uncovered five strategic elements of that match that definitely need improvement and another area to keep an eye on. Here they are:
1: Run-Around Forehands
To be clear, these are forehands that Novak struck when standing in the Ad court – where his opponent wants him to hit backhands. Djokovic hit 84 run-around forehands standing in the Ad court and 148 regular forehands standing in the Deuce court. That means that 36% of Djokovic’s forehands were standing in the Ad court – or about one out of every three.
The run-around forehand is the main weapon from the back of the court, so you would expect Djokovic’s match metrics to typically be very good in this specific part of the game. Well, the data was good in set two, but not so much in sets one and three.
- 38 run-around forehands
- 1 winner
- 6 errors
- Fokina committed 9 errors from a Djokovic run-around forehand.
So, extracting nine errors from 38 run-around forehands = an average of around one every four. Those are solid stats.
Sets 1 & 3 Combined
- 46 run-around forehands
- 3 winners
- 5 errors
- Davidovich Fokina committed 1 error from a Djokovic run-around forehand.
In the first and third sets combined, Djokovic only extracted one error from 46 run-around forehands. He was rallying too much with it. Too much spin and shape. No real venom on the ball. So, one out of every four errors was extracted in the second set and one out of every 46 in the first and third sets combined. This represents a massive difference in offensive performance.
When Djokovic upgrades to a run-around forehand over a backhand in Belgrade, he better do something with it.
Here are Djokovic’s groundstroke totals.
- Forehand groundstrokes = 56% (232)
- Backhand groundstrokes = 44% (179)
On the surface, this is a good mix for Djokovic. Hitting 84 run-around forehands in the Ad court helped lower the backhand totals. The problem was the error count.
- Backhand groundstroke winners = 3
- Backhand groundstroke errors = 26
The backhand error count is the “canary in the coal mine” for Djokovic. This shot needs to be his eternal rock. This is the shot that he normally relies on when attacked and can always find a way to put the ball back in the court. Not against Davidovich Fokina last week.
Djokovic’s backhand got off to a rocky start and was the main contributor to falling behind two breaks 4-1 in set one. Djokovic uncharacteristically missed six of his first 15 backhands of the match. That’s very “un-Djokovic”.
His backhand needs to start behaving better and find the court more.
Like this analysis? Please consider The First 4 Shots
3: Drop Shots
Djokovic hit 19 drop shots in the match and only won 7 (37%). Five of them didn’t make it over the net.
- Set 1 = won 1/5
- Set 2 = won 2/4
- Set 3 = won 4/10
- Total = 7/19
When Djokovic gets stressed in a match, he often goes to the drop shot to disrupt a flow in the match that he doesn’t like. The problem against Davidovich Fokina is that he has no recent matches to develop his feel and touch and timing of when to hit it. The drop shots were more an escape from the rally in this match rather than being part of a strategic master plan.
Djokovic needs to rely on the drop shot less and his masterful groundstrokes more.
4: Attacking The Net
Djokovic went to the net 26 times against Davidovich Fokina. Most trips forward did not end well.
- Set 1 = won 2/5
- Set 2 = won 6/13
- Set 3 = won 4/8
- Total = won 12/26 (46%)
Djokovic typically wins around 70% of his net points. This match was nowhere near it, and you can basically put this down to a lack of matches as well. Coming in behind ill-timed drop shots hurt. Coming in behind a forehand approach that just didn’t do enough happened too often. Djokovic will improve in this area with more matches. More feel. More trips forward are absolutely necessary. No amount of practice is going to help this area. Matches will.
Djokovic hit 148 forehand groundstrokes standing in the Deuce court. Here’s the metrics:
- Set 1 = 43 hit / 7 errors / 2 winners
- Set 2 = 55 hit / 6 errors / 2 winners
- Set 3 = 50 hit / 8 errors / 4 winners
- Total 148 hit / 21 errors / 8 winners
The error total is definitely more than we are accustomed to seeing from Djokovic. What’s also important to look at is the opponent errors from forehands struck from the Deuce court.
- Set 1 = 4 opponent errors
- Set 2 = 6 opponent errors
- Set 3 = 3 opponent errors
So, you start with 148 rally forehands from the Deuce court. Then subtract 21 errors and 8 winners, which leaves you with 119 forehands. We know Djokovic definitely underperformed in the this match, and only having his opponent miss 13 shots from 119 Djokovic forehands doesn’t fit with his normal baseline prowess.
Additional Focus = Forehand Returns
Davidovich Fokina completely stayed away from the potent Djokovic backhand return in the first two sets. He went there more in the third set, but Djokovic was so gassed that it really didn’t matter where the Spaniard served.
- Set 1 = 16 forehand returns / 4 backhand returns
- Set 2 = 37 forehand returns / 13 backhand returns
- Set 3 = 5 forehand returns / 12 backhand returns
- Total = 58 forehand returns / 29 backhand returns
Here’s how the forehand and backhand performed.
- Forehand return = 58 hit / 5 return winners / 8 return errors
- Backhand return = 29 hit / 0 return winners / 3 return errors
Djokovic had only two forehand return errors in set one and then six in the second set. He didn’t miss any of the five forehand returns he hit in the third set.
This is going to be an interesting trend to follow to see if other players direct their serves so much to the Djokovic forehand. It makes sense, because he does have one of the greatest backhand returns of all time.
Djokovic is definitely in a re-build phase. Matches like the one against Davidovich Fokina are so rare on Djokovic’s resume that they are literally shocking to see. Other players can have a bad match. But Djokovic? It’s like his game is so elevated that it shouldn’t happen.
But when you have so few matches under your belt, so few miles in your legs and lungs, then this kind of result comes to life.
In the big picture, Djokovic will be fine. The more matches he gets, the better. That’s why it is so important for him to get through Djere and then really test himself against Millman or a red-hot Kecmanovic. Kecmanovic is No. 19 in the ATP Race To Turin, but it feels like he is strongly embedded somewhere in the Top 10. He was only a couple of points away from beating Carlos Alcaraz in Miami. The Spaniard won the tournament.
The five areas for Djokovic to improve in Belgrade will give you a road map of what to pay attention to as he rebuilds his game.
It’s fascinating watching a champion put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle back together again.