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Novak Djokovic: Playing A Different Sport

Novak Djokovic is ridiculously good.

But exactly where, and why?

When we witness the genius of Novak Djokovic, our eyes are initially mesmerized by his spectacular, yet simplistic execution. Our eyes give confirmation that this guy is from another planet, but the numbers are where we really get to understand and appreciate just how good this tennis virtuoso is.

There were 128 players in the main draw of Wimbledon, and the tournament averages at this elite level are as good as it gets in our wonderful sport.

And then there are the numbers that Nole put up.

They should belong to another sport – a sport where every ball is hit cleanly and every shot lands close to a line. On a scale of excellence from 1-10, Djokovic’s numbers from Wimbledon this year sit at about a 42. They are closer to super-human, closer to perfection – bordering on ridiculous.

The averages of our sport are not where Djokovic lives. He lives over the hill in another valley, where the sun always shines, and the grass is always cut at 8mm – his favorite length, mirroring Centre Court at the Championships.

To better understand the Super Serb, and the gameplan he employs under coaches Boris Becker and Marian Vajda, it helps to look at the raw numbers his game produces – and compare them to the rest of the field.

Let’s break down Djokovic’s numbers vs. the other 127 players in the 2015 Wimbledon main draw to see exactly where he creates separation from the pack.

2015 Wimbledon

Serving

2015 ServingTournament AverageNovak Djokovic Novak +/-
Unreturned Serves36%35%-1%
1st Serves In62%70%+8%
1st Serve Points Won75%77%+2%
2nd Serve Points Won 53%64%+11%
Break Points Saved 62%81%+19%
Service Games Won84%95%+11%

Unreturned Serves (-1%)

This is the only area that Novak is not better than the field. And guess what? It does not matter at all. Novak is so incredibly good at developing control of a rally when serving, and constricting his opponent in a baseline duel, that to be slightly off in this area does not hurt him whatsoever.

1st Serves In (+8%)

Now we are talking. This matters greatly, as it makes the returner have to deal with so many more first serves in a defensive manner to begin the point. I really like this number for Novak, as it’s not too high (like around 75%) that he is not using his first serve as a weapon, but it is significantly higher than the rest of the field who are trying to catch him.

1st Serve Points Won (+2%)

This is also a very good number for Novak. So let’s do the math, combining “1st Serve In” metrics with “1st Serve Points Won”. Let’s pick a nice round number, like 100 points, to easily understand how this works.

The Field – Makes 62 first serves and wins 75% of them = 46 points won

Novak – Makes 70 first serves and wins 77% of them = 54 points won

So Novak wins, on average, eight more points per 100 than the rest of the field when you consider him making more first serves (70% to 62%), and winning more (77% to 75%). In a game of very small margins, he is finding eight more points per 100 JUST WITH HIS FIRST SERVE. That’s substantial.

Sometimes 100 points represents just one set. For example, the second set of the 2015 Wimbledon final v Roger Federer was 102 points long, but the last two sets were 110 points combined. So it’s probably more realistic to think that this advantage is worth 4 points a set for Novak.

In a sport where 1 point matters, for Novak to find a four point separation per set with just ONE specific area of the game shows exactly how underrated his serving is to his overall domination.

2nd Serve Points Won (+11%)

To win 64% of second serve points is crazy talk. In an area of the game that is routinely coming under attack – a primary small crack opponents are trying to widen to find a pathway to victory – Novak completely shuts this route down and turns it into a strength of his own.

This stat alone is seriously spectacular. If he put up identical numbers to the rest of the field in every other area, and kept this massive advantage, it would still go a long way to helping him win the world’s most prestigious tournament. Quite simply, losing matches means getting broken too much, which typically means your opponent is dining on your second serve. That’s not happening here at all.

Break Points Saved (+19%)

How in the world do you get to be 19% better than the rest of the field at anything? That’s unheard of. Novak saved 81% of break points at Wimbledon this year, while the field managed 62%. If you can’t break him, you can’t beat him. This speaks to his mind and his heart as well, recognizing the bigger points, and playing them on his terms.

Service Games Won (+11%)

Novak won 95% of his service games at Wimbledon this year. To give that some perspective, Ivo Karlovic leads the entire world for his career winning 92% of his service games. Only Karlovic, Isner, Raonic and Roddick are lifetime 90%+ winning their service games. Djokovic is 85% lifetime. On the biggest stage, he took this to a rarified level that made it almost impossible for him to lose.

Returning

2015 ReturningTournament AverageNovak Djokovic Novak +/-
Returns In 66%67%+1%
Return Pts Won v 1st Serve25%29%+4%
Return Pts Won v 2nd Serve 47%52%+5%
Break Points Converted 38%41%+3%

Returns In (+1%)

I find this one intriguing – somewhat dispelling a little bit of a myth. Novak basically puts the same amount of balls back in play as the next guy. This is not where the super human numbers are to be found to his greatness.

Return Points Won v 1st Serve (+4%)

That’s a big deal, because it’s so hard to move the needle against something that’s regularly coming at you at 135mph. The key here is Novak’s simple technique, and the ability to block the ball deep back down the middle of the court. This is a huge number for him, enabling the Serb to steal some first serve return points that other players can’t find.

Return Points won v 2nd Serve (+5%)

The important thing here is that it tips it from the average of 47% to over 50% (52%) – effectively making the opponent’s 2nd serve a winning part of Novak’s game plan. Yes – he owns his opponent’s second serve.

Break Points Converted (+3%) 

So he saves 19% more of his own break points versus the average, and converts 3% more when he gets a chance to break. That’s some sick numbers that give him such a remarkable edge when push comes to shove at the end of the game.

Strategy

2015 StrategyTournament AverageNovak Djokovic Novak +/-
Baseline Points Won46%54%+8%
Net Points Won64%68%+4%
 

Baseline Points Won (+8%)

Imagine getting into a baseline rally with Novak. Where do you go? Can’t go to the backhand, tough to go to the forehand, can’t get it past him. Do you play up the middle? Against the best players in the world, Novak somehow figures out a way to be eight percentage points better than the average. That’s not easy to do, and definitely one of his most impressive numbers.

Net Points Won (+4%)

He even manages to squeeze a few more percentage points out of his game at the net as well. Novak has increasingly got better at the net the past few years,  making him such a nightmare to play – solid as a rock from the back of the court, and a huge threat at the front of the court.

Summary

Nobody is putting up numbers like this in today’s game.Nowhere to run to vs. Novak. Nowhere to hide. Novak’s nirvana is a state of misery for anyone standing on the other side of the net.

The Super Serb serves better, is so much tougher to be broken, returns like a man possessed, and is way above par from the back of the court, and the front.

That’s why he is number one in the world, and has been for quite some time now.

His version of tennis looks different from the rest. It must feel amazing for him to know that he is significantly better than his opponents in every area of the sport that is crucial to the bottom line – winning the biggest titles the game has to offer.

Novak often times doesn’t receive the credit he deserves. I hope these numbers help correct that. He currently sits alone at the pinnacle of our sport. Let’s rejoice the age of Novak.

 

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