Novak Djokovic is into the semi-finals of the 2021 Australian Open. The train is rolling. Was there any ever doubt? I just started watching Novak’s quarter-final victory over Alexander Zverev and got to 30-30 in the opening game and came across an absolute gem of an approach point from Novak.
I have got to share it with you!
This approach & volley pattern is so good because it’s sooooooo simple. It can be used by any player at any level of your sport. Please copy and paste this info into your own game. This kind of pattern is at the beating heart of The 25 Golden Rules of Singles Strategy.
Here’s how Novak’s foray forward unfolded.
Picture 1 – Wide Slider In The Deuce Court
Let’s start with some simple math. Around 70% of serves in tennis are returned, so you better have a plan for when the return comes back in the court. Novak had one of his best serving days ever in this match and 64% came back in play.
The key here for Novak is to pull Sasha off the court. This 1st serve is not hit at maximum power. Novak’s fastest serve for the tournament is 206 km/h (128 mph). This first serve, at 30-30 in the opening game of the match, is hit at 183 km/h (114 mph). The goal is not to play through Sasha’s forehand return. The goal is not power at all, actually. What Novak is trying to do is hit heavy slice to pull Sasha off the court and open up a big hole in the Ad court to approach to if the return is short or weak.
Like Approach & Volley? We have a course for that.
It’s called Short Ball Hunter.
Picture 2 – Standing Outside The Doubles Alley
Before you attack, you need to maneuver the point so that you have a distinct advantage. By pulling Sasha outside the doubles alley, Novak now has options. He can play to the vacant Ad court, or if he feels Sasha is running fast, he can spin the ball back cross court and play behind him. The slower, slice serve out wide has just given Novak a big advantage in the directional tug-or-war to begin the point.
Picture 3 – Forehand Approach To The Backhand
This is a thing of beauty. The serve has done the heavy lifting in the point by pulling Sasha wide off the court. Novak basically dumps the forehand down the line and follows it in. The quality of the approach shot is average – which is exactly what you want.
All too often, players hit a weaker serve that does not open up a hole anywhere on the court, and then try for the spectacular approach shot because the opponent has not been pulled wide and can cover pretty much the whole baseline.
In the picture above, you can already see Sasha is in big trouble. The space between his feet it big because he has to run really fast. That makes for less accuracy on the shot. He is already committed to a slice backhand as well, which is a huge advantage for Novak. It’s super difficult to hit backhand passing shots with slice.
Picture 4 – Zverev Court Position
Let’s be honest here. How many times does a player get to dig themselves out of the hole that Sasha finds himself in right now? Five out of 100? He is super deep and forced to hit a slice backhand. He options are so limited. He could hit a high lob cross court over Novak’s backhand. That’s probably option No. 1. He could go cross court short-angled dink slice backhand and hope he has the right touch for the shot and then sprint forward trying to pressure Novak’s backhand volley. Everything else is a prayer.
Picture 5 – Easy Volley
All the hard work has been done – mainly by the wide slice serve.
Novak sees that Sasha is not lobbing so now he can fully commit to charging the net. He also senses that Sasha is going to be on a full sprint so Novak needs to close fast to take away Sasha’s time to run this ball down. Novak can go open court because he is close to the net and has angle, or can easily just hit a volley back behind because Sasha has already committed to running hard to the open court.
Picture 6 – Volley Winner To The Open Court
Novak played this point to perfection. He closed well to hit the forehand volley winner, effectively taking away Sasha’s time to run it down.
Novak hit the following shots
- A slice first serve.
- A forehand approach.
- A forehand volley winner.
Which was the most important?
For sure it was the slice first serve. It was not the power of the serve. It was the SLICE of the serve to pull Sasha off the court and to make the rest of the shots easy as the point unfolded.
Novak’s forehand approach shot down the line was just a re-direction. Nothing spectacular about it at all. A very routine shot he can hit again and again. The volley was an absolutely sitter. What a fun way to win a 30-30 point in the opening game.
Novak did NOTHING spectacular in this point. Too often we think we need to do something amazing to win points at net. We over cook the approach shot. We go for a tough volley. None of that occurred here.
The No. 1 way to successfully come to the net in today’s game is a forehand approach to the backhand. Just remember, the serve was the star of the show.