Novak Djokovic is building his game on the fly to again be crowned the King of Paris.
Djokovic had an average clay court campaign by his own lofty standards coming into Roland Garros, going 5-3 in Monte Carlo, Banja Luka, and Rome. The three losses were to Lorenzo Musetti, Dusan Lajovic, and Holger Rune. Not an ideal preparation for a Grand Slam, which is why he is looking to play himself into form here as the tournament unfolds over the next fortnight.
He won his first-round Roland Garros match against Aleksandar Kovacevic, and plays Marton Fucsovics tonight. If he gets through that one, he will play the winner of Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Luca Van Assche. That’s a nice Round 3 test.
The first thing to do is look back at his eight matches leading into Roland Garros and understand what worked and what didn’t. What was he doing well, and what needs improving? Was his form good, or was he struggling?
Lets’s take his pulse in four areas (Two positive & two negative) to see exactly how he is traveling arriving into Roland Garros.
1: POSITIVE = Dominating 0-4 Shot Rally Length
0-4 Shot Rallies
- Djokovic Won = 377
- Opponents Won = 325
- Difference = +52
This is the most important stat in tennis, simply because it represents the biggest grouping of points. To be +52 in the eight matches is a good thing. As you would expect, he had a losing record (-13) in this specific area in the three matches he lost (143 won / 156 lost). Even though it’s clay, even though you think grinding is a good thing, Novak needs to shine in the 0-4 rally length more than any other area of his game if he is to win Roland Garros again.
2: NEGATIVE = Losing 9+ Rallies
- Djokovic Won = 126
- Opponents Won = 134
- Difference = -8
This is a worrisome aspect of Novak’s clay court swing leading into Roland Garros. He is not dominating opponents in longer rallies. In fact, he is losing this battle. In the three matches he lost, he was -16 (48 won / 64 lost). Grinding opponents into the red brick dust is a hallmark of Novak’s game. Fucsovics will test him here tonight. Novak needs to find his rhythm, patience, and mojo in longer rallies. Otherwise, he is going to get pushed around the court and become susceptible to an upset.
3: POSITIVE = Serve & Volley
- Serve & Volley Points Won = 24/27
- Three Losses Serve & Volley Won = 12/14
You can clearly see that Novak is doing well in this area and should build on bringing the battle to the front of the court in Paris to help hold serve more. Do it just enough to keep opponents guessing and pull it out on a big point because you have confidence in this play. Serve & volley works as a strong secondary pattern for the Serb.
4: NEGATIVE = Return Errors
Forehand Return Errors
- Novak = 51
- Opponents = 44
Backhand Return Errors
- Novak = 42
- Opponents = 36
Total Return Errors
- Novak = 93
- Opponents = 80
These match stats are very unlike him. Djokovic has arguably the best return game in the history of our sport, and his ability to put so many returns back in play is a strength of his game. We are not used to seeing him make more return errors than his lower-ranked opponents. This will need to be cleaned up in Paris.
Now let’s take the pulse of his game in Paris from his first-round match against Kovacevic.
- 1st serve % = 56%. Much lower than normal. His career average is 65%.
- Forehands = 16 winners / 25 errors. That will work.
- Backhands = 8 winners / 24 errors. Again, not bad, but not setting Paris on fire.
- 0-4 Rally Length = +7 (61 won / 54 lost) This needs to improve with stronger, serves, returns, Serve +1, and Return +1.
- 9+ Rally Length = +10 (16 won / 6 lost). This is a step in the right direction.
- Total Net Points Won = 19/26. Solid numbers, coming forward slightly more than 8 times per set.
- Break Points = Saved 3/5. The two he lost were 12 and 8-shot rallies.
Marton Fucsovics has a stronger backhand than forehand. Novak should not overplay the Ad court. Go there when you have to, or to build the point, and then go hard to the Deuce court corner to extract forehand errors. This will be a nice test as Marton can play very solid tennis, but doing it for three straight sets of three out of five is a big ask.
Let’s keep our finger on the pulse of Novak’s game in Paris tonight and see how well he is building his game this year. History beckons.