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With 23 Grand Slam titles to his name and potentially more on the way, many believe Novak Djokovic is the greatest tennis player to ever hold a racket. To be honest, the more he extends his career, the more it seems that there isn’t any argument against such an opinion. But let’s save all of the GOAT talk for another day! Given the huge interest in the 2023 Wimbledon Championships, I wanted to look at a very specific topic concerning Novak Djokovic.
As I’m sure some of you will know, if he manages to beat Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final tomorrow, he will equal Roger Federer on 8 Wimbledon titles. And with Federer fans, as well as many tennis pundits alike, still claiming that Federer is the best grass court player of all time, this victory would shatter such opinions. Yet once again, I don’t want to get caught up in GOAT talk or player comparisons.
Instead, I’d like to dive deeper into the fundamentals of Novak Djokovic’s grass court game. At the same time, I’d like to open up the discussion on why he might just have the ‘most complete’ grass court game ever. Note that this doesn’t mean I am branding him as the best grass court player of all time, even though there is some serious substance behind such an opinion.
It simply means that I am breaking Djokovic’s grass court game and highlighting why this could well be the case.
The Secrets of Novak Djokovic’s Immense Success on Grass Courts
It goes without saying that you don’t win 7 Wimbledon titles without knowing what you’re doing on a grass court! Sure, there have been the odd Wimbledon tournaments where an unlikely, non-grass-court player has snagged the title, but these have been few and far between. Furthermore, multiple Wimbledon winners have never materialized without any individual showing some serious grass court prowess.
But just what is it that makes Novak Djokovic so untouchable on the grass courts at Wimbledon? Let’s take a closer look.
While the return of serve is important on any surface, arguably, its importance is emphasized on grass courts. I say this because since the importance of holding serve is heightened on grass courts, naturally, the return must follow suit. And in the case of Novak Djokovic, nobody does it better. He puts an insane amount of returns back into play, and he doesn’t just scrape them back.
Djokovic is able to neutralize if not take a controlling position in the point immediately after the serve, which is why he can break serve so often at Wimbledon.
Drastic Improvements in Serve
It’s no accident that Novak Djokovic has enjoyed the bulk of his Wimbledon success after 2018. While his serve was okay prior to that year, it could be a little ropey at big moments, and it certainly wasn’t one of the best aspects of his game. However, he started to work with Goran Ivanisevic in 2019, and it’s fair to say that he hasn’t looked back. Since Ivanisevic took over as Djokovic’s coach, he hasn’t lost a single match at Wimbledon. Coincide? I think not.
He has tweaked the technique while working on other areas to now make Djokovic’s serve a real weapon – mainly due to the accuracy of his serve.
Use of Slice Backhand
Once again, if you look back at the way Djokovic played prior to 2018/2019, most would agree that his slice backhand wasn’t all that great. It was the sheer class of his groundstrokes that helped him to win so many titles while hiding his inability to hit a top-notch slice. But in recent years, he is able to use the slice to set himself up for the hammer blow on either the forehand or backhand wings. He uses it as both a neutral and attacking shot too, which is something that Federer was incredibly effective at.
Ability to Adapt Groundstrokes as Necessary
Speaking of Djokovic’s groundstrokes, we all know how outrageously good they can be at times. Yet specifically for grass, he is able to revolutionize the way he strikes the ball on both wings. Given that Wimbledon is just a few weeks after the French Open, it’s quite remarkable that he can go from hitting heavy topspin to hitting so flat, and seemingly mastering it, within such a short period of time. And when he does step up to flatten out the ball, he becomes very dangerous.
Overall Clarity of Shot Choice
Last but not least, I believe that Novak Djokovic has evolved to become one of the most intelligent grass court players over the years. These days, he knows exactly when to use the slice, when to hit flat, and when to work the angles to work his opponent around the court. In fact, he rarely goes for the ‘wrong’ choice of shot, which is why he can outmaneuver so many top players on the courts at Wimbledon.
So – is he the most complete player of all time on the grass? I certainly believe so after conducting this analysis.
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