By: Doug Browne
It’s impossible to comprehend what Novak Djokovic has accomplished this year; 10-1 against both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and winning three out of four Grand Slam singles championships. Just a few summers ago, when Federer surpassed Pete Sampras’ Grand Slam record, we were watching the rise of Rafa Nadal as he not only dominated the French Open but he had just won his first Wimbledon crown. No one in the tennis world felt that Novak Djokovic would hurdle over both Federer and Nadal let alone dominate each one.
With Djokovic having ‘double-fault-itis’, heat exhaustion problems and confidence issues, his dramatic climb in the rankings is shocking. Djokovic was searching and he and his entourage reached out to former American star Todd Martin for coaching advice. Strangely enough, Novak did not dump his primary coach, Marian Vajda; instead they all worked together diligently on his serve and his double-fault issues.
When the Todd Martin experiment abruptly ended a few months into their new arrangement, tennis observers felt that Djokovic’s tennis career was in jeopardy. With Djokovic’s overabundance of charisma, tennis fans were rooting for him to be able to take a run at the top but were skeptical. Earlier in his career, he was well-known and admired for his serving impersonations of both past and current tennis stars – it was not uncommon for him to finish his US Open match on center court and then break out his serving impressions!
At the end of 2010, we knew that Djokovic had changed his diet (he embraced gluten-free cooking) and had been working over-time on his off court conditioning; but no one knew how he was going to turn the corner and feel mentally strong against the top players in the world. However, with his new gluten-free diet and top-flight conditioning, he was moving better and could sustain a high level of energy for extended periods. Ironically, with superb footwork and the ability of to play long points, his confidence was on the rise.
Even though he possesses the best service return in the game and has improved footwork due to his sustained energy levels, it is remarkable that he has dominated Rafa Nadal this year. From my viewpoint, it is Djokovic’s strategic plan that has overwhelmed Nadal as he is not afraid of his whippy left-handed topspin forehand. As Djokovic attacks the Nadal forehand, he is ready for the cross-court stroke to his backhand; he steps in on the rise and drives it either to the reliable crosscourt area or drives it down the line.
Now, Nadal no longer has the edge; Rafa is no longer dictating the rally as he is often unsure which direction to move. Whereas, when Nadal faces Federer, he clearly dominates rallies with his vicious forehand topspin strokes which rise up too high to the Federer backhand. If Nadal wants to see his fortunes rise again next year, he may have to have Uncle Toni (coach) add a few new wrinkles in his game to keep Djokovic on his heels. If I had the opportunity to coach Nadal, I would spend hours and hours on his serve; he needs to incorporate a big flat first serve so he can win more free points against Djokovic.
Also, with Nadal’s excellent volley skills, it is imperative to move inside the baseline and win some easy points at the net. Unless, Federer and Nadal make changes, look for Andy Murray to be the player who has the game to unseat Djokovic as the top player in the world. Stay tuned.
Doug Browne is the Hideaway Beach Tennis Director and the new Collier County USPTA Pro of the Year. Additionally, Doug has been the International Hall of Fame Director of Tennis this past summer. Doug has been writing his tennis column for the past fifteen years and welcomes your feedback.