Just how good is Novak Djokovic?A Data Analyst-Tennis Player breakdown of the events that conspired at the Australian Open Finals 2019Rakesh RaviBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingFeb 10This year’s Australian Open Finals was a rematch of the finals of the tournament from the year 2012 between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
The match from 2012 had all the ingredients to be considered one of the greatest matches in the history of the game.
The contest had everything from long grueling rallies, supreme defensive play patterns, winning shots that were from another planet and a display of the highest order of mental grit.
The match provided a new definition of suffering on the tennis court and the players could barely stand during the presentation ceremony.
Picture CourtesyThe 2012 AO final was a fairly even match up until the fifth set where Nadal was able to break Djokovic early in the set and was expected to cruise to a routine five-set victory.
Djokovic, being the unrelenting fighter, continued to apply pressure on the Nadal serve and held his serves in a decisive fashion to keep himself relevant in the match.
In the sixth game of the fifth set, Nadal missed a routine backhand down the line to an open court which proved to be pivotal and brought Novak back into the match.
(Video Link Below)The rest is history as Djokovic found a way to break Nadal’s serve and win his third Australian Open title.
The 2019 Australian Open final was expected to be another titanic battle between the two legends but no one will recall this match as being a close contest.
Djokovic decisively got the better of Nadal in three set beatdown of a match that lasted little over the 2 hour mark to claim his seventh Australian Open title.
Neo-NadalTo understand just how good Djokovic was in the game, its important to understand how good Nadal was playing over the last two weeks.
Nadal did not drop a single set and bulldozed his way through some notable contestants en route to the finals.
In fact, Nadal looked like he was in the form of his life before entering the finals.
ServeAfter an ankle surgery in November and a plethora of knee injuries over the course of his career, Nadal decided to tweak his service motion.
The modified service motion was intended to pack more punch on the shot and help Nadal be more aggressive and shorten the points in order to preserve his body.
Rafael Nadal’s Serve StatsIn the three departments that matter (first serve percentage, first serve points won and second serve points won), Nadal seems to have bested his career best stats in winning points off of serve.
This resulted in Nadal holding 92.
6% of all the service games which is also a new a career high.
In addition to that, the first serve is now 5 mph faster than his serve last year.
The effectiveness of the serve has helped him keep his matches short and stay on the driving seat throughout.
Groundstrokes and VolleyJust a few years ago, Nadal was known for his unbelievable retrieval skills, returns of serves from 10 feet behind the baseline and the ability to restart a point multiple times.
In the last 3 years in particular, Nadal has switched up his tactics and incorporated offensive play patterns in his game.
This was in full display in the 2017 Australian Open final where Nadal went head to head with Federer with onslaught of offensive plays.
After the recent ankle surgery, Nadal shortened his backswing and started coming in flatter on the shots.
It’s no secret that Nadal has an amazing volley (check this out)and after incorporating that into his singles game, it has only become stronger over the past few years.
This has helped him to start the points on an offensive note and finish the points quickly.
DominanceNadal started the Australian open 2019 with a straight set win over James Duckworth from Australia.
The scoreline definitely indicates that Nadal was rusty from a lack of matchplay but his serve was broken twice during the match.
From the second round on, his serve really start to click and he dominated his way to the finals without dropping serve and a set.
He convincingly picked apart Stefano Tsitsipas (Roger Federer’s assailant)in the semifinals.
Peak-DjokovicDjokovic’s elbow injury threw a spanner in the works of his domination which kept him out of contention in grands slams for the better part of 2017 and 2018 before he broke his grand slam draught by winning Wimbledon 2018.
While the fans felt like his resurgence from the injury was complete but few people were hopeful of him dominating the way he did in the finals of the Australian Open 2019.
Tweaked Service MotionAfter pulling out of the second half of the 2017, team Djokovic came up with a serve motion that was lighter on his elbows.
The elbow injury had made Djokovic’s serve inconsistent, unreliable and lacked the punch to bully opponents around.
The tweaked service motion didnt seem to change Djokovic’s fortunes and had to undergo surgery before competing without any pain.
The service motion that Djokovic displayed over the first half of the 2018 season was inspired by Agassi’s service motion.
Djokovic goes on a tear after the US hardcourt summer to fire Agassi and Stepanek and trash his new service motion.
Rehiring Marian Vajda saw his serve drastically improve and get back to 2016-ish standards.
I will let the numbers speak for itself.
Federer and Djokovic are not known for the most powerful serves but are known for hitting the right spots at the right time.
Djokovic’s serves are hitting the right spots more often than ever.
3% of all his serves turned out to be aces and he has never done better in the ace department before.
The next statistic to check will be the first serve percentage.
Djokovic’s first serve percentage was the reason why he was able to obliterate Nadal giving him absolutely no looks on his serve games.
The first serve was firing on all cylinders and was irritatingly consistent for all of his opponents.
Despite having a terrible start to the season and losing to players ranked outside of the top 100, Novak was able to get his first serve percentage to a respectable number during the second part of the season.
If you thought the serve has just improved in accuracy and precision, you would be wrong.
The effectiveness of the serve is undeniable when you take a look at the numbers.
We have established that the number of first serves are higher than it has ever been and each serve is paying more dividends than it ever has.
He recorded a career high first serve points won this year and this is including a dismal performance in the Doha championships.
There is a saying that “you are only as strong as your weakest link” which brings us to the second serve and Djokovic has improved considerably improved the second serve nearly 10 percentage points over his career average.
In the past, especially 2011, Djokovic’s physicality used to take over after his second serve was neutralized but this should not be true in 2019 because he has gotten older and consequently weaker than his former self.
Miraculously, he has been better than ever at long baseline rallies and his groundstrokes have become more penetrating than before.
Return GameI can sit and rave for a whole day on how good Novak’s returns have been in the past but can it get any better?The number of return points won by Novak was certainly not high as it was in 2011 win when he went on a tear and nearly shutdown Roger and Rafa’s career.
In 2011, he had to take on Nadal and Federer who were in pretty good form and as a result, the return actually needed to be that good.
Its surprising that Novak is still able to compete with his previous record set in 2011 and equalled his 2016 self where he ended the season with 2 grand slams.
Roger’s return of serve is at a career average of 40% which is not too bad for a player completely out of his prime but what separates Novak from Roger are the percentage of break points won.
Roger, during the Australian Open, won 14.
7% of the breakpoints and Novak won 39.
4% of the breakpoints that he earned.
Check below how this year’s breakpoint stats stacks up with the other years where he was playing sublime tennis.
Ground “Body Blow” StrokesUnfortunately, ATP does not provide enough data to assess someone’s forehand and backhand game but on a qualitative level, the forehand and backhand was firing on all cylinders.
After a disappointing loss to Roberta Bautista Agut where Novak was playing so passively and looked like he couldnt hit through any of his opponents (Marton Fucsovics, Nikoloz Basilashvilli).
He picked up his game nicely from Round 1 of the Australian Open and improved every drastically after every Round of play.
In the semifinals against Pouille, he committed 5 unforced errors and in the finals against Nadal, he committed 9 unforced errors which is just ridiculous.
His court position was very offensive and stepped in to flatten his backhand multiple times to neutralize Nadal’s loopy cross-court forehand.
Take a look at the shot in the link below.
Clearly, the changes that Marion has incorporated has taken Novak’s game to the next level and without any real competition, he might just go on to win 2 or maybe 3 grand slams this year.
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