To reiterate that Novak Djokovic has had one of the most fantastic seasons in the history of men’s tennis is as useful as declaring the sun shines. So I’m not going to go there. I will go however to the fact that he’s managed to continue on this unprecedented run whilst making Rafa and Roger look like less than stellar players who haven’t won 26 Slams and 36 Masters titles combined. I mean these guys have done it before – they know how to win Slams; and they know how to win Djokovic (c.f. their combined winning record of 30 to Novak’s 21). But not anymore it seems. Ok Roger has been the first and only player to beat him in 2011 in that four-setter at Roland Garros, but it wasn’t like Novak was completely outgunned. It was a thriller of a match and the pressure from so much victory played a part in his defeat. Meanwhile Rafa has made no secret about the fact that his game simply isn’t troubling Novak.
But what’s interesting is that Rafa, Roger and Andy Murray all declared earlier this year that Novak has always had it in him; yes he is a lot more focused and yes maybe a lack of gluten helped him to get around the court that much quicker (come on, did you think I was going to write a piece about Novak Djokovic and not mention gluten?), but he’s always been one of the best defenders in the game. No, Rafa, Roger and Andy were adamant that he’d always played that way, with the notable difference being his insurmountable confidence.
And that confidence is so high that he gets visibly irate when a would-be winner against any other player isn’t blasted back into a corner of the court twice as fast and two millimetres inside the baseline. And therein lays the secret. A fine tennis tactic employed by many is to attack a player’s strong side to expose their weaker one. And since we can safely say Novak has not one weak shot in his game at the moment, the only way, aside from hoping he has a bad day at the office would be to shake that unparalleled confidence I was talking about earlier. And then shake it some more. Novak’s strength is his confidence – attack that and you expose a weaker Djokovic.
We saw Mardy Fish almost succeed in doing this in the Montreal Masters final. As soon as Mardy made Novak doubt himself, the errors crept up and the shouts became louder, and all of a sudden the second set was the American’s. But what Mardy failed to do was capitalise on that situation and Novak was allowed to get back to autopilot when Mardy was broken in the final set. And that’s what’s so important. If he gives you an inch you have to take several thousand miles. You must play him into submission. If you break him once, you try your darndest to break him again; breathe even for a second and let him back into the match and you’re toast. That’s not to take away Novak’s fighting spirit, which is obviously right up there with the best of them, hence the 1 loss this year; but since that confidence that he’s playing with is what’s responsible for elevating himself above the rest, you’ve got to go for it. I mean, really destroy it. In a strange way it’s not only his strength, it’s also his weakness.
And that’s how to beat Novak Djokovic. Good luck trying.