Player Analysis: The Backhand of Novak Djokovic

Nick Nemeroff@NNemeroffCorrespondent IIDecember 9, 2012

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 10:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand during the men's singles final against Rafael Nadal of Spain on day 15 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 10, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic arguably possesses the greatest double-handed backhand of all time.  A rhythmic and coordinated piece of artistry, Djokovic's backhand is a true powerhouse.   

What impresses me most about Djokovic's backhand is the pure mastery he has over the shot yet how consistently simple he is able to keep it.  The Serbian has perfected the necessary and essential components of the two-handed backhand to the Nth degree.  The shot is truly absolutist when is executed in its desired fashion—that is to say there are virtually zero improvements that could be made to enhance the shot.

Keys to Djokovic's backhand: If we look at the video intertwined in this article we see the following:

Early preparation

Djokovic is quick to the draw, adjusting his grip and taking his racket back immediately after the split step.  This level of preparation provides Djokovic adequate time to position his feet and actualize the full motion of his swing without being forced to rush his motion or play the ball too tight to his body as a result.

An unerring stillness

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If we look at Djokovic's backhand, we see the Serbian does not alter the level of the racket head throughout the duration of the take back.  If he were to raise the level of the take back, he would be costing himself adequate time to finalize his swing.

In contrast, if he were to lower the level of the racket head, he decreases the size of the circle and ultimately reduces the amount of spin and power he is able to impart upon the ball.  Finding the right middle ground is something the world No. 1 has down to a science.

Relaxed lowering of the racket head

In order to achieve topspin, one must generate a racket path that starts below the ball, swing up the back of the ball and ideally finish over the shoulder, as Djokovic does.  Djokovic lowers the racket head so that it is facing the hamstring of his left leg.  And he does so in a way that is loose, flowing and smooth, where he relaxes his shoulders and wrists to comfortably lower the racket head.

Use of the lower body

When Djokovic lowers the racket head, he bends his knees and positions his body so he is really getting under the ball, allowing him to swing from low to high.

Body weight

As Djokovic approaches contact, he is shifting his body weight from his back foot to his front allowing him to use his forward momentum to establish energy into the ball, thus providing him with increased power.  

In addition, Djokovic straightens out or unbends his knees and propels upward through the shot, allowing him to swing up the back of the ball.  (Of course this would not happen if he flattens the ball out.)

Hip and shoulder turn

Imagine going out and hitting a normal backhand, but doing so remaining completely sideways.  The only source of energy you would have would be coming from your arms.  

This necessitates the need for players to twist their shoulders and hips into the shot to ensure that all of their body weight is being used to swing through the ball.  And if you need to find anyone who better exemplifies these qualities, look no further than Djokovic. 

Balance after the shot

Many players inadvertently finish with their left foot on the right side of their body after the shot.  Djokovic is one of the few that does not commonly do this (he does off the return on occasion).  As is evidenced in the video, Djokovic finishes the swing with exceptional body stabilization as his left foot remains on the left side of his body and his right foot remains on the right side of his body, creating the ideal equilibrium of balance. 

Keeping the head down

Djokovic keeps his eyes directed toward the ball and keeps his head down through contact—something Roger Federer is well known for, as he is often seen with his head down years after the contact.

This ensures Djokovic's swing path is fully realized in its ideal form, as pulling your head tends to alter the racket path downward and keeping your eye off the ball obviously equates to less accuracy in terms of knowing the exact racket path needed to properly strike the ball.


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