Novak Djokovic: How to Defeat Him

Thomas SkuzinskiContributor IIIAugust 18, 2011

Novak Djokovic: How to Defeat Him

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    In case you haven't heard, this guy Djokovic has been having quite the year. With just one loss spanning five Masters titles and two Grand Slams, and the season now on his favorite surface, most assume a U.S. Open win is a foregone conclusion. 

    Novak can beat most players easily even on his off days, and at his best he seems untouchable. But everyone has some weaknesses, and he is no exception. Here are some of the key strategies the top players can use to overcome the Djokovic juggernaut. 

Follow Roger Federer's Example: Use a Kick Serve Out Wide

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    Djokovic has an amazing return game and great court coverage, but one of the most reliable serving strategies is to mix in the out wide kick serve. Part of what gave Federer success at the 2011 French Open was clutch serving, including mixing in the kick serve. It pulls Djokovic off the court, especially with his two-handed backhand on the ad court. It also puts the ball a little bit out of his strike zone, which rarely happens off any other ball once the point is underway.  

    This is one of the most open courts you'll ever see against Djokovic, and provides one of the best chances for an outright winner off his return or at worst the chance to be on offense in a rally. 

Try the Andy Murray Approach: Throw Everything at Him

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    Okay, don't literally throw things at him, though some players have surely been tempted to do just that. Rather, give him a lot of different looks. Andy Murray at Rome, Federer at Roland Garros and Mardy Fish at Montreal have all showed how much success you could have by playing with depth of shot and pace. Being a patient tactician is one of the few ways to stay in the game against Djokovic. 

    Part of Nadal's mistake has been repeatedly thinking he could out-grind Djokovic from the baseline (because he's owned that strategy for years now) and only changing looks when the situation got desperate. Remember those backhand moonballs in Rome? That's not the right kind of variety.    

Make Novak Djokovic Work: Send It Deep Down the Middle

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    Remember the days when Martina Hingis was still a real rival to the Williams sisters? The Williams sisters were amazing on the run at turning defense into offense, and players soon realized that a smarter approach was forcing them to create their own pace and angles. It was risky, but it worked more often than it didn't.  

    Djokovic is dangerous from anywhere on the court, but he's less likely to win the positioning battle if he's played down the middle and deep. Of course, Novak's ability to redirect the ball to the corners, eat up pace and create short angles means that this strategy isn't a guarantee, but stringing him corner-to-corner is a lower percentage play. Most of the top players have tried going down the middle in patches. Trying it a little more often might be a smart decision. 

If You're Rafael Nadal: Work on Your Backhand Down the Line

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    When Nadal has had moments of success against this new, improved Djokovic, it has involved working in backhand winners, particularly down the line. Djokovic knows that when he plays Nadal he is facing a player trying to construct a point that sets up a forehand winner (or occasional backhand cross-court winner). 

    In a battle against a player who is equal in movement and defensive prowess, and who has a two-handed backhand that neutralizes the lefty forehand, Nadal can't afford predictability or a chink in his backhand. He'll need to use the early rounds to experiment and tweak his game in a match-play situation.

If You're Juan Martin Del Potro: Maximize Your Mobility

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    The 2011 U.S. Open might be too soon for Del Potro to get back to 100 percent, but at his best he could help answer a lingering question. Can Djokovic 2.0 be hit off the court? Novak's ability to absorb power is remarkable, but Del Potro stayed with him at Roland Garros. The difference in the match was in movement. DelPo needed to play near-perfect offense to avoid getting pushed back on his heels (and in stretches he could), but as soon as he got into a defensive position he was a step too slow to offer many answers. 

    The lesson applies to the other power-hitting big guys, too. Djokovic's stellar year has been built during a downturn among the reliable big-hitting players, with Soderling, Berdych, Del Potro and others far from their best. It's unlikely that vacuum will continue much longer, which should make for an interesting 2012 season. 

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