Novak Djokovic wasn’t always this good. Much has been made about his switch to his gluten-free diet, which in return has seemingly helped all physical parts of his game; endurance, breathing, agility and power. In turn it has boosted his confidence and concentration as well as his self belief, turning him into a super being in 2011 and finding continued success in 2012.
While all of these things are true, they have also helped boost his shot making. His backhand has turned into the best in the game. In turn, this has set up certain patterns of play that Djokovic likes to use to get ahead in points. Here is a short breakdown of a strategy that Djokovic consistently uses against Federer. It was on full display in their match at the London World Tour Finals.
It is no secret that Federer’s backhand side is a vulnerable wing. Djokovic targeted this wing heavily, and has in many other matches in the past. However, simply hitting to Federer’s backhand is not enoug to defeat him, and the following style and pattern of play is how Djokovic often takes advantage of Federer and other opponents’ backhands.
As seen, let’s first assume that Djokovic and Federer are caught in a cross court, backhand to backhand rally. This might not necessarily be from the beginning of the rally (though it often was with Djokovic serving), but at any point. Djokovic’s cross court backhand may be his best shot, he makes few errors off of it and consistently hits it deep, pinning his opponent into the corner of the court.
If Djokovic hits a decently well placed cross court backhand, Federer essentially has one of three options. He can a) run around the forehand and try to hit it down the line b) hit a cross court backhand (or forehand) back to Djokovic,, or c) hit a backhand down the line.
Choice a) is a rarity, as Djokovic tends to do well to pin the ball into the corner, and doesn’t serve the purpose of this exercise, so we’ll forget about that for now. If Fed hits a backhand cross court to Djokovic, presumably the first image will continue on. In this match, and in many matches against Federer, Djokovic is incredibly patient. He simply rips the ball back at Federer’s backhand, hoping it will break down and force an error, or a weak response.
However, at the same time, Djokovic is simply daring Federer to hit his backhand down the line, or into a more central area. Fed’s backhand isn’t quite what it used to be, and he’s not exactly closing the shoulder and ripping Wawrinka or Haasesque backhand winners down the line with tons of pace. Regardless, Federer often realized that he was trapped on the backhand wing in a style of rally seen above, and instead of hitting it to Djokovic’s backhand repeatedly, knew he was going to have to try to hit it down the line and make something happen in the stalemate (as seen below).