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Novak Djokovic's unconventional serving strategy has helped him finish No. 1 in the year-end ATP Rankings five times.

Why Looking Left Is Right Play For Novak

Infosys ATP Insights shows how Djokovic goes against conventional thinking on serve

When everyone goes right, Novak Djokovic goes left.

An Infosys ATP Insights deep dive into second-serve direction in the 2019 season uncovers that the Serb goes completely against the grain in both the Deuce court and Ad court with his primary second-serve direction.

Djokovic was the only player who served more to the left third of the service box – at his opponents’ forehands – in both the Deuce court and Ad court (rather than the middle third at the body, or the right third, to the right-hander’s backhand wing).

The data set is comprised of the leading 10 players with the highest second-serve win percentage in 2019 and uses their serve direction data from ATP Masters 1000 events and the Nitto ATP Finals this season.

Top 10 Performers Second-Serve Win Percentage

Player

Win Percentage

Rafael Nadal

59.64%

Roger Federer

59.44%

John Isner

57.29%

Novak Djokovic

57.02%

Roberto Bautista Agut

55.96%

Stan Wawrinka

55.38%

Alex de Minaur

55.32%

Dominic Thiem

55.28%

Miomir Kecmanovic

54.86%

Daniil Medvedev

54.57%

To understand serve direction, the service box is cut up into three equal areas:

  • Left 1/3 (Wide in Deuce court / T in the Ad court)

  • Middle 1/3

  • Right 1/3 (T in the Deuce court / Wide in the Ad court)

Deuce Court Second-Serve Direction
Overall, the 10 best in this category overwhelmingly gravitated towards serving down the T, going there with almost half (48.2%) of all second serves in the Deuce court. In fact, eight of the 10 players had this area as their primary location.

10 Players: Deuce Court Direction & Win Percentage

Deuce Court

Location Percentage

Win Percentage

Deuce Wide

23.9%

62.1%

Deuce Body

27.9%

56.3%

Deuce T

48.2%

59%

Djokovic was the only player who served wide to the forehand in the Deuce court more than any of the other two directions.

Djokovic Second-Serve Direction Deuce Court
Deuce Wide = 45.1% (won 58.7%)
Deuce Body = 20.1% (won 61.0%)
Deuce T = 34.8% (won 61.3%)

The Serb hit 45 per cent (184/408) of his second serves wide in the Deuce court, which was considerably more than the second-placed player to this location: Daniil Medvedev, 35.7 per cent. Djokovic’s win percentage was within three percentage points at all three locations, which affords him more versatility and less predictability, especially in pressure situations.

Ad Court Second-Serve Direction
Djokovic served even more to the left side of the service box in the Ad court, which is straight to the right-hander’s forehand return.

On the surface, this would seem like a bad idea, but most players are “sitting” on a backhand return against a second serve and get caught off guard when it goes the other way, which often results in late preparation and a missed return.

10 Players: Ad Court Direction & Win Percentage

Ad Court

Location Percentage

Win Percentage

Ad Wide

43.9%

55.6%

Ad Body

32.2%

57.4%

Ad T

22.9%

61.3%

In the Deuce court, Djokovic serves 45.1 per cent to the left side of the service box, and that elevated to 47.6 per cent in the Ad court.

Once again, Djokovic was the only player in the group to aim primarily to the left side of the service box. His win percentage (65%) down the T to the right-hander’s forehand return was superior to the kicker out wide to the backhand return (62.3%).

Djokovic Second-Serve Direction Ad Court
Ad Wide = 20.7% (won 62.3%)
Ad Body = 31.7% (won 65.3%)
Ad T = 47.6% (won 65%)

Second-serve location is mainly dictated by what type of serve you can hit well (topspin/slice), and the weaknesses in the return game of the opponent. Other times, it’s simply about surprising your opponents.

Editor's note: Craig O’Shannessy is a member of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.

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