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Novak Djokovic hit 25 backhand drop shots against Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros final, winning 12 of those points.

The Drop Shot Didn't Sink Djokovic... Until It Did

Go inside Djokovic's use of the drop shot in the Roland Garros final

Novak Djokovic kept no secrets from Rafael Nadal as they started their Roland Garros final, hitting four drop shots in the opening game to clearly state his strategy. While the drop shot did not put Djokovic in a hole in their championship clash, it prevented him from digging out of one.

The stats show that hitting drop shots against Rafael Nadal, now a 13-time champion on the Parisian terre battue, was the only strategy that worked for the World No. 1 in the first two sets. Djokovic won 11 of 18 points in which he hit a drop shot in those sets, but a slew of unforced errors from the baseline prevented him from making much headway in any other area.

“Everything Nadal touches is turning to gold,” commentator John McEnroe said late in the second set.

The story wasn’t that Djokovic was misguided in his drop shot strategy. Nadal’s aggression put too much pressure on the Serbian, which likely prevented the top seed from hitting even more drop shots in the first two sets.

"It didn't work great today, let's say. He was winning a lot of those drop shot points that were played by my side," Djokovic said. "I didn't play so many in the end of the day. I did try tactically different things, but not much worked in the first two sets. I wanted to disrupt his rhythm, obviously. But he was ready. He was there, he was prepared. He was playing all the right shots today."

Djokovic's Drop Shots Through Two Sets

 Set  Drop Shot Points Won
 1  7/11
 2  4/7
 1+2 Combined  11/18

But in the third set, Djokovic got a foothold in the match and overcame an early break against him to get deep into the set with Nadal. After the second game of the third set, eight points featured a drop shot. The score? Nadal, 8. Djokovic, 0.

That was what prevented the 2016 champion from potentially forcing a fourth set and keeping his hopes of completing a second Career Grand Slam alive. Djokovic missed only two of his final eight drop shots, but the tactic became extremely ineffective as Nadal was quick to read the play and slip slice passing shots by. 

Djokovic & Nadal's Drop Shots - Set Three

 Player  Drop Shot Pts Won
 Novak Djokovic  2/10
 Rafael Nadal  2/2

Interestingly, Nadal lost all three points in which he hit a drop shot in the first two sets. But in the third set, he was two-for-two, including a crucial point to start the 5-5 game. The legendary lefty hit a backhand drop shot. Djokovic attempted to re-drop the Spaniard, but he missed wide. Nadal earned his seventh service break later that game and then served out the match to lift his 13th Coupe des Mousquetaires.

There were 33 drop shots hit in the match, with Djokovic hitting 85 per cent of them (28/33).

“I think it's a great variety shot, the drop shot,” Djokovic said after his first-round victory against Mikael Ymer. “I think it's important tactically to have it and to use it at the right time so that you can keep your opponent always guessing what the next shot is.”

The Serbian’s 46 per cent winning rate (13/28) on those points was not the issue. His problem was that he didn't follow his own advice. Nadal increasingly sniffed out Djokovic's drop shot as the match wore on, and the Spaniard made him pay.

Drop Shot Stats - 2020 Roland Garros Final

 Player  Forehand  Backhand  Drop Shot Pts Won
 Novak Djokovic  1/3  12/25  13/28
 Rafael Nadal  1/2  1/3  2/5

Did You Know?
Twenty-eight of the 33 drop shots played in the match came off the backhand wing. Of the five points in which a forehand drop shot was hit, only two of those were successful.

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