Why You Should Pay More Attention To Djokovic's Serve
In the past, people didn't often discuss World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s serve. But the statistics show that it has long been among tennis’ best.
“You actually don’t think about his serve, which is kind of disrespectful to him in a sense, just because he does everything so well,” said John Isner, who ranks second all-time in service games won at 92 per cent. “You immediately talk about his return and of course his movement around the court, and his groundstrokes are the best in the world.”
Starting in 2011, Djokovic finished among the ATP Tour’s 10 best in service games won every season except for 2017, when he underwent right elbow surgery. The Serbian has averaged just more than five aces per match in his career according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats, but he has still been effective.
“He spot serves it very well. He won’t necessarily hit it 130 miles per hour, but he’s definitely improved that part of his game,” Isner said. “He would even say probably six or seven years ago that his serve was a bit of a liability. But now it’s not at all, and that’s why he’s the most dominant player in the game.”
2019 Service Games Won Leaderboard
|Player||Service Games Won (%)|
|1. John Isner||94%|
|2. Roger Federer||91%|
|3. Reilly Opelka||91%|
|4. Rafael Nadal||90%|
|5. Novak Djokovic||88%|
Djokovic ranks fifth in career second-serve points won (56%) and 14th in career service games won (86%). The 32-year-old has won a higher rate of service games than players known for their big serves — Goran Ivanisevic and Mark Philippoussis — as well as former World No. 1s Rafael Nadal, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl and more.
Djokovic's Average Aces Per Match — Past Five Years
Reilly Opelka, who was second on the ATP Tour in aces last season, believes that Djokovic has a strong serve, and knowing that his stunning baseline game is there to back it up makes breaking the Serbian a daunting task for returners.
“I think it’s moreso because of everything else in his game. He does serve very well. But he’s breaking serve [more than 30 per cent] of the time, which is ridiculous,” Opelka said. “Obviously when you give him the first strike of the ball, it’s going to be even higher. He does serve well and it’s not talked about. But it’s really the rest of his game that makes him impossible to break.”
Djokovic has outpaced his average rate of service games won (86%) this season. He has won nearly 90 per cent of his service games in 2020, up from 87 per cent in 2018 and 88 per cent in 2019. That has helped Djokovic to an 18-0 start, leading Team Serbia to ATP Cup glory, triumphing at the Australian Open and lifting the trophy in Dubai.
“I'm hitting everything I can in terms of the variety of spin, slice, flat, hitting the spots, body, wide, T. I'm trying to mix it up all the time. Obviously depends who I play against. Obviously I have different tactics depending on the opponent,” Djokovic said after defeating big-serving Milos Raonic in the Australian Open quarter-finals. “I feel that my serve this year so far in the ATP Cup and also the Australian Open has been terrific. It's allowed me to win a lot of free points.
“When I'm serving well and getting a high percentage of first serves in, it allows me to feel more comfortable, more confident, step in and play at the higher level of tennis.”
In 2017 and 2018, when Djokovic dealt with right elbow issues, he abbreviated his service motion before abandoning that adjustment. Ever since, the Serbian has been devastatingly good on serve. What’s scary for his opponents is that he’s working hard to make the stroke even better.
“We worked a lot in the off-season on my serve. I'm feeling great. I have a great rhythm. Obviously I know that different surfaces, different times, require different adjustments,” Djokovic said. “But in terms of the way I've been serving now, it has been some of the best serving I've had in my career.”
Other players have taken notice. Djokovic’s serve isn’t often praised as much as the rest of the game. But when you realise how effective it is, the idea of facing him becomes more intimidating.
“He doesn’t have a weakness. He just doesn’t. That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world, he’s one of the greatest players of all-time. He’s only a few Grand Slams now behind the all-time record,” Isner said. “It’s pretty incredible what he’s doing.”