Beyond The Numbers

Here's Djokovic's game plan when he's down break point...

World No. 1 seeks 11th Australian Open crown
January 10, 2024
Novak Djokovic saved 23 of 29 (79%) of break points against him at the 2023 Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic saved 23 of 29 (79%) of break points against him at the 2023 Australian Open. By Craig O'Shannessy

Novak Djokovic makes you bend to his own intentions.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Djokovic serving at break point at the 2023 Australian Open identifies a player who is able to play the most pivotal moments in a match primarily on his terms. The tournament average for break points saved was 62 per cent. Djokovic blew that out of the water, saving 79 per cent (23/29). Consequently, the Serb led the tournament in service games won at 94 per cent (96/102).

The rest, as they say, is history.

There were five specific elements of Djokovic’s prowess on break points that stood out in Melbourne in 2023 that we should keep a keen eye on again this year. The desire to add an eleventh Australian Open title burns just as bright as it did on his path to the first 10.

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1. Eleven Winners To One
The one thing that Djokovic is not going to do when serving down break point is back down and play conservatively. He brings the fight to his opponents, giving them almost no breathing space to construct points on their terms. In these crucial moments, Djokovic struck 11 winners while his opponents only managed one.

It’s also important to note that he was able to keep his opponents off the net during all 29 break points. The only break point that featured a player at net was Djokovic dispatching a forehand volley winner against Roberto Carballes Baena in the opening round.

2. Seven Return Errors
Djokovic was able to elicit seven return errors on break points, essentially stopping the fight for break-point supremacy before it even started. Six were from a first serve and one from a second serve. What’s interesting is that three were forehand return errors, and three were backhand return errors. Keeping the opponents guessing worked wonders.

3. First Serves In The Ad Court: 15/29
Djokovic played just over half (15/29) of his break points starting with a first serve in the Ad court. This plays into the wheelhouse of his game, as he has an incredibly accurate hard slice down the 'T' to the forehand return, and a formidable mix out wide to the backhand return.

Break Point Serve & Location
• Ad Court 1st Serves: Won 12/15
• Ad Court 2nd Serves: Won 7/10
• Deuce Court 1st Serves: Won 2/2
• Deuce Court 2nd Serves: Won 2/2

4. First-Strike Tennis: 62%
Djokovic played almost two out of every three points (62%) of the 29 break points in the aggressive 0-4 shot rally length.

Break Point Rally Length
• 0-4 Shots: 18 (62%)
• 5-8 Shots: 7 (24%)
• 9+ Shots: 4 (14%)

Of the six break points he lost, one was a double fault, while the other rally lengths were four, four, six, six, and a breathtaking 30-shot rally against Tommy Paul that ended with a Djokovic backhand error.

5. Target The Forehand Return (15)
When you strip away aces, service winners and the lone double fault, Djokovic hit 15 serves at the forehand return and just nine at the backhand return. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, where we are typically taught to attack the less-potent backhand return on big points. This was particularly true with second serves in the Ad court, where Djokovic served down the 'T' to the forehand return six times and only three times out wide to the backhand.

Djokovic first won the Australian Open in 2008. An 11th title in the next two weeks seems highly probable. Locking down strategic control on break points has been a hallmark of his long and illustrious career.

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