Novak Djokovic’s win over Rafa Nadal in the 2011 Men’s US Open Championship showed tennis fans a new level of play in the history of the sport. I’ve discussed Nadal’s “Circle” strategy to defeat Federer and the rest of the men’s tour consistently. But Djokovic has taken the baseline game to a new level. He has perfected deep, heavy shots that keep Rafa out of his circle.
Djokovic and his team have engineered their rise to the top of the men’s game much like Andre Agassi’s team did. A rigorous fitness regimen and diet have amplified his natural counter-punching style, and he is returning serve and hitting passing shots as effectively as any player ever. I can’t remember a Grand Slam final (grass, hard, or indoor) where the first service percentage carried almost no statistical advantage. Neither Nadal nor Djokovic benefited from their normally deadly first serves. It makes you wonder if Pete Sampras could have held service while serve-and-volleying against Djokovic.
This also makes me wonder about the upward evolution of the game, and who will achieve the next level. Djokovic has almost perfected “corner to corner” baseline strategy. One thing that does seem to be growing in effectiveness is the drop shot. The old adage that “you can’t drop shot on a hard court” is being tested more at the top level.
There are four corners on each side of the court. Two are up at the net. The only player I have seen who could hit a un-returnable drop-shot from the base line was Charlie Owens. Many watched Charlie dismantle quality players with a disguised, feather like drop shot that confounded even great players. Maybe there is someone coming along with this unique touch, who combined with the other tennis skills needed will produce the next level in the never ending evolution of tennis.
Women players might be well advised to note this possibility. And to be aware that not only should she be able to hit drop shots, she must be able to defend against them. My guess is that many players and teachers have realized there are four corners on each side of a tennis court.