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Successful return may take Djokovic to hallowed floor at Wimbledon | Wimbledon

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As Wimbledon returns after a tragic season with out grass-court tennis, the query surrounding the lads’s draw is easy: can anybody cease Novak Djokovic? Over the previous 10 years of his dominance and destruction, related questions have been requested earlier than a serious event, however not often have there been so few potential disruptors ready within the wings.

Grass has been a specialist floor with a fleeting competitors season for a while, however the prime eight seeds at Wimbledon are as unproven and inexperienced on the turf as any main pack in a long time. Except for Djokovic, 5 occasions the champion there, and the eight-times champion Roger Federer, who remains to be looking for to rediscover consistency after two knee operations, the remainder have one Wimbledon quarter-final between them.

Two years with out competing on grass appears prone to reward those that are already snug on it. However such is the dearth of distinguished younger gamers who’re (Stefanos Tsitsipas boasts a modest 8-7 file on the floor) that even the Queen’s champion, Matteo Berrettini, has been elevated into the circle of potential challengers.

After the launch of his Skilled Tennis Gamers’ Affiliation, Djokovic is a person of prominence in some ways, however his personal consolation is just not doubtful. He has gained the primary two majors of the 12 months and is on the verge of becoming a member of Federer and Rafael Nadal on a record-equalling 20 main titles. After beginning his profession as a grass-court novice, Djokovic is chasing a sixth Wimbledon triumph.

This Wimbledon is one other alternative to absorb one of many nice returners of the period. Along with his quick reactions, timing, flexibility and hand-eye coordination, Djokovic is ready to attain and neutralise the most important serves within the sport, touchdown forehand and backhand returns persistently deep, central and steered in the direction of the weaker wing of his opponent. From there, he can form factors in his favour.


Whereas it’s turning into more and more widespread for gamers equivalent to Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem to return successfully from metres behind the baseline on all surfaces, providing them extra time within the face of service bombs, Djokovic distinguishes himself in the way in which he suffocates his opponents. He often stays nearer to the baseline and strikes ahead into the ball, stealing time from the server and forcing them to gather the second shot behind a few of their finest serves from their laces.

On this 12 months’s Australian Open last, Medvedev’s serve was victimised by Djokovic all through. “Novak is returning unbelievable, so it all the time places stress on your self,” he mentioned. “You attempt to go for a bit bit extra, whereas if you hit aces you are feeling such as you’re within the zone.”

As a substitute of discovering the zone, Djokovic’s stress means his opponents’ serving typically turns into worse. Medvedev was damaged seven occasions in three units and swiftly disposed of.

Djokovic made it 19 major titles with victory at the Australian Open this year.
Djokovic made it 19 main titles with victory on the Australian Open this 12 months. {Photograph}: Kelly Defina/Reuters

The complexity of Djokovic’s return of serve is such that everybody has their favorite element. Nick Horvat, a tour coach and advisor for Yonex, has coined the time period “hit and fly” to explain how Djokovic launches ahead in the direction of the ball, a way Horvat teaches to his expenses: “Many gamers are doing it however not persistently. Novak is doing it nearly each single serve.”

Whereas Horvat believes Djokovic’s return approach may be emulated to an extent, he says his timing is unlearnable. Mert Ertunga, one other tour coach, highlights Djokovic’s flexibility and his huge return stance after his cut up step as a element he shares with many different nice returners, permitting him to manoeuvre to both facet and to evade physique serves in a single step.

The return of serve might be probably the most underrated shot within the sport. It’s far simpler for informal followers to understand a 150mph serve than the gamers who can persistently return them to a neural a part of the courtroom, significantly since tennis on tv doesn’t do justice to the speed.

Amongst skilled gamers the serve is king. A lot of the sport’s technique relies on taking good care of service video games, one-two punches stemming from the serve and capitalising on the primary 4 pictures of every level. Federer as soon as admitted he doesn’t practise his return in any respect.

For Ertunga, broadcasters don’t do sufficient to emphasize the significance and spectacle of returns. “It’s nearly like a man like Novak has to hit loopy good returns for them to say one thing, whereas he hits 30 different returns which might be a extremely excessive customary by different gamers and we don’t get a replay. I’m positive that if Novak hit 35 aces, that will be the headline.”

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