Tennis Prose



Facing Novak Djokovic

By Scoop Malinowski

Novak Djokovic has played a higher level of tennis, above and beyond the great Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The Serbian marvel hasn’t lost to Federer in a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2012 and he leads their head to head 27-23.

Djokovic also leads Nadal in head to head duels 29-28 and has earned $24,000,000 more in career prize earnings ($148m – $124m) than the Spaniard despite being a year younger.

Federer and Nadal knew early on after Djokovic turned pro in 2003 that he was a potential dangerous rival to keep an eye on. Rafa and Roger made their best efforts to subdue and destroy Djokovic and keep him in the group along with Gasquet, Monfils, Berdych, Lopez, Tsonga, etc. However Djokovic survived the onslaughts and heartbreaking losses and somehow managed to turn the tables on his tormenters.

What makes Novak Djokovic so fierce and formidable in court combat? Here is an excerpt of my next book “Facing Novak Djokovic” which will be published later in 2022….

“My thoughts were he wasn’t that good.”

Taylor Dent:  “I played a young Novak Djokovic in Hopman Cup. My agent asked me what I thought of him as a player? My thoughts were that he wasn’t that good. But he kept on improving, kept on working and pretty soon later he was considered one of the greatest players of all time.”

“Everything is difficult.”

Diego Schwartzman: “Everything is difficult against Novak. I think what he’s doing when he’s playing his best, he’s moving the ball… to every single point on [the] court. It’s very difficult to see or to know what he’s going to do and [to] try to make good points… He has a lot of talent when he has the chance to move the ball.”

“He’s very meticulous, on every shot.”

Paolo Lorenzi: “My first memory of Novak Djokovic…that’s a memory I think was good for him because he beat me easy a few times. I play him on Queens center court, I was playing him in Australia, in New York. I think I have good memories because when I play against him, I know I have to improve a lot of things.”

Question: Why and how does Djokovic stand out from other players?

Paolo Lorenzi:  “I think because he’s good in everything. He has very good reaction, he has good serve, he has unbelievable returns, he’s moving well, he’s attacking good, he’s defending good. That’s the heel of his game.”

Question:  When you played Novak, did you have any success against him at all?

Paolo Lorenzi:  No. Unfortunately no [smiles].”

Question: Is he the toughest guy for you to play?

Paolo Lorenzi:  “I think they’re all very tough to beat. It was really tough to play against him or Rafa, Roger or Andy – the toughest matches. But against him, for me, I think it was really, really tough.”

Question:  Lasting memory of Novak, on or off court?

Paolo Lorenzi:  “It’s also when he practices. He’s very meticulous. He puts very much attention to his shots, every shot. And I think it’s the heel of his game and his success. Really focused on every shot.”

Question: Does it make you a better player from having played him?

Paolo Lorenzi:  “I think having played all the big ones made me a better player. Because you watch them, you know you have to improve a lot of things. When you are with them, you realize you are not so good [smiles].”

“He beat me like a drum.”

Andy Roddick: “Novak in crunch time has become a different animal. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen someone at the start of their career, maybe when you counted on them being a little fragile in those moments, maybe you could grind them down physically. The correction that he’s made in his career certainly is amplified in a match like the 2019 Wimbledon final (vs. Federer, won 13-12 in the fifth set after saving two championship points). Where he started to where he’s gotten to is unlike anything I’ve seen before from a given player.”

Question: What was a very memorable match vs. Djokovic?

Andy Roddick:  “I remember 2012 at the Olympics. I played Novak second round. I was unseeded but had won a couple of weeks before. I’d won two of the last three tournaments I had played in (Atlanta final vs Gilles Muller and Eastbourne vs. Andreas Seppi). So I was feeling great. I felt like Wimbledon was a place where maybe I could catch lightning in a bottle, make a bit of a run. Felt great in practice that week. I beat (Martin) Klizan in the first round (75 64). Went out in second round – and Novak was someone who I’d had a decent record against, to that point (5-3 career head to head before the match). And he… beat… me… like… a DRUM. I was like a child on the court. I walked off the court – I lost 2 and 2 on grass (actually 2 and 1). I served average. It’s not a good thing for me to serve average against Novak. I walked off the court and thought: I’m gonna go out tomorrow and feel like I’m playing well. He just beat me like a drum. That was one of the first times – US Open was a couple of months later – that’s when I said to myself, This is getting a little bit different than what I had been used to. These guys are kind of from another planet right now. That one kind of hit home for me. The way he was playing in that moment was eye-opening for me.”

Marat Safin on Novak in 2005 at AO: “He’s a young guy, upcoming. He had a very good results last year in the challengers. He’s going to be a good player. He sign already a few contracts, so that means that the people, they’re looking forward and he going to be in the future Top 10.”

“Only few can beat him on Tour.”

Holger Rune:  “I wrote to him on Instagram. Whether he was in Monaco or in the area – because I had seen that he had withdrawn from Miami. Then he wrote back: ‘Hello Holger, yes, we can do it.’ We hit together before – I was his training partner at the 2019 ATP Finals in London.”

“I’ve had some experience at this level now and I know the difference isn’t that big either. There are some small things, some decisions that you make in different situations, but I think I can at least play with him. I have to move well. He hits the ball so clean. He has such a good meeting point, hardly makes any mistakes. It’s just so cool to train with him. You get a good rhythm.”

“I always feel great emotions when I train with the top 10 because they have so many strengths to draw from and at the same time they are fantastic guys who love tennis like me. I measure my tennis against their’s, I know there is still a lot to improve, but I don’t feel that far from their level. When I was training with Djokovic, I realized that he was not only on the tennis court, but also outside is a very strong person: I have an idea why only few can beat him on Tour. He’s the most complete player I’ve ever seen, both mentally and physically. Thanks to his advice, I have written down many things that I need to work on. He showed me what it takes to become number one in the world… It’s not just about passion or good tennis, there is an immense job behind it.”

“I think a lot of people have great tennis to get to the top of the rankings, but to break the number one longevity records of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, you need a little more. I would like to have a career similar to them, it would be fascinating.”

(Note: This feature has been expanded into a book “Facing Novak Djokovic” which will be released in early 2022)

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1 comment

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 2, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Djokovic: “I have as much motivation as anyone.” Shots fired at Rafa 🙂



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