One intriguing statistic suggests Novak Djokovic’s dominance is slowly fading

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic continues to win at the Australian Open
Novak Djokovic continues to win at the Australian Open

The greatest athletes of them all can go two ways at the end of their glorious careers.

Their fall from grace is inevitable and depending on the sport you are operating in and some fall with a bigger thud than others.

If you are a boxer, the knock-out blow that ends an era of dominance is normally pretty thudding.

For footballers, the slide can be gradual as your peak are slowly replaced by a period when you are past your best and living on your legacy.

As for golfers, they seem to be able to continue well past their 50th birthday, reaping the rewards of a sport that allows you to play poorly for most of the year and still claim huge riches for one or two good weeks.

The reason why Novak Djokovic may be the greatest athlete on earth right now is he has produced a staggering level of brilliance and consistency that has ensured he has been in a league of his own for most of the last 15 years.

Even though he had the other two greatest tennis players of all-time in his era, Djokovic found a way to win the battles against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and in a year when he will toast his 37th birthday, he remains the man to beat at the top of the men’s game.

Yet there is some hope for the chasing pack and while it may not be evident on the court yet, it is in the time clock on each of his matches.

Djokovic has been tested more in his 2024 Australian Open run and that has been confirmed by the amount of time he has spent on court.

Youngster Dino Prizmic kept Djokovic on court for over four hours in his opening round match and he was then pushed over the three-hour mark by Alexei Popyrin.

His quarter-final against Taylor Fritz was a three hours and 45-minute epic that included two brutally long and draining first sets, with Fritz crumbling physically in the third and fourth sets as he lost 7-6 (3) 4-6 6-2 6-3.

READ MORE: Taylor Fritz gives a graphic glimpse of how it feels to play against Novak Djokovic

While Djokovic emerged from the Fritz match looking like the ultimate tennis warrior once again, the fact that he has remained on court for so long in his opening five matches may take a toll on him in his semi-final and possible final match.

This is a theme that has been developing over the last couple of years, as Djokovic is winning fewer matches in doubles quick time.

Djokovic won just nine of his matches in under 90 minutes this season, which is considerably less than the number of quick match wins he has produced over the course of his career.

The shot clock was introduced to encourage players to serve a little more quickly in 2020, yet Djokovic matches seem to be taking longer now, suggesting he is not blowing opponents away as quickly as he did during his prime years at the start of the 2010s.

These numbers highlight how many matches the Serbians played that were concluded in less than 90 minutes.

2010: 23

2011: 28

2012: 31

2013: 29

2014: 28

2015: 25

2016: 25

2017: 9

2018: 19

2019: 27

2020: 14

2021: 12

2022: 13

2023: 9

You may expect the number of quick matches to go up rather than down in recent years as Djokovic has been focusing on Grand Slam events, where he would be expecting to win matches quickly in the early rounds.

Yet aside from his demolition of an out-classed Adrian Mannarino, Djokovic has been kept out on court longer than he would have wanted in Melbourne this year.

The longest match Djokovic played at the Australian Open last year was a three-hour and seven-minute battle against Grigor Dimitrov and he reached the 2020 Australian Open final without playing a match that came close to going over three hours.

He won the 2019 Australian Open title after an average match time over the course of his seven matches at 120 minutes, but this year he has already been on court for over 15 hours.

With an aging body, reducing time on court will be crucial to Djokovic as he looks to extend his dominance, but it seems the tide is turning the other way against Djokovic.