Novak Djokovic has one big weakness – and here is why his opponents struggle to expose it on court
It is the weak spot that Novak Djokovic’s rivals know he may never solve, but exposing the biggest flaw in the make-up of the all-conquering world No 1 is no easy task.
While Djokovic has improved his volleys to a point where he is now as solid as anyone at the net, throwing the ball high about his head when he is in that position remains something of a mystery for the great Serbian.
Yet even though Djokovic’s smash has been a weak spot throughout his career, the task of using that against him has never been mastered.
Here is a Tennis365 look at why Djokovic has always struggled with his overheads at the net and what opponents could do to take advantage of that flaw.
DJOKOVIC’S BIGGEST PROBLEM
Novak Djokovic has evolved his game to a point where is it as perfect as we have seen in the history of the sport.
Dramatic improvements on his serve have been crucial to allowing him to dominate tennis for the last decade, with his relentlessly accurate forehand and crunching backhand adding to the impression that he is unbeatable.
Dragging Djokovic to the net and asking him to make volleys was a ploy used by some of his opponents, but his net play improved dramatically during the time he had with three-time Wimbledon champion and volleying master Boris Becker in his corner as his coach.
Yet look back at the video footage of Djokovic’s rare off days and you can be certain that an overhead smash will feature at some point.
WHAT IS NOVAK DOING WRONG?
Djokovic struggling to apply full force behind his smash and there are a few reasons for that,
It often appears that he pushes the ball back into court when he has an overhead at the net, which is a strange sight for a player who is so clinical in every other aspect of the game.
Why is this happening?
There are a few reasons why Djokovic never looks comfortable putting away a smash and the first is the position he gets into under the ball.
He has a habit of misjudging the flight of the ball and allowing it to drop too close to him. This means he cannot get into a good position to put it away.
Another problem is his tendency to allow the ball to drop too low before he makes contact, with his elbow often bent when he is hitting the ball. A fully extended arm is the best option for a smash, but Djokovic rarely has that when he is executing this shot.
When he does extend the arm fully, the timing of his delivery of the racket is occasionally off, as he gets to the ball before it is in the right hitting position.
READ MORE: Cameron Norrie reveals the one shot that has taken Novak Djokovic’s game to the next level
DOES HE LACK CONFIDENCE IN THIS SHOT?
When pressure is applied, this is the shot he struggles to commit to.
Look back on the final points of Djokovic’s 2013 Wimbledon final defeat against Andy Murray and you will see a pushed overhead at the net that should have been put away (11.47 in the video below).
Djokovic failed to do so and that gave Murray the chance he needed to get over the winning line.
He also failed to kill off some overheads in his Wimbledon final defeat against Carlos Alcaraz last summer and this shot is highlighted more when matches get tight.
At 30-40 in the second game of the fifth set against Alcaraz on the Spaniard’s serve, Djokovic opted to drive volley a high ball rather than smash it. He dumped the ball in the net, missed his break point chance and went on to lose the match (below).
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) July 16, 2023
Djokovic tends to come to the net more when he is feeling the pressure, as he looks to end points quickly, but the tension also contributes to his lack of control with his overhead at the net.
One of his secret weapons on court is the ability to be steady and set before he strikes the ball. That is due to his incredible footwork and masterful anticipation, but some of those skills are lacking on overheads.
“I don’t think it’s a weakness. It’s just something that happens in a bad moment, you lose your balance and you miss the overhead. Sometimes it’s not possible to be as efficient as possible, but most of the overheads that I make are in the court and are winners.”
Clearly, Djokovic does not want to admit that he has a problem with overheads at the net, but the facts on court tell a different story.
Only occasionally does this great champion look uncomfortable or off balance and that happens time and again when he delivers a smash.
“Every player has one weakness,” said his former coach Becker. “I can tell you that Djokovic’s weakness is his overhead. If you take the top 100 in the world, his overhead is the worst – and that’s coming from me.”
WHY OPPONENTS STRUGGLE TO EXPOSE IT
Djokovic is so good in every other aspect of his game that it is hard to get him into a position to expose his big weakness.
“Seeing how well he managed his service games in the Davis Cup match and how well he was hitting his spots was crazy,” British No 1 Cameron Norrie told Tennis365 as he reflected on the challenges of facing Djokovic.
“I think I got to 30 (points) once in his service games and I felt like I was returning well. So it was a good learning experience. If I could get to the point where I can manage my service games like him, it would be nice.
“I watched Djokovic in the ATP Finals against (Jannik) Sinner and he couldn’t even get close to in his service games again. The spots he can hit consistently are amazing. His serve has improved more than any other shot.
“He doesn’t really have a weakness. That’s why he’s the world No 1. His standard is always so high.”
Norrie’s comments highlight the challenge of unpicking Djokovic’s game and while drawing him into the net and testing his overhead smash could be an option, it would only be effective for a few points per set.
His unforced error count is always so low, his serve is now as consistent and accurate as any in the game and his aura on court adds to the complete package that makes him the best in the world.
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