Novak Djokovic is one of the established pillars of the ATP tour club known as the Big 4 who have dominated the men’s game for the better part of the last decade. During his time at the top of the game he has held the number one ranking and won six grand slam titles after developing a ruthlessness and fitness to go with his prodigious skill.
A mainstay of his game since his early days has always been his piercing double handed backhand, which has long been his strongest shot in the opinion of many experienced tennis analysts including former Australian Open champion Jim Courier.
Watch the slow motion video before you read the analysis below:
The foundation to the Djokovic backhand, and of most two-handed backhands, is his fitness. The more limited reach that employing a two-handed technique places on a player means that they must possess both the explosive speed to get into position and the endurance to maintain it over long matches otherwise the footwork that lays the foundation for the shot is incorrect and the error count attached to the shot rises exponentially.
Early in his career this was a particular weakness of Djokovic with more experience opponents punishing him late in sets and particularly in the fourth and fifth sets of grand slams where his endurance was in question, particularly when he was forced to withdraw with symptoms of heat exhaustion in several events. Since those early days however he has worked hard on his speed and endurance to ensure that his backhand remains a weapon at all stages of a match.
The Shot Mechanics
The Djokovic backhand is grounded in his outstanding court coverage that places his feet within a half stride of the ball in order to achieve the perfect position from which to play the shot. The knees are both flexed before impact and he stays low throughout the shot, unlike a more “classic” one handed backhand that is employed by the likes of Federer which starts low and ends almost on the toes.
The grip he employs is the standard continental or western grip (for his dominant right hand) and an eastern grip when his non-dominant left hand comes onto the racquet to play the shot. Djokovic meets the ball with his hips and shoulders facing the side of the court and his head looking over his right shoulder the only part of his body facing the ball before he makes contact, with the rest of his body at ninety degrees to the service court.
The footwork during the shot is somewhat confusing, but generally when watching his play in open matches he favours an approach that sees him start with his weight on his back foot during the backswing before transitioning to the front as he follows through. However, there are also many occasions when he plays the shot with one or both feet partially in the air as his quick movement means that this is the only way to prevent overrunning the strike zone.
It is also important to note that his head stays still throughout, with focus on the ball and impact area. The follow through finishes over the right shoulder, and is often done in parallel with a split step that simultaneously finishes the shot and repositions him for the next one.
The result is a powerful backhand that is also very adaptable. For example the angle of the racquet head will determine whether Djokovic hits a flat shot in an attempt to pass an opponent who has approached the net or come forward too soon, or hit a shot with heavy topspin to force an opponent back from the baseline. This is a key strength of the Djokovic backhand, as it allows him to adapt to the opponent, the surface he is playing on and the point he is trying to construct. It also makes it very hard to defend, as there is no real clue as to what shot he will hit because the variation only requires a slight and almost impossible to see grip and angle change of the racquet.
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