Wimbledon 2015 - Nick Bollettieri: Why Novak Djokovic is the perfect tennis machine

The best tennis player ever? Nick Bollettieri isn’t saying – but the legendary coach believes the Serb is the most finely engineered and  tuned model and details here the specifications that prove the point

As I travel the world representing the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program, I am often asked who, in my opinion, is the best player ever in the history of tennis. I will not answer this question here but I will go on the line to describe who I believe is the most perfect tennis machine, similar to the F-18 navy fighter jet.

Let me start out by saying there is never anything that is absolutely perfect. However, as I go back in time (60 years) and think about all of the players I’ve had the privilege of watching, I believe Novak Djokovic’s overall game, including the mental and physical parts, may be as perfect as I’ve seen. I will explain why.

Forehand

His grip is a perfect semi-western, and not an extreme western, which gives him the option to execute:

  • Drives (flat forehand)
  • Spin (topspin)
  • Angles
  • Swinging volleys

His swing pattern is very compact, with excellent balance throughout the entire swing, including loading up on the back leg and then shifting his weight forward. He utilises his non-hitting hand to balance his body and also as a pointing hand to the target area.

Backhand

His grip is made up of a strong eastern forehand for the top hand and a weak eastern (some would say continental) for the bottom hand. His bottom hand steadies the racket, enabling his upper hand (the left) to do all of the work for the following shots:

  • Drive
  • Cross-courts and down-the-lines with depth and spin
  • Fantastic disguised lobs
  • Angle spin shots
  • Deceptively good slices

Touch

Novak has some of the very best drop shots and touch shots from both his forehand and backhand sides. He can also hit slices from both his forehand and backhand sides.

Serve

Novak’s serve is very effective. While he has good power, he also executes all variations of the serve. He can deliver well-placed slices to both boxes, kick-serves wide to the ad side, and can hit very offensive first serves.

His service motion has excellent timing and balance plus a full use of his lower body. He lets the racket head accelerate with the serving arm fully extended.

Overhead

Novak’s overhead is as good as it gets. His balance and form are superb, as are his movements to any position to hit the overhead.

Swinging volley

Novak’s swinging volley is as good as it gets from both sides.

Volley

Many people don’t realise it but Novak is an excellent volleyer. He is very comfortable at the net and can hit all variations of the volley. His footwork and balance are excellent. He has a very simple shoulder turn, with very little backswing, and redirects the ball with the opponent’s power.

Movement

Yes, Novak has great speed and can move in any direction but what makes him extraordinary is the balance and flexibility he exhibits from all positions on the court, even in incredibly awkward positions.

Stances

Novak can hit from all stances, including the open, semi-open, neutral, and even the closed stances. No matter what stance he hits from on his groundstrokes, at the same time he hits the ball he starts his recovery movement. By doing this he can reach the next ball a split second quicker and most of the time can control play, and even put his opponent into a defensive position, from a defensive position.

Return of serve

Novak can return serve from any return position but most of the time he prefers to stand very close to the baseline and redirect the return using the speed of the serve. This position gets the return back very quickly, immediately putting the server on the defensive. At times he will alter his position on the return, causing the server to adjust his serving tactic, resulting in a fault.

Sixth sense

Novak’s anticipation is so good it makes you wonder if he has a sixth sense about where his opponent is directing the ball. He also has excellent vision. His eyes pick up the ball the split fraction of a second it leaves the opponent’s racket, like Andre Agassi. Only a few athletes in any sport can react and anticipate the way Novak is able to. His ability to know where the ball will be hit and ability to react so quickly is a gift from the Man Above.

Yes, I fully understand coaches tell their students if you hit the ball here, expect the ball to be returned there. Players like Novak, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, however, seem to have abilities that a coach cannot teach, when it comes to anticipation and split-second reaction to the ball.

Physical and nutrition

For several years players, coaches, and fans thought Novak didn’t train sufficiently because he got tired so quickly and would react by trying to slow down play and attempting low-percentage shots to end points quickly. How it happened I do not know, but after evaluation by medical experts he discovered he had a problem with gluten, which was causing him to have physical limitations while competing in physically demanding matches. A change then took place with his diet and he experienced much greater stamina and strength as a result. Now he can compete for many hours at the highest physical levels and has, in fact, won some of the longest and most gruelling matches played on the ATP Tour.

Personality

Novak has an engaging, fun- loving, thoughtful and honest personality that is very appealing and great for the game. He can entertain (I especially like his dance moves and imitations of other players) and thrill the audience. The fans know they are in for a show every time he steps on to the court.

The Djokovic family has done a lot for tennis in Serbia. I was fortunate to be hosted there by the family during Serbia’s ATP tournament as their guest. Their entire family was a delight for me to be with. I’ve also had the chance to work with Novak’s youngest brother, Djordje, on several occasions at the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program.

The future

Novak has new responsibilities, including a new wife and a new child. It will be very interesting to see how he handles these new pressures. My opinion is that he will be a fabulous father and will always be at or near the top of the game for the rest of his career.

Oh yes, the newest addition to his coaching team, a former student of mine, Boris Becker, adds important tips here and there but never saying too much. You don’t want to change a champion. You look for the little things that can help and coaches know how to do that.

Novak, the ATP Tour and tennis fans throughout the world hope you play for many years to come.

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