Is Novak Djokovic A Better Player Now Than He Was In 2011?
by Sean Randall | May 20th, 2015, 9:41 pm
  • 61 Comments

So why do I think Novak Djokovic was better in 2011 than his is now entering the 2015 French Open. Here’s why:

1. The Record
This is simple. In 2011 he was 37-0 and undefeated on the year rolling into Roland Garros. This year, two blemishes, albeit in the first two months of the year and in 500 events (Federer in Dubai, Karlovic in Doha).

No matter how you slice it, 37-0 > 35-2 and 7 2011 titles > 5 2015 titles.
Advantage: 2011

2. The Scores
The numbers – game match stats like serving, returns, etc – are eerily similar if not identical, but the eye test on scores tells me otherwise.

In 2011, Djokovic lost a total of eight sets leading up to the French Open. Those sets were to Tomas Berdych, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Tomaz Bellucci and Ivan Dodig who was the lone player to take a set off Novak in Australia.

This year, not including his two losses he’s dropped 12 sets (16 if you include the two losses). Those sets to Kei Nishikori, Bellucci, Nicolas Almagro, Murray, Alex Dolgopolov and Federer. And also Karlovic.

The numbers tell us:
Novak Djokovic Set Records Entering the French Open
2015 79-16 (83.1%)
2011 79-9 (89.7%)

Both seasons he won 79 sets going into Paris, but this year he’s lost twice as many as he did in 2011 (16 to 8).
Advantage: 2011

3. The Opponents
This year, Novak’s got a ton of great wins. Recently beating Federer, Ferrer and Nishikori to win Rome. He also hammered Nadal in Monte Carlo and took out Murray twice in Finals at Australia and Miami.

But in 2011, he beat Nadal not once, but FOUR times before Paris! Straight sets twice on clay and twice on hardcourts after losing the first set. And remember Nadal was not only No. 1, but he had won three straight Slams to finish 2010 (that’s a lot different to present day).

He also beat a 29-year-old Federer (who ended Novak’s streak at the French) three times and a Slamless-Murray twice.

Against his fellow big four, he’s gone an awfully impressive 6-1 this year. But in 2011 he went 11-0! That’s about as good as anyone has done in this century.
Advantage: 2011

4. Quality of Competition
And here’s the rub. Let’s be honest, back in 2011 Rafael Nadal was the Rafael Nadal as we know him. He was in full flight. After tweaking his leg against Ferrer in the Australian Open quarters, where he was going for his “Rafa Slam”, the only person to beat the Spaniard until the grass was Djokovic! Rafa wasn’t losing to chums like Almagro and Fognini. Not that spring.

Federer was also a stronger player. He’s ranked two now, but in 2011 the only players to beat Roger were Nadal, Djokovic and two surprise losses on clay to Gasquet and Melzer. Otherwise he was clean and mean and still won 20 Slam matches that season.

If you want to make the case Murray’s a better player now, I’ll listen and probably agree with you. But I just feel it was a tougher climate back then. Now, with Federer and Nadal on the decline, more opportunities exist for guys like Cilic, Wawrinka and even Nishikori to do damage.

So to answer the hot-button topic of is the tour weaker right now than it was a few years, yes. And guys like Djokovic and Federer are benefiting from that weakness.
Advantage: 2011

5. His Game
Watching Djokovic, I honestly don’t see a lot of difference between now and then. Maybe these days he adds a few more drop shots, comes to the net a little more, but otherwise I don’t really see anything new. He was tough to beat then, and he’s tough to beat now. There really still are no holes, no places to attack if his serve is on song and he’s confident in the backhand-down-the-line.

In 2011, guys like Nadal really pushed him to the brink. I haven’t really seen that this year. Murray made him work hard in Australia, but then faded. Federer took it to him at Indian Wells. But in 2011 he was just super human.

Though you could make the case that now no one can even force him because he’s just that much better.
Advantage: Push

Conclusion: 2011 Djokovic beats 2015 Djokovic 7-6(3), 7-5.

A few more things to consider.

In 2011, Djokovic was the hunter. He was ranked No. 2/3 during that period. He was chasing Nadal, who was at the peak of his powers. But Novak was ultra-motivated to finally reach that top spot which he finally did after winning Wimbledon.

This year, it’s reversed. He’s the hunted. That’s often the tougher role. And what’s the motivation now for Novak? Win, of course, is always the motivation. But for him it’s especially the French. Paris, that’s the goal of the season, yet he continues to dominate everything else.

Djokovic is also a family man now, with a wife and a baby boy. That can’t make life any easier, I don’t think. So credit to Novak for putting up some incredible numbers, but the real number he wants is seven. That’s the seven wins it will take to finally win the French Open.


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61 Comments for Is Novak Djokovic A Better Player Now Than He Was In 2011?

mat4 Says:

Novak now has a better serve. There is a stat we don’t see: it is the number of unreturned serves. He is more efficient now.

He has an improved FH, with more pop. While in 2011 he had to open the court to make winners, today it is enough to have the opportunity for a clean shot, from a stable position. He easily makes winners from the middle of the baseline, his CC FH has more lateral spin, and his IO FH has more depth and more angle.

He has a better transition game. He doesn’t allow opponents now to play defensive BH slice without going to the net. His opponent just can’t reset the point any more. He also is able to create his own pace from the backhand, and has more diversity in his shots, playing with more or less spin, depth, and height.

In 2011, he was faster.

And, in 2011, he was in the zone. This year, he has had up and downs. The difference is that than he played at the top of his form, while this year, he just wins, playing well or not. The only excellent performance I remember from this year are his matches against Federer in Rome, Raonic at the AO, Cilic in Monte Carlo, the second set against Rafa in Monte Carlo. But he wins nonetheless.

Djokovic 2015 vs Djokovic 2011 – 7-5, 6(3)-7, 6-3.


AndyMira Says:

It’s hard to say,sure the facts is there but…in 2011 when he consistently beat nadal..not to mention had an enormous confidence after incredible streak and Nadal who consistently been beaten by Novak who obviously low in confidence and very anxious to beat him….still novak can’t beat him on Phillipe Chatrier..sure this year Nadal is in decline but i think no 9 will motivate him tremendously..no 9 also will buried deep in novak’s head,how incredible nadal’s record is,isn’t that a pressure as big as grand canyon for him?


Wog Boy Says:

@AndyMira,

Nole didn’t play Rafa on Phillipe Chartier in 2011, unfortunately he had to play Roger in God’s mood that year. We can only speculate what would be result of Rafa-Nole if they played, bur selfish Roger spoiled the party just to be beaten by Rafa:(


Navdeep Says:

Selfish roger ? just bcoz he played his best match of the year and deprived us from Rafole final, he is selfish !


Matador Says:

Raonic at the AO, Cilic in Monte Carlo,

raonic after the tie break he totally imploded and cilic on clay is not a worthy opponent for a top 50 clay player or even top 100.


Wog Boy Says:

Navdeep,
Geez, can’t you take anything as a joke, I even put a sad/smiley face at the end. Some of you are unbelievable, I culd even make a joke about Virgin Marry in my in laws house and I can’t even mention Roger jokingly. Can’t you read, I said in the “GOD’s mood”, GOD’s GOD’s GOD’s'…do you want more, I can give you more to make you happy.


Wog Boy Says:

My apologies to Virgin Mary… for spelling her name wrongly.


sienna Says:

/Yup the 2011 semi settled who was better player on clay between fed and novak. especially if he doesnot win Garros ever.
At his absolute peak Fed beat him handily and forcefully.
That m


skeezer Says:

Lets all joke and make fun of Novak. Only fair right? Fed gets jeered and joked at only by the envious. Its all good ( insert smiley face here ).

2011 vs 2015. I would wait till after FO. But 2011 was surreal.


Wog Boy Says:

Mr SAK,
You shoud ask for professional help. You are just going around and provoking, but it doesn’t work with me. You can manipulate, some Nole fans but not all, pitching them against each other and pretend you are fair and objective, but lough behind the screen,and pretending being Nole fan, we do not accept turncoats, cult members, so chill out and keep swimming,


Navdeep Says:

Wog Boy,
I hope u keep that smiley face intact when the scoreline becomes 7-0


Wog Boy Says:

^^Don’t you worry about me, you should worry more about you for taking things so seriously:)


Dc Says:

Nole is 2011 was as good as fed was in 2004-2007.


Navdeep Says:

Just by putting a smiley face or saying lol doesnt means u can take a dig at anyone. And if u remember even novak has deprived us from a fedal final in us open, not once but twice:)


Wog Boy Says:

^^even better, otherwise their H2H would be even worst for certain one, no?:)


Navdeep Says:

Hey dude,
I m a Rafa fan. But i admire both roger and novak’s achievements. For me these 3 are the symbol of excellence . And i have no doubt that novak deserves the career slam. He will get it , it’s just that as a Rafa fan i want him to continue his fo dominance.


Wog Boy Says:

^^so you are happy either way, that’s good, no worries:)


Michael Says:

It is hard to say whether Novak is today better than he was in 2011. It is all about individual perception and might agree to disagree. For me, Novak looks a much complete player than he was then just because he is today more aggressive visiting net often with considerable success and also has acquired mastery in executing disguised dropped shots thereby keeping his opponents on toes. There is this urge today in him to finish the points early. He also has improved his first serve by leaps and bounds with much more pace, variety and bounce. Even his second serve is more well directed with added sting not easy to attack. He also now possess that Champion’s mental edge where his achievements over the years keeps him in good stead and gives him that peace of mind of being an achiever in the Sport instead of being a Desperado who has not attained much success in the game. True, competition that he faces today is not of the same quality that he combated in 2011 but still that cannot in any way undermine or condescend his standing in the game which he has attained through excellence and the experience of playing second fiddle to the Fedal legacy over a number of years only to manage a big turn around in his favour in his quest for excellence. Today, deservingly he is proud to find his name etched in the line up of Greats and his standing his bound to grow as the time progresses with his potential for winning more Grand slam and Master series titles.


Travis Bickle Says:

Sean,

It would have been only fair to acknowledge the person whose post prompted you to write this (pretty decent) rationale… ;-)


Nithish Says:

Atp is also comparing djokovic’s 2011 & 2015
m.atpworldtour.com/News/Tennis/2015/05/20/Roland-Garros-Djokovic-2011-2015-Statistics.aspx


Colin Says:

As an Andy fan, I’m trying to cheer myself up by pointing out that in 2011 the Scot came very close to ending the Nole winning streak. Didn’t he have match point in Madrid? And on clay?

If Nole should play Andy at RG this year, I must admit he’ll probably win, but I’d expect Murray to get at least one set, and not to suffer any bagels.

A big advantage for Nole is his ability to do the splits and slide. If Andy, with his split kneecap, tried that, the result doesn’t bear thinking about!


Wog Boy Says:

@Colin,
It was Rome and I think Andy was serving for the match but didn’t have match point, I might be wrong though.


FedExpress Says:

How on earth did cilic become a GS champ last season?

losing to a mug in straights


FedExpress Says:

i thought doha is a 250 event


Okiegal Says:

No, he isn’t…..the playing field is just weaker…………..
(This answer will go over like a pregnant pole vaulter)………..OKIEGAL IS BACK!! Bwahaha!!!


mat4 Says:

@Okie:

Nice you’re here again.


the DA Says:

@Wog boy – You’re correct. It never reached MP. It went to 30-15. Novak then had an extremely lucky net cord which rattled Andy and he lost the next 2 points to give the break back. *still hurts*


jalep Says:

Hi Okiegal

“…over like a pregnant pole vaulter” omg. Such an ill-advised activity!

Always happy to read you here.

Question for you though. How will you feel if Rafa wins La Decima. in such a weak playing field as this? Will you agree then that Rafa’s tally of GS wins is padded?


jane Says:

jalep, good question!


jalep Says:

@mat4.

Not that Sean Randall’s argument isn’t a good one, I simply agree more with your explanation and conclusion in your May 20, 10:25 pm post.

In addition to what you point out about serve, diversity of shots, and powerful pop on the forehand, Nole is winning whether he drops a set or not. Frankly, I think it’s also down to maturity, experience, and being more clever than ever. 2015 over 2011 Nole by a slight margin.


Giles Says:

Padded, schmadded. This fan don’t care! Lol


jalep Says:

Hi jane. Not bothering to dig up the Wta/Atp thread to post this but so far in the quarterfinals:

In Geneva:
Geraldo d Cilic 75 73. wow
Bellucci d Ramos 60 16 60
Wawrinka match to come…

Nice
Thiem d Gulbis 62 64
Isner d Lajovic 76 64
L.Mayer d Monaco 63 64
Coric and Duckworth upcoming


mat4 Says:

@jalep:

I asked you in the other thread if you were rooting for Contador. We had a poster here who liked cycling, and rooted for Contador too. So, I asked myself if you’re the same poster, with a new nick.


jalep Says:

mat4.

Why do you have to ask? Isn’t there lots of tennis fans who are also passionate about Giro d’Italia?


jane Says:

jalep, thanks for the update. weird scoreline on the bellucci match but nice to see he’s keeping some of that form he showed versus nole in rome. also coric and theim, young guns rising! :)


mat4 Says:

@jalep:

No, it’s not that. I liked that poster, that’s all.


jalep Says:

Wta quarterfinals:
Nuremberg
Vinci d Nara 61 16 64
Kerber d Doi. 62 63
Knapp d Putintseva 62 64
Witthoeft. v Arruabarrena upcoming

Strasbourg
Stosur. d Tomljanovic.
Stephens d Jankovic 61…JJ. retired.
Mladenovic d Keys by W/I
Razzano and Vesnina upcoming.


jalep Says:

mat4.

Merci. Then hopefully you’ll like me too.


jalep Says:

Because I certainly learn from and enjoy your posts, mat4. ;)


Daniel Says:

I think he is better now. As some mentioned he survived a bunch of matches in 2011. Miami final versus Nadal was third set tiebreak. This year the only real match where he was close to losing was agaisnt Dologo in Miami nother than that all 3 sets he played he demolished opponent in third set so he was never push to the brink. Nobody served for the match as Murray did.

Althoug he is not distributing as many 6-0 as he was in 2011 this run seems more “easy” as ig he didn’t have to play his absolute best in all is matches to win, he just gears up when needed. It was the case in Rome final, when Roger had BP first at 4-4 first set than something switched in Novak and he took full control of the match right after.

This way he is playing more conservative and He can play well longer and all year. 2011 it was exhausting just to watch. This time he seems much more aware of what he gotta do. And he will collcet the resulta. For any body to win 3 sets of him in any Slam will be hard. Garros, can only see Nadal doing it and this base on his “name”, past record and his favorite coirt beijg Chatrier. Because if we go with form, confidence and etc. Everything is in place for him now. Heck nobody could win 2 sets in a slow courr from him in 22 matches how they are going to win 3?! Maybe the only other one who can really challenge Novak in RG is Wawa and they can meet in Quarters. A good draw for him would be only olaying either Nadal or Wawa or neither. Because Fed ain’t winning 3 sets on clay, hard to see Murray doing it as well (although on paper he should be the one doing it). The others? Kei, Berdych, Ferrer winning 3 sets of Novak in RG. Impossible now.

So in the end will come dosn to which Nadal shows up and if they will face each other because Nadal can lose to other guys in this form (can’t believe I am saying this for him in RG). Last year Nadal was a conplete different player, reahing several final incluing AO and was Madrid and Rome final back to back. This time the setting is different.


MMT Says:

In the same way that I think both Federer and Nadal are better players today than in their best years (as far as results are concerned), I think Djokovic is a better player today than in 2011 because his skill set is broader and deeper in expanded areas like the serve and the net game.

I have to point out that I think it’s strange to include the opponents and the competition in an analysis of whether HE is a better player now than then. I don’t think that makes sense – how good a player he is would be down to him and how well he has developed his game. The results are a function of the quality of his opponent, so the two are not mutually inclusive.


elina Says:

I think that there is some impact from the opponents.

There is an element of playing to the level of your competition and raising your game when needing to play to the limit if pushed.


mat4 Says:

@jalep:

Don’t worry. I get along with most of the posters fine, and I like to joke.

But don’t forget that I often forget to write a smiley at the end of my posts. ;-)


jalep Says:

Fair enough about smiley faces, winky faces, etc mat4. I tend to overuse them but don’t use them when I don’t mean it.

In case you are interested, I know Wog Boy is, Contador is going for all 3 grand tours this year, as he’s announced at age 32, that this is his last year. He’s retiring after this season.

As of today he is in pink and leads the Giro d’Italia. His closest rival was only 3 seconds behind but Contador, as he often can, managed to increase his lead to 17 seconds :D

Like Nole, Rafa, Federer, as you age there’s a time span that these great champions can benefit from experience, though they do lack the pure power and speed they had earlier in their carreers.

Eventually being wiser and experienced can’t make up for the deficits of advancing age.
•••••••••••••••••••

@jane
18 yr.old Coric d Duckworth 63 76, and makes it to semi’s!

Nice semi’s are set:
Isner v Thiem. Bad luck for Thiem.
Coric v L.Mayer

Geneva still waiting on Wawrinka v Delbonis. Stan couldn’t break Frederico. But won 1st set TB 76

Bellucci v Geraldo
Sousa (POR) v Stan or Frederico


chris ford1 Says:

A better player?
I think so.
But it is very early in 2015. Premature to equate success as equal. Year is not half done. 4 Masters, 3 Slams, and the WTF await.
Below the radar, Andy Murray is playing some fine tennis. He may not be the competition Rafa was in 2011 for Nole, but if Nole wants to do something truly amazing in 2015, it won’t be easy. Not with Andy, not with Fed on faster surfaces still having a shot, Rafa possibly regrouping…and certain players that cab be dangerous like Isner and Kei. And Raonic, if he heals.


Okiegal Says:

@mat4
@jalep

Thanks you two!! I’ll try not to bore everyone. Jalep, I’m not sure how to answer your question if Rafa should win #10. I will rephrase my answer to the thread question. Me, not knowing a thing about an improved serve or different strategies or tactics, he probably has improved on his game. I don’t know enough about it to look for those things. All I know he is whooping the stuffings out of everyone! Is his game play so great at the moment that he’s making everyone else look bad? I don’t really know. Seems to me, he’s just playing as hard as he needs to, to win. He might lose a set here or there, but always manages to win. He’s on a streak for sure. Regarding Rafa, if he should win his tenth title at RG…. well, the King rules on
his Court!! Rafa has had his close battles there too, but seems always to hit another gear and come out on top…….He has in 65 out of 66 matches, anyway…….I know as a loyal fan of Rafa, his day of reckoning at RG will happen…..I just hope it ain’t this year!! Go for it Rafa…..10 of the coup thingy trophies…..I’m up for that……AGAIN! :)


Rich Says:

I would take 2015 Novak over 2011.
2015 Novak is dialed-in, supremely confident and hitting with more consistent depth.
Also, he clearly has eradicated any breathing problems he still had in 2011 from his gluten intolerance, asthma, whatever.
2015 Novak is the best player I’ve seen since 2010 Nadal and 2007 Henin.


jalep Says:

Cannot believe Stan lost to Frederico Delbonis.

Geneva semi’s
Delbonis v Sousa (POR)
Bellucci v Giraldo

Makes me very suspicious of the losses by Stan and Marin today. oh well…


jalep Says:

Okiegal,

Don’t worry about my question.

You have made your position loud and clear. For you, it’s as it is with Giles.

“Padded Schmadded” and vamos Rafa for you too!

Of course for me, it’s different ;)


peter Says:

What defines a better player? Skill wise 2015 nole is definitely better, skill always improves. THeres an article on atp showing his service game win % is a lot higher, with everything else more or less the same. However , 2011 nole was young and athletic, the 2011 nole played at a higher level than now.

A big reason why hes won a lot this year is because of the competition. Give him the competition of 2011, he would have lost a few more matches.

Nole peaked in 2011. But that level is not sustainable, he also realised that himself, after that run he played badly in the indoor season, subsequently relinquishing his no.1 position a year later as federer amassed points and spread them well. Since then he has played at a consistently high level, but nothing outstanding, resulting in one slam each year. This level however, is sustainable. while nadal and murray played unsustainable tennis resulting in injuries. These guys dropped off, allowing nole to dominate.


potomac89 Says:

@sienna,

i dont know what match you were watching in 2011, but it wasnt the french open semifinal. that was a very tight match from from beating him handily


Jack Lewis Says:

” Skill wise 2015 nole is definitely better, skill always improves.”

Oh god wouldn’t that be nice if it were the case.
Some shots get better some shots degrade, some aspects or you game improve others don’t. The concentration aspect goes up and down (sometimes breaks actually help in that regards).
Very few things just improve all the times with no cost anywhere else.


peter Says:

Thats how everybody tends to think. Federer thinks hes improved over the years as well, even though hes not winning as much now.

But for djoker, its obvious that his skills improved since 2011. You compare how he is winning matches. In 2011 he was winning because of incredible defence, he was a brick wall. He outlasted nadal.
This year he is winNing by attacking. Holding his serve a lot more easier.

His serves and volleys improved. Hes added the slice to his skillset as well. In 2011 he was just pounding shot after shot from the baseline. Now he is serving and volleying, slicing and dropping.


skeezer Says:

“Thats how everybody tends to think. Federer thinks hes improved over the years as well, even though hes not winning as much now.”
Dude, he’s 33, close to 34, not 27. He has improved.
If Fed didn’t improve his game( more agressive, bigger racket, etc. ), would he be retired by now? Perspective objectivity is key. He’s winnng, he can still push the top players in the game, he is still winning tourneys and getting to semis / finals.
Amazing.


Colin Says:

Wog Boy, as you say it was Rome where that 2011 semi took place. There are highlights reels on YouTube. The English one is only 8 minutes or so, and misses the crucial break of Andy’s serve. The one with (I think) Czech commentary is about 33 minutes.

Considering the roll Nole was on, Andy did amazingly well after losing the first set. In the decider, even after being broken he still managed to take it to a tie-breaker. The area where I was particularly impressed by Andy was the serve. I don’t think he could serve that well the coming two weeks. What he hopefully could do, is resist any attempts by Nole to distract him.


Wog Boy Says:

“What he hopefully could do, is resist any attempts by Nole to distract him.”

Yeah Colin, agree, that was the reson Andy lost to Nole, he was distracted by Nole, otherwise Andy would beat Nole.


Colin Says:

Wog Boy, you are referring to this year’s Aussie Open, right? I don’t say it’s a certainty Andy would have won, but he admitted himself that he’d gone on a mental walkabout. In 2011 Nole didn’t do any play acting. He just played great tennis.


Wog Boy Says:

Colin,

No, I am referring to your comments, which you are entitled to.


Wog Boy Says:

“In 2011 Nole didn’t do any play acting. He just played great tennis.”
Colin, I really expect better than this from Andy fans.


brando Says:

Till now? Better. He’s winning big and easily. End of season? Time will tell all.

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