Novak Djokovic: I Played Flawless Tennis For The First Two Sets, No Doubt About It
by Tom Gainey | January 28th, 2016, 9:02 am

In one of his best, most dominating performances of his career, Novak Djokovic defeated rival Roger Federer 61, 62, 36, 63 in the Australian Open semifinals Thursday night.

Flawless Djokovic has now won 13 straight matches at the Australian Open as he seeks a record-tying 6th title there, and overall an 11th career Grand Slam. He’s never lost in the semifinals or finals in Melbourne (11-0).

Djokovic also pulls ahead of Federer in their rivalry for a first time 23-22. He’ll now await the winner of Thursday night’s battle between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic.

After the big win over Federer, here’s what Djokovic said:

Q. Did you ever play a better first set?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I’ve had matches where I’ve played similar tennis. But I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I’ve played against him overall I think throughout my career.

I’ve had some moments against him in sets where I’ve played on a high level, but this was, yeah, I think a different level than from before. I’m just very, very pleased that I was able to perform the way I did from the very beginning till the end.

Q. Does that mean you weren’t fazed when he got into it in the third set?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I mean, of course, after two sets, you know, you start to think the player of Roger’s caliber will start playing better, will change few things. I think he started raising his first-serve percentage. He used his slice, short slice, very well, and court positioning. He started to be more aggressive.

I don’t think I’ve done too much wrong in the third. I was still playing solid, solid tennis. He deserved to win that one. After that, the roof was closed. In the fourth, I served on a very high level. I was very patient. I knew that I’m going to have my opportunity. When it was presented, I managed to utilize it and win in four.

Q. From outside it seems like a massive switch between Gilles Simon, Nishikori, and this match. Is it all about the mindset and the matchup?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Your best changes day to day. As I said, it’s not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you’re playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger’s resume, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that matchup than most of the other matches.

So that’s why I came out with I think a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I mean, I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it.

Q. There was the fabulous point in the fourth set. Roger’s great retrieve. You turned it around in a flash. Talk about that process.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I remember that point. It was actually the game I broke him in the fourth. It was a 15-30 point. I thought I’m going to end up the point with a smash, but it didn’t happen.

His defense was terrific that point. After it was done, I had to just forget about it and focus on the next point. Managed to return two very good returns and pass him on the net. That was a crucial break.

Obviously I didn’t want to allow him to come back to the match and give him an opportunity maybe to take the match to the fifth.

I know that if I drop my level or concentration or allow myself to get distracted by anything that he would take the first opportunity, jump on me, and just take the lead of the rallies. That’s what he has done in the third.

He just waits for a little drop from his opponent. That’s why he’s been so successful throughout his career.

But I was aware of that before the match, so psychologically I did not allow myself to have big oscillations. Of course, there was a lot of excitement from the crowd, as well, towards the end of the third set. Then of course they got into it. It was a great atmosphere.

But, you know, I’ve played in these particular situations before, and managed to use that experience.

Q. You have more than 20 wins with Federer, Nadal, Murray, and Wawrinka. Do you think your future, the next two, three years, can be even more dominant since there are not competitors of that same level, at least from what we can see now?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s hard to say what future brings. Obviously tennis is different from what it was when I was coming up 10 years ago. It’s more difficult, as we were saying before, for young players to make a breakthrough and actually challenge the best players in the world.

It’s more physical nowadays and more demanding from each and every aspect. Point system is such that it doesn’t serve the young players to make a breakthrough. It’s a difficult sport, obviously. It’s an individual sport. You know, there are cases and players like Boris Becker and Chang, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old Grand Slam winners. It’s hard to really say if we’re going to have that or not in the future. It just really depends. The future is not in our hands.

It’s expected to in a way see new faces, a new generation of players, guys like Kyrgios, Zverev. Those are players that are showing some big game, big tennis, and they are able quality-wise to challenge the top players.

But to sustain that level and throughout the year to be actually consistent requires a lot more than just a good game. I’m going to try to stay here as long as possible. That’s from my perspective what I can influence, what I can do.

Whether or not I’m going to be dominant in the years to come, I don’t know. I cannot give you an answer on that. I can try to do my best to try to keep playing on this level.

Q. In your post match interview you were asked about the other semi. You said you’re expecting the unexpected. Does that mean you think Raonic is the favorite?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, it was a joke. There was no intention to discredit anybody or put somebody in a position of favorite. I didn’t really think about that. It was just a little joke with Jim Courier.

No, I’m going to enjoy my two days off. I think it’s good for me at this stage. I’ve played a lot of tennis. Actually it’s going to serve me well for my recovery. Tomorrow’s match is going to be interesting to watch. Being in the finals and watching the other semifinals, of course it’s quite a joyful feeling.

Whoever wins, I’m going to be ready for the great battle.

Q. You came up with a very nice line about your convictions to be bigger than your doubts. Is that yours? A quote from somebody else? From your experiences?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It comes from my experiences, I think. In the end of the day you are battling yourself the most. There are so many players out there that are hitting the ball well.

Whether or not you’re able to cope with the pressure in these particular moments, fighting against some of the best players in the world for the major trophy, you know, of course there’s a lot at stake. Emotions are going up and down. It’s important to keep it together.

You go throughout the match, and even before the match, through different thought processes. Even though sometimes it seems unnatural, you need to keep pushing yourself to be on the positive side. That’s why I’ve stated what I stated on the court.

Q. When you play with Roger or Andy, the majority of the audience is not on your side. How do you deal with that in your mind?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, you know, I try not to focus on that. I feel like I’m enjoying lots of support around the world. I was saying before that when I play Roger it’s something that is expected in a way considering his career and his greatness on and off the court, what he has done for the sport.

He’s loved. He’s appreciated. He’s respected around the world. For me it’s normal in a way. I’m trying obviously to enjoy my time, to do the best that I can with the tennis racquet, but also focus on the positive energy rather than negative, rather than getting frustrated for that. There’s no reason.

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23 Comments for Novak Djokovic: I Played Flawless Tennis For The First Two Sets, No Doubt About It

Gbati Says:

Flawless in the first two sets??????……
Well, I’d say it was pretty close(in tennis terms) with the magnitude of the occasion and all

Ben Pronin Says:

MMT, are you reading this?

I don’t want to reply on the older thread but I want to keep the discussion going about Becker as a coach and the mental aspect of tennis (and sports).

I want to disagree that all of the coach’s work is done between tournaments. I think Becker has proved to be a very astute observer of the game. If nothing else, in the past year and a half, Djokovic is almost always prepared with some kind of game plan. It’s the coach’s job to scout players during the tournaments and come up with game plans. And I think Becker has done a phenomenal job. Of course it helps that Djokovic is improved as a player and also executing at a high level, but you can also see that he has specific tactics for specific players.

The other aspect, the mental part. I agree that the whole “believe in yourself” shtick is a bunch of nonsense. But that’s not the real mental aspect of tennis, it’s composure. Djokovic has the shots, he knows the game plan, and mentally, he has to keep his composure. Up 2 sets to love? Don’t get ahead of yourself, stay the course, continue to execute the plan that got you to this point. Federer mounts a comeback? Stay calm, focus on what adjustments he’s made and what adjustments you need to make. In any sport, composure is key to winning. You shouldn’t over think the game, but you shouldn’t play mindlessly either. Find a way to set aside the pressure and focus on the task at hand.

You mentioned the 1980 Wimbledon final and how, after the 4th set, McEnroe thought he was going to win and Borg thought he was going to lose. But Borg ended up winning. As you said, belief had nothing to do with it. But Borg kept his composure. He kept to the task at hand and eventually he won.

In any case, wow what a match from Djokovic. I hope this carries into the final.

El_matador Says:

This fella’s pressers are becoming joy to read..much like roger,he gives insightful analysis in every issue..and this whole ‘andy/roger gets more support’ thing is nonsense..against every opponent roger gets similar support as the great man’s career is fading..tonight they cheered for roger when he needed was a great atmosphere in last 2 sets and it was fitting with the great shot makings two legends were the match ended,they gave novak due respect and appreciation this potential GOAT in the making deserved

BBB Says:

Ben, it seems to me you’re not saying that “believing in yourself” is nonsense, so much as it isn’t decisive. You may believe you’re going to lose, but you can render it irrelevant by executing.

Because I do think Roger does not believe he can beat Djokovic in 5, and so he ends up with too much pressure on himself in the first set.

You’re right that he can overcome the lack of belief by executing an appropriate game plan, but the way he’s played the last three majors against Novak does tell me he’s got a mental block to overcome.

Ben Pronin Says:

Federer “not believing” means he’s not coming up with a suitable game plan to compete or beat Djokovic with. Why the hell did he serve and volley on a second serve down break point in the 4th set? That’s just poor judgement.

BBB Says:

LOL. That’s what’s interesting – poor judgment is not something we usually see from him.

madmax Says:


Yeah I know. We hear you.

madmax Says:

Ben, if you read this tonight, how do you see Federer’s game evolving and what do you see Luby’s role as being in Team Fed? Can he really add anything to his toolkit, or just the moral support (which I know counts).

I am just interested in your viewpoint.

I watched the visual interview and Fed looked to have very dark circles under the eyes. Really tired, but then it could be the lighting.

chrisford1 Says:

Novak had gameplans and the ability to regroup better than just about any player starting in late 2010 under Marian. Boris simply made additional enhancements that may have been decisive in 2014 Wimbledon and all through 2013.

On the confidence thing – it is important. All the top players discuss it. Lose it and you are Djokovic flailing away after the Madrid match. Every match, workout and training session far tougher to get through. What was the key to 2011? Djokovic said the confidence he got through Davis Cup play in 2010. He still had matches he thought he was going to lose, notably the USO semifinal. Confidence is not about deluding yourself you or your team is invincible – it is confidence in your ability to beat anyone, and confidence that with your back up against the wall, facing 2 match points on Fed;s serve -you can trust yourself and execute

El_matador Says:

The mental aspect is the product of novak’s ability to neutralise roger’s game seems he has answers to every question roger asks him in the court..if roger tries to s&v,70% of time novak is making the pass and if roger engages in the rally,there’s noone better than novak in that at the it produces extra pressure for fed on seems almost as if only possible option for fed to win a point is making novak can create ‘doubt’ in fed’s(in fact,everybody’s)shot selection and hence the poor judgment..there’s nothing in fed’s head,just novak’s great accuracy and brilliant shotmaking makes roger confused what to do to keep pace with a legend in his prime

MMT Says:

Hi Ben:

I agree that composure and concentration are important – in fact, I think composure and concentration are the only two non-skill related qualities of any importance in tennis. I have never disagreed with that, and Djokovic’s performances against Federer have shown that his concentration and composure are exactly where they need to be to allow his technical and physical superiority to determine the result.

Belief and confidence are another can of malarkey entirely.

But you questioned Federer’s decision to serve and volley on second serve in the 4th – he did it because 1) beating him from the baseline wasn’t working out very well and 2) it worked in the 3rd set at 2-2 (prior to the game where he got the break) down break point. You can pick and choose moments here and there as examples of a mental breakdown, but you yourself have asked this question and given the answer: you’ve focused only on when it didn’t work, not when it did.

Ultimately, I think it is only Djokovic’s superiority that causes Federer problems – it is not even remotely a mental issue. Those of us who think he has the game, but just has a mental block, and that’s why he repeatedly loses when Djokovic is playing at a high level, are kidding ourselves.

There is not doubt at all all whatsoever that Djokovic is a superior player at the moment: technically and physically. There isn’t a single area of comparison (serve to return in either direction, cross court rallies, changes of direction, inside-out forehands, even net play) where Federer has sustained superiority.

That is not at all a question of anything mental other than perhaps concentration and composure – which is a generic requirement like fitness.

MMT Says:

“BBB Says: Because I do think Roger does not believe he can beat Djokovic in 5, and so he ends up with too much pressure on himself in the first set.”

By this do you mean that if he believed he could win in 5, he would have played more passively, and allowed the game to come to him in the first two sets?

I find it difficult to imagine what he could have done differently – of course he made a lot of unforced errors, but he makes them because when he plays conservatively Djokovic wins. The only points/games/set he’s won over the last 2 years against Djokovic have been aggressive. Each time he plays the way he used to play (back when Djokovic was less fit, had an iffy forehand, and hit a lot more double faults) he loses.

He also loses playing aggressively, but that happens to be the only time he wins sets against Djokovic. This is not an issue of belief – if Federer were dumb enough to try to wait for opportunities to open up for him, he would lose by two breaks every set. The solution you propose (that would presumably result from an entirely unjustified belief that he can outplay Djokovic at his own game) is no kind of solution at all.

Federer has no choice but to push the envelope with Djokovic. He doesn’t defend well enough (particularly on the backhand side) to be patient. Even tonight, he won 2/3rds of points from the net. From the baseline, it was 2:1 the other way for Djokovic in the first 2 sets.

I’m sorry, but this is not a mental block – this is a technical/physical block, and no amount of mental machinations to the contrary will resolve that. Federer is trying to do exactly what he HAS to do to beat him – it’s just very difficult to do against a focused Djokovic.

Ben Pronin Says:

MMT, I didn’t see the point at 2-2 in the third. I did, however, see enough before that 30-40 point to know it was a dumb decision. While I agree that Federer wasn’t in any kind of advantageous position from the baseline, there was still a better alternative to trying to win the point. Just in that game specifically, Djokovic was crushing Federer’s second serves. He missed one return that clipped the top of the tape. In other words, he was hitting the returns exactly how he wanted to, low and with lots of pace. Federer came to net on the previous point to see a net cord pass go by. Fed-fans cry luck! But Djokovic attempted a very standard shot: low and to the middle. It was certainly lucky to have clipped the tape and gone over like that, but it merely gone in, Federer would’ve been hitting a tough volley anyway.

So it’s 30-40, Djokovic is crushing returns at will, and Federer kicks a serve to Djokovic’s backhand and comes in off it. If he’s willing to take that kind of risk then he should’ve either gone for a bigger serve to get a weaker reply from Djokovic, or hit the same serve, and try to go big on the forehand on the next shot. Even if he still loses the point, at least he’s giving himself a chance to win it, as opposed to coming in on a mediocre second serve against the best returner in the game.

Anyways, concentration and composure might be generic but they’re still requirements. Djokovic used to go off the rails a lot, especially in big matches. Hell, if anything, this match proves that Federer doesn’t have a mental block. I really think a lesser player would’ve given up after the first 2 sets. But Federer’s experience told him he still had a chance and he fought back as much as he could. But watching the 4th set, it looked inevitable that Djokovic would break and win. It was only a matter of time before a few shots connected and Federer sprayed some errors.

Roger Nadal Says:

Novak is the new Zen Master now.

kriket Says:

Why is then Federer consistently serving badly against Đoković compared to his 1st serve percentage against other players, if he has no mental block? Surely, Novak is not preventing him to at least server as well as ever?.

Roger Federer on the court with Novak Đoković is not the same Roger Federer on the court with other players. You can tell that from his body language, from the look of his face, even before the match starts, from the moment they come out.

How would you call it if it’s not mental something*

Margot Says:

kriket, an interesting comment from Eurosport, bloke said players serve first serve much better when they are pretty sure their second serve is not coming back.
Nole’s ROS is going to intimidate even TMH. Now, is that a “mental” issue or merely reality?

RF Says:


Simple. Novak is the best returner in the world. Fed knows he has to go for MORE against Novak or else Novak will return his serves rather easily. This means Fed has to go for more, which means taking more risks, which then results in a lower first serve percentage. There is no mental block. You have a better player on the other side and Fed is forced to push himself out of his serving comfort zone.

kriket Says:

Well if it’s not block, it’s the pressure, anyway it’s a psychological issue, not a physical one.

Matt Says:

Fellas, I think you’re over analyzing this. Becker coaching, composure, etc. If you’re hitting the ball that deep, that well, serving that well (Novak), composure is your opponent getting breadsticked.

His game is surreal right now, at lest in stretches, but overall, still just on a different level.

His tennis is doing all the talking. What strategy is passing Fed at will? Over thinking.

I just compared Novak’s 2016 form, especially this SF v Fed to Nadal’s form in 2013 (USO). Similar. Huge, deep, beats the crap out of whomever is on the other side.

That’s all the confidence and composure and game plan you need: unhittable.

Ben Pronin Says:

Djokovic isn’t hitting deep on a whim…

Matt Says:

Oh, that’s a strategy. . . vs. short. Good call, Becker.

Ben Pronin Says:

It’s not so much that it’s a strategy. It’s just extremely difficult to continue hitting so deep on this consistent of a basis. If you’re assumption is the only coaching Becker is doing is “hit it deep, Novak” then I can understand your confusion. But coaching goes beyond pre-match prep.

Matt Says:

I was being sarcastic. Sorry you missed that.
And of course it’s not sustainable.
You’re overthinking. Djokovic’ form is beyond match strategy, for the most part. You think his coaching has a ton to do with him demolishing guys?

Like Toni’s coaching with Rafa? Toni didn’t just start to stink.

Becker helped Nole “mature” , probably helped his serve, but no one coaches Nole’s drive and his ability to hit people off the court.

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