Novak Djokovic has become one of the most dominant players of the 21st century.
He is one of the most complete players ever to play the game, famous for his unbelievable athleticism, flexibility and mental strength.
Novak has an all court game, but is most comfortable when dominating points from the baseline.
Djokovic has seen a lot of improvements in different areas of his game over the years, which has seen him go from a promising talent to a great of the sport.
He has taken the game a lot more seriously and is one of the most fierce competitors the sport has ever seen, often literally smiling in the face of adversity.
Novak is famed for his laser-like backhand, a weapon he has used to great effect against his long term rival Rafael Nadal.
However, one of his most improved shots that has really made a big impact on his game is his forehand.
Unlike his rivals Federer and Nadal, Novak did not possess one of the greatest forehands of all time in his early career.
The effortless fluidity of Federer’s and ripping spin of Nadal’s often left player, including Novak, unstuck.
Therefore, Djokovic sought to improve his forehand and it has become one of the most lethal weapons in the men’s game today.
So, let’s dive into just what makes Novak Djokovic’s forehand so great!
HOW NOVAK HAS IMPROVED HIS FOREHAND
Back in 2003 when Djokovic burst on to the professional tour, he was a raw talent that stood out for his shot making, counter punching and unbelievable defensive skills.
Since then he has transformed his game into an all round aggressive baseliner, who is able to hit with consistent depth on both wings, even when virtually doing the splits!
In his early career, the Djokovic forehand was somewhat of a weakness in his game compared to where it is now.
Not to say that it hampered him, but in relation to his other attributes and shots it was not his strongest.
Back then, he would hit the ball reasonably flat considering he plays with a strong semi western grip.
This meant his elbow would be quite close to his body throughout the stroke and he would take big cuts at the ball to generate power.
Djokovic would prepare his racket earlier back then, almost hanging the racket in the air ready to slap the ball flat, hard and deep.
He would look to hurt his opponent with out and out pace, mainly seeking to hit through opponents rather than maneuver them out of position.
This was evident in his first grand slam final at the 2007 US open where he lost to Roger Federer.
Djokovic had multiple set points in both the first and second sets in this match, but his nerves and errand hitting let him down as he would eventually fall in straight sets to the swis maestro.
Throughout this match Djokovic would follow brilliant passages of play with loose errors that seemed like a rush of blood to the head.
Double faults, miss-played drop shots and going too big too early in important points.
This ambitious game style was what made Djokovic so successful up to that point in his career, he was able to take chances in the most pivotal moments in matches as he felt he had nothing to lose.
However, he started to change his forehand soon after this defeat.
He went on to win the Australian Open in 2008, defeating Federer in the semi-finals and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the final.
In both of these matches Djokovic applied more of a controlled aggression to beat his opponents, compared with the raw power he tried to force on Federer in the US Open final only a few months prior.
Following this period, Djokovic changed rackets and experienced many issues with his serve and his health, so his form did plateau.
It was not until late 2010 when he managed to regain his mojo, alter his diet and develop a more smooth service motion.
2011 was Djokovic’s breakout year, where he won 3 of the 4 grand slams and became the world number 1 for the first time.
He was able to hit winners from anywhere, had more endurance and mental toughness than any other player and one of the best forehands in the world.
He had transformed his game and has never looked back since.
Over the years, his technique and tactical approach to hitting his forehand have evolved.
He now hits with forehand with a lot more variation, as he is able to hit with a lot of topspin, create insane angles or flatten the ball out and hit outrageous winners from anywhere in the court.
Nowadays he is taking the ball earlier and using his forehand as a dominant weapon in his game rather than mainly relying on his athleticism to win his points.
This has turned him into an altogether more aggressive and efficient player that can win matches in a clinical fashion.
Now, let’s take a closer look at Novak’s technique and the mechanics of his forehand.
Today, Novak Djokovic is one of the most technically sound players on the ATP Tour.
All of his shots, from his serve, to volleys, to ground strokes are near technical perfection. In terms of his forehand, his technique has improved no end over his nearly two decades as a professional.
In his earlier years, his forehand technique was somewhat flawed, as his relatively extreme grip would keep his elbow tucked right into his body.
This made his forehand preparation less fluid and should have actually helped him create more spin.
However, Novak would opt to hit the ball flatter despite his strong semi-western grip, which created elbow issues that would sideline him from the sport later in his career.
Back in the early 2000s, Djokovic’s racket preparation was a lot lower than it is today, meaning he had to ‘muscle’ the ball a lot more and use his body rotation to generate power.
This was not the most efficient movement as he was not generating as much kinetic energy through the efficient use of his legs, hips or shoulder turn as he could have.
Over the years, Novak has got that right elbow higher and further away from his body when preparing the racket, which has helped him generate a lot more power thanks to the longer loop in his take back.
He also gets his racket up nice and high relative to his elbow, which again helps impart more leverage on the ball thanks to a longer and more complete swing.
Novak now utilises a full unit turn to generate as much easy power as possible when hitting his forehand.
Since he has stuck with a strong semi-western grip, he needs to hit the ball slightly further in front than he used to in order to flatten the ball out and hit big.
Therefore, we can see him preparing his racket very early, but now taking the racket back with his left hand for longer, so to promote a more complete shoulder turn.
This helps Novak coil up more energy that he can use to explode onto the ball and hit more aggressive forehands.
Novak uses his body rotation more in his forehand than say Federer or Nadal for example.
Where his counterparts have forehands more akin to a whip, Novak’s is more like a sledgehammer.
By this, I mean his racket comes through slightly more in line with his body, which makes it more solid and consistent under pressure.
That being said, if he is not physically at his best, his forehand power would suffer more for it, as he is not able to generate the same amount of raw power simply from his arm as his rivals.
Therefore, the Novak Djokovic forehand is a great example of maximising every ounce of leverage from your body using full unit turn.
HOW NOVAK USES HIS FOREHAND TACTICALLY
Despite having one of the best backhands of all time, Novak Djokovic likes to use his forehand to break down his opponents.
You will often see him teeing off out of the backhand corner, as he can change from inside out to inside in with great disguise.
He is just as comfortable hitting forehands or backhands, so it is incredibly difficult for an opponent to break him down from the back of the court, especially as he is so adept at turning defensive in to attack.
Novak likes to push his opponent back with incredibly consistent depth, no matter where he is on the court.
This means it is incredibly difficult to create angles or catch him off balance, making the court feel incredibly small when you are playing Novak.
This leads to his opponents making more unforced and forced errors than they normally would, and Novak thrives on these types of points.
In terms of specific tactics, Djokovic will wear his opponent down and get them out of position, then take the ball early and flatten out an aggressive forehand.
This makes it easy for him to step inside the court and swat away an easy winner or put away a crisp volley.
Because his game is so complete, he does not need to centre his game around his forehand.
He can absorb pressure from his opponents equally well on both wings and use their power against them, which almost forces them to self-destruct over the course of a match.
However, a tactic that we have seen Novak use countless times over the years is hitting a big forehand cross court on the run to soften up his opponent.
His outstanding athleticism allows him to get to balls with ease that most other players would not even be able to reach.
He can then use his flexibility and power whilst on the stretch to slap a flat forehand cross court, to the largest target available, so it actually has a reasonable amount of margin for error.
From this position, an unexpecting opponent will then more than likely produce a defensive, mid-court reply, that Novak can then pounce on and reclaim control of the point.
Novak does still like to dominate with his forehand when he can, as this helps him win points more efficiently and saves him energy in the long run.
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM NOVAK’S FOREHAND
The evolution of Novak Djokovic’s forehand is a feat that all players can learn from.
His sheer determination and refusal to settle for any level of success has created one of the most complete players the game has ever seen.
His dedication to continuous improvement, always striving for higher levels of performance despite being considered by many as one of the greatest tennis champions in history shows that you should always be looking to improve your game, no matter what you have achieved.
In terms of his forehand in particular, Novak’s technical changes and use of his body throughout the swing should be taken note of.
He has adjusted his technique due to injury and generates a lot of power, despite having more of a slim physique.
He uses every inch of his body to generate as much of a ‘revolving door’ effect as possible, so he can maximise his power and spin generation at all times.
If Novak uses his body rotation to its full potential, so can you.
The Novak Djokovic forehand has become one of the most feared weapons in the modern era of tennis.
It has evolved over the years to become a technically sound sledgehammer that can produce oodles of topspin, and be flattened out to hit laserlike winners at will.
Novak uses his body to its full potential when hitting his forehand, which goes to show how important it is to be as efficient as possible when generating power.
He has incredible strength on the stretch and can hit winners from anywhere on the court.
Overall, Novak’s forehand is a thing of beauty and we can all learn from the improvement he has made!