Here's Why Slow Starts Against Djokovic Spell Quick Trouble

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Novak Djokovic activates the scoreboard as a secondary opponent better than any player in the past three decades.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of players who win the highest percentage of games in set one finds the Serbian at the top of the tree, winning almost six out of 10 games in the opening stanza. The data set includes 442 players who have competed in at least 100 ATP and Grand Slam matches from 1991-2020.

Djokovic is a phenomenal front-runner, quickly jumping out of the blocks to win 59.58 per cent (5990/10,053) of games in set one to immediately hold the upper hand in the match. He does not ease his way into the encounter. He actually tries to end it – at least mentally and emotionally in his opponents’ mind – before it begins.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were the only other two players since 1991 to cross the 58 per cent threshold, with Nadal winning 59.43 per cent and Federer winning 59.03 per cent. Interestingly, the Big Three are all within half a percentage point of each other, all feeding off each other to take the game to new levels.

When players obtain an early lead in a match, opponents often feel compelled to gravitate to higher risk patterns of play, such as going for more winners early in the point to get back into the contest. By getting ahead early, Djokovic can keep playing his high percentage patterns of play, while opponents feel like they have to “red-line” their game to hang with him because they are already in an early hole. The scoreboard simply becomes a silent weapon for Djokovic.

The leading 10 players since 1991 with the highest percentage of games won in the opening set are in the table below.

Set 1: Percentage Games Won 1991-2020

Rating

Player

Set 1: Games Won %

1

Novak Djokovic

59.48%

2

Rafael Nadal

59.43%             

3

Roger Federer

59.03%

4

Andre Agassi

57.53%

5

Pete Sampras

57.50%

6

Stefan Edberg

56.83%

7

Andy Murray

56.43%

8

Andy Roddick

56.29%

9

Jim Courier

56.16%

10

Michael Chang

55.49%

Djokovic slightly elevates his win percentage when you filter the data set to include only hardcourt matches. The leading five players on hard courts are:

1. Djokovic = 60.13%
2. Federer = 59.37%
3. Sampras = 58.66%
4. Agassi = 58.32%
5. Ivan Lendl = 57.33%

Djokovic is the only player who has won the “Career Golden Masters” by triumphing in all nine ATP Masters 1000 events. He has performed best in Shanghai, Indian Wells and Miami, winning north of 60 per cent of games in the opening set at all three events.

Masters 1000 & Nitto ATP Finals: Djokovic Games Won Percentage In Set 1

Event

Set 1: Games Won %

Shanghai

62.30%

Miami

61.51%

Indian Wells

60.94%

Canada

58.43%

Paris

58.30%

Monte-Carlo

58.00%

Rome

57.40%

Nitto ATP Finals

56.71%

Madrid

56.47%

Cincinnati

55.96%

Djokovic’s visible weapons in a match include his aggressive forehands, rock-solid backhands, and a potent return of serve that quickly rebounds deep down the middle of the court, right back at the server. When you look at the scoreboard and see him ahead in the game count, you can add that to the extensive list.

Source ATP World Tour

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