His return of serve has been heralded for years, but at this year's Australian Open, Novak Djokovic boasted a significantly improved return to serve.
When the 15-time major singles winner came back from an extended, injury-induced outage from the sport, he had a different, somewhat-abbreviated motion on serve. Since then, he has incrementally–and now, decisively and forcefully—forsaken that. Truly, he has practically "trashed" that motion, in sportswriter Tom Perrotta's words.
Indeed, Djokovic was merciless on serve over two weeks in Melbourne, as evidenced especially in his straight-sets drubbing of Rafael Nadal in the seventh of seven matches to take his record seventh Aussie Open trophy. He peaked at precisely the right time in the tournament, as Perrotta foreshadowed at the quarterfinal stage for FiveThirtyEight.
The data doesn't lie: Djokovic had held serve 83 percent of the time in 2018 before taking Wimbledon and the US Open crowns. After entering SW19, he won 90 percent of those the rest of the season. Similarly, he went from saving 61 percent of break points to halting his foes on 68 percent of them—and he has continued those trends early this year. Many more details, including informative takes on Djokovic's coaching carousel abound in the FiveThirtyEight piece. For one, readers might (or likely might not) recall Djokovic's ill-fated 2009 alignment with Todd Martin for serving advice. Further, Perrotta expertly harks back to his pedestrian 2005 season (he went 11-11 in matches) and his ballyhooed 2015 campaign (that staggering 82-6 match record).
Interestingly, Nadal changed up his own serve to reach this Aussie Open final, incorporating a bombs-away approach as he did in winning one of his US Open titles. As the tennis fates would have it, he did not summon enough to stop the Djoko-locomotive. The ATP No. 1's performance against Nadal, inarguably his best ever in the rivalry, drummed up a classic line from the film No Country For Old Men: "You can't stop what's coming."
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
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