The Magical Movement Of Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic might be the only athlete on the planet compared to both Spiderman and a brick wall.
The Serbian star contorts his body to reach balls in impossible positions and often sends it to the other side of the court as if he never moved at all. Djokovic’s combination of speed, flexibility and anticipation make him a nightmare for opponents to deal with.
“I think people take a lot for granted of Novak and his career just because of being around during Federer and Nadal's era,” said Rusedski, who is in Turin commentating on the season finale for Amazon Prime. “I feel like Federer brought movement in tennis to one level and Djokovic has brought it to another level. And we've never seen a 36-year-old, at least in my generation or time I've been watching tennis, that has moved as well as Novak on a tennis court.”
It is not just experts who rave about Djokovic’s movement — his peers do, too. Holger Rune battled Djokovic for more than three hours on Sunday at the Pala Alpitour and in the aftermath of his loss, thought about his opponent’s game.
“For me he's reading the game extremely well - better than anyone, I think. Also, I was reflecting a lot obviously on that match because it hurt to lose that one,” Rune told ATPTour.com in a press conference. “I feel like against many players out there you can hit a great shot and you can be in a good position. Against him, you hit a great shot, it comes back deep.
“I think it's not just his ball quality, it's also how well he reads the game, to be able to hit shots like that. I think I did manage to make him uncomfortable also in his movement, but it's definitely a hard thing to do. I think he's really, really good at pushing himself, also.”
Photo Credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Part of what allows Djokovic to push himself is the effort he puts into his body off the court. Fans often receive a small glimpse into the hard work he dedicates to his body. Particularly interesting is some of the stretches he does for flexibility. The Serbian lifts his leg atop a member of his team’s shoulder with ease, making it more understandable how he is able to slide on hard courts as easily as he does.
“I think he's a player that takes care of his body the best out of everybody,” Zverev said. “I think he goes through his rituals pretty much every single day. He takes care of himself, and that's his number one priority above everything else. I think he's done extremely well doing that over the past few years.
“I think he's 36 years old, but he looks like he's 26, 27. He might be in even better shape than he was 10 years ago. It doesn't really even seem that he looks like he's going to stop.”
Djokovic has redefined success for players of his age. In 2020, he became the oldest ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by Pepperstone in history (since 1973) aged 33. The Serbian has since achieved the feat twice more, including this year aged 36.
Rusedski compared Djokovic’s late-career success to that of NFL legend Tom Brady’s. The Briton pointed out that one big difference is that Brady never had to move as much as Djokovic.
“They're fanatical about their diets, their nutrition, their training, and so forth,” Rusedski said. “What makes Novak so special, what makes it so incredible, tennis is all about movement. The Top 10 players in the world are always the fastest players on the planet.
“The only reason Roger is not playing anymore is because of his knees and the speed. He hits the ball just as well, and most of us who have been Top 10 in the world do [and there] are some great players. But if you can't get there, and you're slower, you're half a step slow, you disappear very, very quickly at this level. So for him to do that consistently is quite incredible.”
Djokovic might not be the most balletic player nor the absolute quickest. But for a 36-year-old, he is dominating the sport by moving like nobody else in the game.
“They look at the elegance of Federer. And Federer is aesthetically beautiful to watch, he's like a ballerina,” Rusedski said. “But Djokovic's movement, if you just cut the upper body off and just look from the waist down, the things he can do, there's nobody in the business who does it better.
“Yes, Alcaraz might be faster at this stage, but he's not as efficient. And efficiency of movement is the key with the speed and the combination and the control. And that's what makes him so special.”