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Game tree: the unstoppable Novak Djokovic

The Unstoppable Novak Djokovic. Photo: Getty

Twelve months ago, Novak Djokovic headed Down Under with a score to settle after an epic five-set quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka in 2014. Last January, Djokovic would meet Wawrinka again, this time in the semifinals, and this time Djokovic would be the victor.
Djokovic would go on to defeat Andy Murray in the Australian Open final, and from that point on, the Serb was almost unstoppable. By the end of the 2015 season, Djokovic had won 11 titles, including three Grand Slams, and finished the year with an incredible win-loss record of 82-6.

To celebrate Djokovic’s historic season, we present his 2015 interactive Game Tree. Djokovic’s Game Tree allows you to explore his 1033 service games played in 2015.
This rare point-by-point summary shows where Djokovic’s history-breaking season was won – and rarely lost.

How the game tree works

Djokovic how it works
The game tree shows how dominant (or not) Djokovic was on serve during the 2015 season. This unique visualisation gives us a better understanding of the final score, and how close Djokovic’s service games were.
Each point in the game tree is color-coded to reflect the momentum in each of Djokovic’s service games. A match that is dominated by Djokovic is highlighted with a thicker, outside flow through the ‘positive’ points of the game tree. More tightly-contested service games result in thicker lines through the ‘neutral’ and ‘negative’ points of the Game Tree.
Click on each line to reveal how many times the player won or lost that point.

Fast facts
 
• Djokovic played 1033 service games in 2015.
• He won 923 (89.4 per cent) of his service games.
• He won almost one-third (29.2 per cent) of his service games from 40-15.
• His most successful point is at deuce, where he wins 81.3 per cent of the time.
• His least successful point is at 15-0, where he wins 65.9 per cent of the time.

Matches to look out for
 
Not all of Djokovic’s service games were straight out the textbook as his results might suggest. Yes, he was brutally dominant at times against players like Marcos Baghdatis at the BNP Paribas Masters, where Baghdatis failed to put any pressure whatsoever on Novak’s serve (see below).
We saw many more tightly-contested service games in his match against Tomas Berdych at Monte Carlo. The game tree shows that Berdych had some serious opportunities, having Novak 0-30 six times throughout the match. Unfortunately, Djokovic was able to wrestle back the momentum from half of these points and went on to win the match 7-5 4-6 6-3.
Andy Murray, one of the few players beat Djokovic in 2015, did so at the Coupe Rogers in Toronto. Murray piled on the pressure and pushed Novak to deuce six times throughout the match. Murray won half of these and would break one other time at 30-40. That would be enough for a rare victory for Murray.

Three matches to look out for
Summary
 
Djokovic’s 2015 season was no doubt one for the ages, but he didn’t always have it his own way as the results might suggest. The final score of course is only a small part of a much larger and more complex story, and the game tree enables us to better understand that score. Here we have explored just a few interesting examples of patterns and trends that we may have not have seen using conventional tennis reporting methods.
I encourage you to use the game tree to take a deeper dive into some of Novak’s classic matches last year and to see what might have been for some of his closest rivals, as they begin their assault to dethrone the undisputed 2015 king of men’s tennis.

Notes
 
Walkovers not included.
The Djokovic v Nishikori match at World Tour Finals is not included due to incomplete data.
Damien Saunder is a performance analyst who supports elite tennis players and coaches in the area of data visualisation and analytics.

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Can Novak Djokovic be the Greatest of All Time? (interesting article)

Can Novak Djokovic be the Greatest of All Time?

The dust has well and truly settled from Novak Djokovic lifting the Wimbledon title. It was another major victory for the Serb that has been accompanied by significantly less fanfare than his compatriots. Now with 9 Grand Slam titles, he is certainly entering the argument as to whether he can become the greatest tennis player of all time.

17 is the magic number. Surpass the mammoth total set by Roger Federer and all other statistics and records will fade into the background. Sure, weeks at number one, career titles and win percentage would contribute to this debate, but Grand Slam titles has become the de facto measure of who is the greatest.

– Lob and Smash 2015 Grand Slam Predictions –

Djokovic has established a mighty stranglehold on the top titles in tennis. Once again in 2015 he is been near unbeatable at the headline events, including Grand Slams as well as Masters 1000 events. His unerring consistency is quickly launching the world number one into the history books.

Age: 28 (22 May 1987)

Grand Slam Finals: 9 (5 AUS, 3 WIM, 1 US)

Grand Slam Titles: 17 (5 AUS, 3 FRA, 4 WIM, 5 US)

At 28 years of age, Djokovic is the kind of physical specimen who you can imagine will enjoy an extended career. Meticulous with detail both on and off the court, he has matured into the model athlete in so many ways. His body seems impervious to injury, something that helped Roger Federer challenge for so many majors in his prime.

Putting numbers to the discussion is based heavily in speculation. Saying that he could have five more years at the very top of the sport would suggest that he will compete in, approximately, 20 more majors. In the last five years he has won 8, evidencing why many believe he is within striking distance of 19.

Imagining how he will register 8 more Grand Slams to tie the all-time record, or 9 to beat it, requires some level of optimism, but it isn’t out of the realms of possibility. His hold over the Australian Open is remarkable, whilst he has won Wimbledon for the last two years.

His lone US Open win will be earmarked for improvement. He has lost four finals in New York and his tilt at being the very best may well hinge on righting that record. Even the French Open, where he barron run continued in surprise fashion, is not out of his reach.

Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam History

Tournament 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Aus Open 1R 1R 4R W QF QF W W W QF W
French Open 2R QF SF SF 3R QF SF F SF F F
Wimbledon 3R 4R SF 2R QF SF W SF F W W
US Open 3R 3R F SF SF F W F F SF –

Who Can Stop Him?

Much of the discussion will centre around Djokovic himself and rightly so. He has shown that on his day, he is virtually unbeatable. Performances that have halted his progress, especially at the majors, have had to be inspired. Look no further than Stan Wawrinka in Paris.

However, other names in a variety of ways could have a huge impact of Djokovic’s quest. This has been the era of the Big Four and none of the four men have ever let each other win anything without a fight. Young and emerging talent will also been desperate to end the dominance of Djokovic and co.

Roger Federer

Federer may not have many years in him to contest directly with Djokovic in the latter rounds of Slams, however, he can push the record out of reach. If he were to win one or two more majors, then the number that Djokovic is targeting goes from being hard to nearly impossible.

Andy Murray

You would have to think that in the next few years Djokovic’s main rival will be Murray. The pair have already contested 5 Grand Slam titles, with Djokovic leading their head to head on the biggest stage 3 to 2. He is much more dominant in their career head to head, holding a 19-8 advantage.

Currently the world number 1 has the measure of Murray, winning their last eight meetings. The Britain will soon be the world number 2 and that means that the pair will only have more meetings in the finals of events.

– Andy Murray having career year in 2015 –

Murray may well be going through a barren patch against Djokovic, but if there is one characteristic that has marked his career it is his steely resolve. He will be looking for solutions to get back at the Serbian star, knowing that it is his own personal hurdle preventing him from more Grand Slam success.

Kei Nishikori

You have to think that a player outside of the Big Four is going to emerge as a consistent contender at the Grand Slams. It is something that we have been expecting for a number of years, yet still it hasn’t come to fruition. Stan Wawrinka is the only player to have truly shaken the status quo.

I think that Nishikori could be the man to step into the shoes of the Big Four as their powers begin to decline. He is effective on all surfaces, has shown his pedigree at the Grand Slams and when he is fully fit I believe he is a match for anyone.

Young Talent

One of the biggest unknowns in this debate is whether a player will emerge to challenge Djokovic for the major titles that he craves. Whilst we can be sure that the likes of Kyrgios and Thiem are a distance off going all the way, in a few years it is much harder to predict their level.

Djokovic has done a great job in recent years dampening the hopes of those around him. He does so by consistently reproducing a frighteningly high level of tennis. He most certainly has the ability to become the greatest of all time, but will he have the longevity to get close to 17 majors?

Novak Djokovic Serbian tennis player

Novak Djokovic, (born May 22, 1987, Belgrade, Yugoslavia [now in Serbia]), Serbian tennis player who was one of the game’s premier performers in the early 21st century, when he won 11 Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic took up tennis at age four and quickly ascended the junior ranks. Despite the hardships that came with growing up in the war-torn Serbia of the 1990s, he became Europe’s top-ranked 14-and-under player and later the number one 16-and-under player on the continent before turning professional in 2003. Djokovic entered the top 100 of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) at age 18, and in July 2006 he won his first ATP event. After advancing to the semifinals at both the 2007 French Open and Wimbledon, he reached the finals of that year’s U.S. Open but lost in straight sets to Roger Federer. Djokovic’s hot play continued into 2008 as he won the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, the Australian Open, becoming the first Serbian man to win one of tennis’s four most prestigious singles championships.

Djokovic’s progress plateaued for almost three years, as he won just 10 ATP men’s singles tournaments and reached only one Grand Slam final (the 2010 U.S. Open) between February 2008 and the end of 2010. His fortunes turned in December 2010 when he led the Serbian Davis Cup team to the country’s first Davis Cup title. His Davis Cup victories marked the beginning of a 43-match winning steak—the third longest such streak in the Open era (since 1968)—which included a second Australian Open title in January 2011. Djokovic’s remarkable streak ended with a French Open semifinal loss to Federer, but his strong play helped him rise to the number one world ranking shortly after he defeated Rafael Nadal to capture the 2011 Wimbledon championship. Djokovic later defeated Nadal in the U.S. Open final to claim his third Grand Slam title of the year.

At the Australian Open in 2012, he again bested Nadal, winning a five-set thriller that lasted nearly six hours. The two met for the fourth consecutive Grand Slam final at the 2012 French Open, where Djokovic lost to Nadal in four sets. In 2013 Djokovic defeated Andy Murray to win his fourth Australian Open title, and he captured another Wimbledon championship the following year when he beat Federer in a dramatic five-set final. He again beat Murray to capture his fifth career Australian Open in 2015, which made Djokovic the all-time leader in Australian Open men’s singles championships during the Open era. After a loss in the 2015 French Open final, the top-ranked Djokovic bested Federer to win his third Wimbledon championship. He continued his hot play at the U.S. Open, beating Federer in the final to capture his 10th career Grand Slam title. Djokovic ran his winning streak in Grand Slam matches to 21 when he beat Murray in straight sets in the final of the 2016 Australian Open.

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Scary Thought: Novak Djokovic Is Getting Better at Tennis

When the Australian Open begins in Melbourne next week, tennis fans should brace themselves for the impossible: Novak Djokovic, the dominant No. 1 player in the world, might be better than ever.

Djokovic had one of the finest seasons in history in 2015. He won three Grand Slam titles and lost in the final of the fourth. He won 11 titles overall. He reached 15 consecutive finals. He ripped top-10 opponents to bits and pieces, compiling a 31-5 record against them. He became the second man ever to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open. If not for an inspired Stan Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic at the French Open, Djokovic would have become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Grand Slam singles titles in a season.

Can the 28-year-old Djokovic possibly do better this year? Chances are slim, because there are always injuries, upsets and fluky performances in tennis. The sport just isn’t as easy as Djokovic makes it look. Yet the 2016 season is only a few weeks old and Djokovic is already making people wonder. In Doha last week, he won his first title of the year without dropping a set and beat two more top-10 opponents, including long-time rival Nadal in the final.

Djokovic didn’t just beat Nadal. He destroyed him by a score of 6-1, 6-2. Djokovic hit 30 winners to Nadal’s nine, never lost his serve and showed nice touch at the net, where he hit a few lunging volleys. Djokovic even clobbered overheads, the one shot in his arsenal that has (occasionally) looked awkward in his time at the top. For the first time in his career, Djokovic now has a winning record against Nadal in their rivalry, 24-23. He has won their last five meetings, all in straight sets.

“It did feel as close to perfection as it can get,” Djokovic said after the Doha victory. “There are those days when you see a tennis ball as a watermelon, and I guess this was that kind of day.”
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Nadal had a weak season, by his standards, in 2015, but he’s still relentless, athletic, and tireless—a man who doesn’t take a lot of drubbings. He also played much better at the end of 2015 and says he feels good about his game headed into Australia. Yet against Djokovic, Nadal was rarely in control of a point.

“I played against a player who did everything perfect,” Nadal said. “Since I know this sport I never saw somebody playing at this level.”

Brad Gilbert, an ESPN commentator and the former coach of Andre Agassi, gushed about Djokovic’s performance.

“He is as complete of a tennis player as I’ve ever seen,” Gilbert said. “The biggest change in the last two years, the reason why I think he’s become almost invincible, is how much more controlled offense he’s played.”

Djokovic’s baseline attack has become more difficult to read. In the Doha final, Nadal several times hesitated as he tried to anticipate where Djokovic would hit the ball. Crosscourt? Down the line? Deep to the middle? A short angle? Djokovic kept hitting his spots until he caught Nadal leaning, and then he hit a winner. It looked like Djokovic was downloading Nadal’s mind in real time. Nadal’s lefty forehand, one of the best the sport has ever seen, had little impact on Djokovic’s two-handed backhand in crosscourt rallies.

“His backhand is scripted from God,” Gilbert said.

ENLARGE
Novak Djokovic takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. Photo: paul crock/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

As close to perfect as Djokovic is playing, invincible is a risky word in tennis. One tweaked ankle or badly timed illness, like the one that left Djokovic looking pale just before the start of last year’s Australian Open, can lead to defeat. Besides Nadal, there is also Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the future, players like Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Borna Coric, who don’t seem like threats to Djokovic just yet but might in a few months.

Runs like the one Djokovic is on tend to make everyone forget that tennis can change quickly. Federer used to dominate like this, and seemed likely to win at least 20 Grand Slam singles titles in his career. And then along came Nadal, followed by Djokovic. Federer remains one of the game’s best at age 34—he begins this season ranked third, behind Djokovic and Murray—but he has been stuck at 17 major titles since the summer of 2012 (Nadal has 14 and Djokovic has 10).

Right now, Djokovic looks like he should never lose a tournament, Grand Slam or otherwise. He has looked that way for a while, but no one can keep up that pace indefinitely.

“Nobody is invincible,” Djokovic said in Doha. “I know that it can’t go forever, but I’m not thinking too much ahead of myself. I don’t try to make any kind of predictions.”

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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic bests Andy Murray, secures sixth title

vak Djokovic came out hotter than hot, managed to fend off Andy Murray's threatening advances when he cooled off, and then proceeded to steadily grind out the match. Now, he's a six-time Australian Open winner, matching Roy Emerson's record that's stood since 1967.

On Sunday, No. 1 Djokovic knocked off No. 2 Murray in the Australian Open final in straight sets, winning 6-1, 7-5, 7-6. The victory marks Djokovic's 11th Grand Slam and second consecutive Australian Open title.

Meanwhile, Murray's fallen short in all five of his Australian Open final appearances, with four of those defeats coming against Djokovic -- including last year.

Oddly enough, Murray nearly got off to a great start. Trailing 30-0 in the opening game, Murray ripped off three straight points, gaining an early chance to break. But the moment passed, as Djokovic fended off the break chance with a sensational backhand winner. Djokovic would hold in his first service game.

And that's when the wheels fell off. In the second game of the match, Murray was broken, double-faulting to hand Djokovic the game. In the first point of the third game, Djokovic pushed Murray back beyond the baseline with deep, powerful ground strokes. Suddenly, he played a beautiful dropshot out of Murray's reach. Djokovic was simply too good, holding a 5-0 lead less than 20 minutes into the match and capturing the first set in 30 minutes, limiting Murray to just 15 total points.

The first set was a one-sided sprint, but the second set turned into a marathon. Murray held to begin the second set, and he began to show signs of life.

In the set's third game, Murray fought off break point after break point, enduring a 12-minute game filled with near-impossible shots.

Murray and Djokovic split the first six games of the second set, with Murray increasingly getting the better of Djokovic, growing more confident and powerful with his groundstrokes. On the other side of the court, Djokovic showed obvious signs of frustration.

Djokovic's frustration ended momentarily in the seventh game, when he earned the first break of the set and took a 4-3 lead. But Murray struck back, securing his first break of the match with a monster backhand winner that painted the line, knotting up the score at four games apiece.

Eventually, Djokovic lurched ahead, 6-5, breaking Murray in the 11th game despite falling into a 0-40 hole, gaining an opportunity to serve out the set. Finally, after countless rallies, Djokovic won the 80-minute set, 7-5.

Nobody would've blamed Murray if he folded, especially after Djokovic went up an early break in the third set. Keep in mind that Murray took part in a five-set thriller just two days prior while Djokovic coasted by Roger Federer in his semifinal match the day before Murray's exhausting win.

Instead, Murray fought back, tying the score at 3-3 by breaking Djokovic. He held to take a 4-3 lead.
The match came down to a tiebreak. Murray dreadfully started with a double-fault. Djokovic followed with an ace. Another Murray double-fault granted Djokovic a 4-1 lead and Djokovic cruised to his record-tying win.

Now the question shifts to the future, as Djokovic continues to gain ground on Federer's record of 17 Grand Slams. Djokovic is still a ways away, but he's on a blistering rate having won the last three Grand Slams and four of the last five. At 28 years old, he at least figures to have a shot to break the record.

Even if Djokovic doesn't reach Federer's mark, he already finds himself in good company. He's now won as many major tournaments as Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg.