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How to beat Novak Djokovic

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

Craig O’Shannessy told Talking Tennis that the template of beating the world number one has been laid out by Holger Rune in the manner he approached last year's Paris Bercy final, when the young Dane saw off Djokovic in three sets.

As Novak Djokovic begins his 378th week as world number one, the rest of the ATP tour have been scratching their heads as to how to beat the Serb.

Djokovic has won seven out of his last nine tournaments, a run that has seen him lose just twice (not including the Laver Cup loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime), while the rest of the ATP tour have toiled, most notably in the meltdowns of Andrey Rublev during his two recent defeats to the world number one at the ATP Tour finals in Turin and at the Australian Open. On neither occasion did Rublev lay a glove on his opponent.

After defeating Rublev in Melbourne, Djokovic came up against Tommy Paul in the semi-final. With Paul on the verge of another crushing defeat, O’Shannessy, who was on Djokovic's team providing analysis between 2017 and 2019, took to Twitter to air his frustrations at the American's tactics. "Tommy has been to the net 12 times in 148 points. Why? Why?? Why??? Nobody beats Novak trading groundstrokes from the baseline. Literally nobody. Not possible. Especially this tournament. I just don't get it..."

In his post-match press conference, after a straight sets loss, Paul offered an explanation.

"He didn't let me execute any of the game plan I had laid out for myself," the American, who was appearing in his first Slam semi-final, told reporters. "I wanted to serve and volley some. Didn't serve and volley once. It's hard when my first serve percentage was low. And when I did make my first serve I felt like he was returning it to the baseline and I was automatically on defence. I wanted to hit drop shots, I wanted to hit slices... but he didn't let me do all those things because of everything he did so well."

But ATP strategy guru O’Shannessy said players need to look at how Holger Rune had so much success against Djokovic in last year's Paris Bercy Masters tournament, where the young Dane defeated the Serbian with an aggressive, and even occasionally unorthodox, approach.

"Rune played exactly the right way to defeat Novak, by attacking him, taking his time away and coming forward. That victory has not been not studied by his opponents."

And O’Shannessy told Talking Tennis that a mark of the great tennis players is that, on occasion, they have to adapt - even the best, such as Roger Federer, who for years struggled against Rafael Nadal, before turning that around in the latter stages of their careers.

"Look at Roger. For his entire career, what he needed to do to beat everyone was not what he needed to do to beat Rafa. He needed to modify and change."


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