by Gus Griffin
Novak Djokovic is not a great server. He has at best an average volly and does not have a great deal of variety in his offensive game. So why does he now have 8 major titles in the prime of his career? Because he is arguably the greatest defensive player of all time. How and why he became this is a vintage evolutionary sports tale that can be best understood through the game of dominoes.
The evolutionary aspect has to do with the conditions and environment present when Djokovic came on the scene in the shadow of whom I believe to be the greatest baseline offensive player in the history of the game in a man by the name of Roger Federer. The only way to consistently compete with him was to develop an elite baseline defense. So the shots that are winners against anyone else on the tour (with the exception of a healthy Nadal) become either unforced errors or merely extend a rally. It is similar to how the Jordan era Bulls became the best and most mentally tough team in sports: conquering the Bad Boys Pistons required them to become this to be champions. Another illustration was when Bill Parcells took over the Giants in the same division as the defending champion Redskins in 1983. By the time he left NY, the Giants had beaten the Redskins in 6 straight non-strike games and won two Super Bowls.
Tactically, Djokovic is like the old school dominoes player at the party. He never takes the easy 20 or 25 point score which leave the board open to the next player. Instead he locks the board and gets his points from what the others are left with in their hands.
Trying to hit a winner past “The Joker” is like throwing in the direction of Deion Sanders in his prime: a pick six is more likely than a completion. Only in football, teams could choose to go in another direction. Tennis players have no such luxury and that is why he is the best in the world.
Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports