MIKE DICKSON: Why is nerveless Novak Djokovic one of the best ever when it comes to tie breaks?

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MIKE DICKSON: If he was a footballer, he’d be the man you’d want in a penalty shootout… so why is nerveless Novak Djokovic one of the best EVER when it comes to tie-breaks?

If Novak Djokovic had been a footballer then one thing is certain — he would definitely be a man you looked to in penalty shootouts.

For when it comes to tiebreaks, the racket sport cousin of the drama when scores finish level in football, nobody in history has built such a fine record in coming through as the pressure reaches its peak.

This astonishing prowess is one reason why he will start as heavy favourite against Italy’s No 8 seed Jannik Sinner when they meet in the Wimbledon semi-finals on Friday.

Djokovic has become almost unbeatable in this pivotal area of the game which is rarely more relevant than in grass court tennis, where the speed of the court tends to result in more sets locked at 6-6.

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Within the locker room everyone knows that if a tiebreak arises they face a huge obstacle. It is as if the 36-year-old Serb has cast a spell over his rivals in these tension-filled exchanges.

Novak Djokovic is in the semi-finals at Wimbledon again after he defeated Andrey Rublev

Novak Djokovic is in the semi-finals at Wimbledon again after he defeated Andrey Rublev

He is in fine form at the championship and is one step away from yet another Wimbledon final

He is in fine form at the championship and is one step away from yet another Wimbledon final

In the fourth round he broke the record held by Pete Sampras by winning a 13th consecutive tiebreak at the Grand Slams.

THE KING OF TIE BREAKS? 

Djokovic has won 14 Grand Slam tiebreaks in a row.

After losing one in round two of the Australian Open, he won three there, then won six at the French Open and five so far at Wimbledon. 

Over the course of 2023 he has also gone past Roger Federer in terms of career winning percentage. He has amassed 313 tiebreaks won compared to 162 lost, meaning he has won almost exactly two thirds of them.

This year he has been in particularly overwhelming form when it most matters, and the only player to have outpointed him in a tiebreak is the little-known Frenchman Enzo Couacaud, who nicked one back in January in the Australian Open second round.

So why is the Wimbledon defending champion so awesome in this part of the game?

His statistics are all the more remarkable in that his serve, while hugely effective and accurate, is not of the huge variety which can sweep opponents away.

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Former world No 4 Thomas Enqvist, a past coach of Stefanos Tsitsipas, is at Wimbledon this week and among those fascinated by the extraordinary dominance of the champion in tiebreaks.

‘There are two aspects to it,’ he told Mail Sport. ‘In technical terms Novak is one of the greatest ever returners of serve and in a tiebreak that’s especially important, because the opponent knows he is going to get lots of balls in play and few free points.

‘It’s the time of the greatest pressure and he always asks the question and keeps his length very consistent. ‘The mental aspect is obvious, he has so much experience about what to do and an aura about him.’

That much was evident when he played the big-serving Hubert Hurkacz in round four. The Pole was playing outstandingly well and got to 6-3 in the first-set breaker. He had a serve for it at 6-5 and a simple putaway forehand resulted, which he promptly dumped into the net.

IDjokovic has gone past Roger Federer (middle-right) in terms of career winning percentage

IDjokovic has gone past Roger Federer (middle-right) in terms of career winning percentage 

And Djokovic is now one step away from having a chance to equal the Swiss player's Wimbledon record, as he is able to win his eighth All England Championship

And Djokovic is now one step away from having a chance to equal the Swiss player’s Wimbledon record, as he is able to win his eighth All England Championship

But it is his brilliance during tie breaks that makes him one of the world's greatest tennis players

But it is his brilliance during tie breaks that makes him one of the world’s greatest tennis players

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Hurkacz then went 5-4 up in the second-set tiebreak but could not seal the deal. What might easily have been a two-set lead when they stopped for the curfew turned out to be a two-set deficit.

‘I think it’s the mentality of a lockdown,’ says Djokovic of his skill in this department. ‘I’m present, I’m focused only on the next point and I have to really think clearly about what I want to do. It has worked really well for me.’

Probably his most astonishing display was at the French Open, where he reeled off six 7-6 sets on his run to the title without making a single error that was not forced by his opponent. His point tally in these situations was 42-13 by the end of Paris.

Sinner has been serving well at Wimbledon and won the solitary tiebreak he needed to play. Perhaps his biggest asset is that he goes onto court this afternoon not expected to win, so the pressure is limited.

Last year he met Djokovic in the quarter-finals and led by two sets, but faded to lose the next three comfortably.

Although still aged only 21, the Italian is probably a more resilient competitor this year.

He will certainly need to be against the mental giant bearing down on him at the other end of Centre Court.



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