How will Novak Djokovic fare in Week 2 of Wimbledon?

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WIMBLEDON, England — This time last year, Novak Djokovic arrived fresh off his third Roland Garros title, a heavy favorite to win Wimbledon for a record-equaling eighth time. He was the four-time defending champion, and after winning majors in both Australia and France, was looking to complete the third leg of the calendar Grand Slam. He cruised through his first three rounds without dropping a set and reached the final in style, but was edged out by Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling final.

This year, with doubts about his fitness because of recent knee surgery, he has had to work a little harder in the first week, dropping two sets, but still looks strong. Here’s how his first week has gone as he chases a record-breaking 25th major.

His movement is not yet 100 percent

When Djokovic withdrew before his French Open quarterfinal because of a knee injury — and then announced he’d had surgery to repair his meniscus — most people thought this summer’s Olympics might be in doubt, let alone Wimbledon. But he made it, sporting a hefty brace on his right knee.

In general, his movement has been good, but it’s clear that moving to his right, at full stretch, is an issue. Sliding has always been a key part of his movement, but he has been a little reluctant to push himself to his forehand. In his first-round match, a confident 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Vit Kopriva, he only slid once to his forehand.

“I felt happy that I did it because in a way you also feel mentally hesitant to do those extreme movements,” he said. “But knowing that I can do it is, obviously, very comforting and very positive.”

Djokovic is trying to shorten the points

Not surprisingly, so soon after surgery and also at the age of 37, it looks as if Djokovic is trying to shorten the points to take the load off his knee and be as efficient as possible. In the 0-4 rally category — where the majority of points are won in matches — he’s been more dominant than he was in the first three rounds 12 months ago.

Over the three rounds so far, he’s won 258 points and lost 188 (57.8%), compared to 207/185 (52.9%) in 2023. His first-round win here this year was one-sided, but considering that he did not drop a set in his first three rounds last year and has dropped two sets so far, that’s a big increase. When the rallies go 5-8 shots, he’s 67-61, compared to 70-38 last year, and when they go 9+, he’s 38-33 compared to 37-22 last year.

He is going for it more on second serve

The Djokovic serve is one of the most underrated shots in world tennis, often overshadowed by the brilliance of his groundstrokes and his incredible movement. But his serve is as efficient as anyone’s and so far it looks like he’s going for it more on the second serve, again looking to win points sooner than usual. Across his three matches, his average second serve speed is 100.13 mph, compared to 95.6 mph in his first three rounds in 2023. That’s an increase of just under 5%, which might not seem much, but at this level, is a significant rise.

Net efficiency is better than ever

Djokovic is also far better at the net than some people give him credit for. Part of that is the fact that, like Rafael Nadal, he tends to come forward when he hits an aggressive approach shot, but his hands are good and his touch light. In 2023, across the first three rounds, his average success rate at the net was 71.6%; in 2024 so far, it’s 78%.

And he’s also being more successful when serving and volleying. A year ago, he served and volleyed 24 times in his first three matches and won 16 points (66%). This year so far, he’s won 23 of 28 (82%). Again, when you consider that he’s dropped two sets this year and spent longer on court, it’s a sign he wants to get the points over as soon as possible.

He’s light on matches, or fresh — take your pick

Djokovic has noted how different this year has been to many of his precious campaigns. Having won the Australian Open 10 times, he usually arrives at Wimbledon with at least one Slam to his name. This year, after losing in the semifinals in Melbourne, he skipped Masters 1000 events in Miami and Madrid and then suffered the injury in Paris, which required surgery.

Coming into Wimbledon, he had played only 24 matches and has yet to win a title, so it depends how you look at it: he’s either light on matches or is fresh, with plenty in the tank. So far, he seems happy with things, especially the way he saw off Alexei Popyrin in the third round. “I was not allowed to have too big concentration lapses,” he said. “I think I’ve done well in that regard. That was one of the best tiebreaks I’ve played this year, that’s for sure.”

How will Week 2 go for Djokovic?

Djokovic has won Grand Slam titles with significant injuries before — he won the Australian Open in 2021 despite a torn stomach muscle — so anything’s possible. Even if he is at 70 or 80%, it will still take someone playing outstanding tennis to beat him.

But Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, in particular, have already shown that they are good enough to beat him in a major, even when he’s fully firing, so it’s hard to see Djokovic getting the better of either of them if he is unable to cover the court the way he usually does.

The cumulative effect of tough matches from here on could also be a factor, so it will be important to see how he deals with Holger Rune, the No. 15 seed, in the fourth round Monday before the even tougher tasks ahead.

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