Djokovic won 50 percent of the points on his second serve points, illustrating the difficulty in seizing a break – with just three such occurrences in the entire tournament. His win rate on the second serve was almost 78 percent more than Rublev, who boasts a flashy game built behind a rocket of a forehand.
“The first two sets don’t speak of the reality of the match,” Djokovic conceded. “We had some close games, Andrey is a great opponent and a great player, one of the biggest forehands and one of the quickest players on the tour.
“All the important shots and moments, I found my best tennis, it’s what makes me so pleased.”
It was a compliment from Djokovic, yet it exposed the lack of variety in Rublev’s game, which was apparent when you delve a little deeper into those second serves.
Djokovic’s range leaves opponents befuddled with 66 kmph between his slowest and fastest second serve, a gap 27 kmph greater than Rublev, ensuring better timing than the Russian.
Slowest second serve
Average second serve
Fastest second serve
Djokovic has taken years to perfect this part of the game since emphasising it as part of his tactical repertoire alongside former strategy coach Craig O’Shannessy.
By holding back, noticeably at the US Open in 2018, Djokovic gains accuracy, allowing him to target specific parts of his opponent’s return game.
This secret weapon shows Rublev just what it takes to make that leap from a top five player in the world, with three career titles, to shattering that quarter-final barrier in the grand slams, which has blocked his path to a maiden slam on seven occasions already.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates
Djokovic leaned on that second serve in the fourth game of the second set, trailing 2-1, forcing an error from his rival to level the contest. It would mentally break Rublev and lead to a decisive break in the next game before Djokovic raced into a two-set lead.
Despite a furore surrounding Djokovic’s left hamstring injury, his conditioning looks impeccable both against Rublev and Alex de Minaur. And the way he paces himself throughout the contest shows with his service game. There is always enough gas in the tank to crank up the speed and throw off his opponents at any stage.
If Rublev was concentrating on combating the placement of the serve, then Djokovic disrupted his flow and slammed the door on any possible comeback in the third set, hitting a new match-high 204 kmph, just 4 kmph short of Rublev’s best.
Russia’s Andrey Rublev reacts to defeat
Rublev must evolve if he is to emerge at the front of the queue when Djokovic and Rafael Nadal eventually set off into the sunset.
His work in the forecourt proved particularly costly as the match began to unravel into the third set.
The way he bludgeons his forehand is an impressive sight, but the depth to which he can improve has been illustrated by Djokovic in his 19th grand slam season. Djokovic has never looked so complete.
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