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Novak Djokovic: The ultimate contortionist and marathon man

The Sports Fan Journal logo The Sports Fan Journal 3/23/2019 James Simpson, The Sports Fan Journal
Novak Djokovic holding a gun © Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Any athlete who is the best at their sport is adept in more than just one area. Athletes are built and molded to thrive at certain aspects of their profession — individual or team setting — in order to be effective, stay viable and attempt to last for a sustained period of time.

The current No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, snagged his 15th career Slam title (third all-time) in January at the Australian Open, where he performed clinically and flawlessly in the final for a straight-set win over Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Over the next two weeks, he will be playing in the Miami Open, one of the biggest tennis tournaments outside of the four Slams.

Djokovic doesn’t just flourish at one thing; he purely does an assemblage of things well.

His serve doesn’t overpower or fly by his opponent like a John Isner, whose rapid-fire serves could gash a round-sized hole through a garage door with no problem. However, Djokovic aims for the right spots and mixes speeds up as well as anyone on the ATP Tour.

He’s the best returner in the sport, and he shines whenever forced to play a more defensive game. Plus, he owns a calm and compact two-hand backhand that he likes taking down the baseline or cross-court in an instantaneous manner.

Djokovic relies on his patient counterpunching tactics to frustrate his foes. Moreover, he possesses a fluid forehand that he uses not only to dictate rallies, but to place his fatigued opponents under duress as they chase that small green object across the court like they were some kind of play thing on the Serbian’s string.

Having all those tools in your kit could work to any tennis player’s benefit. However, his ability to distort his body at any point in time during a match and put himself through the utmost pain in long-lasting affairs is a trait that only he has obtained.

For the human body, one can only comprehend how Djokovic’s limbs hold up during those moments. The man is the true definition of an impenetrable wall. No balls or winners go through him, but they also don’t get past him either because of his Gumby-like tendencies to stretch, bend and extend every part of his body to victory after victory. His lanky 6-foot-2 frame is built to cover the entire court, where he makes exceptional use of his rangy legs to track down any and every ball that comes at him.

The best hardcourt player on the men’s tour uses his innate ability to reach and reach some more to get back balls while on the defensive run that no one (maybe other than his rival Nadal) comes close to. That makes one seriously have to examine the remarkable anatomy of his slim, gluten-free body.

The Serb is so flexible that it wouldn’t shock me if he can do a split. Any kind of winner an opponent thinks they’re getting by the 31-year-old, he throws right back at them as if he were a brick wall that ricochets those mini bouncy balls off them.

If he were in the circus, there’s no doubt his main act would be entertaining the audience with his acrobatic tricks and ruses, while also exhibiting why no athlete in sports can contort their body in the manner he can.

The ultimate contortionist he is.

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Another component Djokovic owns that can’t be taught or developed is his capacity to last — and I mean last — a long time in matches. He's played in four-, five- and even six-hourlong matches that push the limits of human endurance to near collapse due to the mental and physical exhaustion.

Arguably the fittest player on the men’s side, Djokovic basically welcomes the idea of staying on the court for prolonged periods of time. His motto is perhaps “the longer I stay on the court, the better.” The opposition simply can’t say that.

Take a look at some of his long drawn-out epic thrillers that he’s been a part of in his career (all in this decade):

  • 2011 U.S. Open final vs. Rafael Nadal (Djokovic won in four sets): 4 hours, 10 minutes
  • 2012 Australian Open semifinal vs. Andy Murray (Djokovic in five): 4 hours, 50 minutes
  • 2012 Australian Open final vs. Nadal (Djokovic in five): 5 hours, 53 minutes — the longest men’s Grand Slam Final ever
  • 2012 U.S. Open final vs. Andy Murray (Murray in five): 4 hours, 54 minutes
  • 2013 Australian Open fourth round vs. Stan Wawrinka (Djokovic in five): 5 hours, 4 minutes
  • 2013 French Open semifinal vs. Nadal (Nadal in five): 4 hours, 37 minutes
  • 2013 U.S. Open semifinal vs. Wawrinka (Djokovic in five): 4 hours, 12 minutes
  • 2015 French Open semifinal vs. Murray (Djokovic in five): 4 hours, 9 minutes across two days
  • 2018 Wimbledon semifinal vs. Nadal (Djokovic in five): 5 hours, 15 minutes across two days

If tennis were a marathon run, Nole would win with flying colors. You break before he does, and once that happens, the world’s best has you right where he wants you.

Novak Djokovic is the king of marathon matches and one hell of a contortionist on the tennis court. 


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