Can Five-Setters Prove A Boon For Djokovic At Roland Garros?
The Grand Slams provide a unique challenge for the ATP World Tour’s stars, as players compete in a best-of-five set format. And judging by historical success, one superstar has risen to that challenge exceedingly well, which may prove important during the Roland Garros fortnight.
Novak Djokovic is second among active players in both fifth-set win-rate (75.7%) and five-set victories (28-9) according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone — the only other player in the Top 5 of both categories is Feliciano Lopez (68.6%, 24-11). Only Roger Federer, 30-20, has won more five-setters than Djokovic.
Most Five-Set Wins Among Active Players
In recent years, the former World No. 1 has been especially dominant when matches at the majors have gone the distance. Dating back to 2010 Wimbledon, the Serbian has won 19 of 23 five-setters, with 10 of those victories coming against opponents inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. Just one of his previous nine five-set triumphs came against a Top 10 opponent.
So maybe, as Djokovic continues his recovery from a right elbow injury, he will be able to lean on the confidence he has gained from battling through tough matches at Grand Slams to climb back toward the top of the ATP Rankings, in which he currently sits at No. 22. Djokovic’s most recent five-setter was in Paris last year against Diego Schwartzman. Afterward, he explained the key to his victory.
“I was mentally still strong and as calm as I could be, even though I was two sets to one down,” Djokovic said. “I kept believing I could break his resistance.”
Best Fifth-Set Win-Rates Among Active Players
Djokovic has not been the only one to say that. Spaniard Tommy Robredo, who leads active players with a 77.3 per cent win-rate (17-5), agrees.
“You need to be very strong physically and I think one of my qualities is that physically I’m very good. Then mentally, you have to believe,” Robredo told ATPWorldTour.com. “I think that's because I’m strong physically, I can believe that I can do it a little bit better than others. Obviously there’s a bit of good luck, which helps. But when you’re 17-5, I think it’s more about the mental and physical [aspects].”
While Robredo did not qualify for Roland Garros this year, the terre battue is home of perhaps his most impressive streak. In 2013, he won back-to-back-to-back five-set matches from two sets down in the second round, third round and Round of 16 to reach the quarter-finals in Paris for the fifth time. He has won seven matches in his career from two sets down, which left him no room for error.
“To come back from two sets down, it’s important to be mentally strong, to believe that you still can. And then you have to see yourself as strong after winning the third set because you need to win two more,” Robredo said. “When you come back from two sets down to 2-1 down, the other player has to start thinking and then if you’re physically good, you have a chance.”
Besides Robredo and Djokovic, only two other active players have won more than 70 per cent of their five-setters — Kei Nishikori (72.7%, 16-6) and Tomas Berdych (72.4%, 21-8). Rounding out the Top 5 is Feliciano Lopez, who holds a 24-11 record (68.6%).
And if the stats showing Djokovic's prowess in these categories are not enough, World No. 1 Rafael Nadal shared his thoughts about the longer format at Grand Slams after defeating Alexander Zverev to claim his eighth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title last weekend.
“Tennis is tennis. It doesn't matter best of three, best of five,” Nadal said. “[But] playing best of five is a big advantage for the best players.”
Could that be a key for Djokovic in the French capital?