As I sat and watched the 2015 Men’s U.S. Open Championship last night, I was struck first by what Brad Gilbert revealed about Djokovic in the pre-match commentary, “Djokovic files down the soles of his shoes so he can slide better on hard courts, said Gilbert.” When you first hear this statement, you think…hmmm does that really give him an advantage on hard court because to “grip” the surface would be an advantage for quickness and speed, right? Well, maybe 10-20 years ago but I submit that it is a HUGE advantage that Djokovic has tapped into that other players, especially the Spanish player because they play on clay, should look intently into the strategy.
I’ve watched Djokovic closely evolve into a #1 player on the World Tour and it fascinates me how he’s been able to adapt like a cameleon to his environment, especially the playing surface of hard courts. I find it absolutely brilliant that Djokovic has re-engineered the soles of his shoes to be able to slide more easily across such an unforgivable surface to give him an “edge” to create the type of game he wants to play on hard courts. Here are a few advantages I’ve observed as a coach that play to the strengths of Djokovic to return or play back what seemly are impossible shots with such intensity and precision.
(the filed down sole gives the foot at a 90 degree angle “give” like a clay or grass surface for added stability and leverage at ball contact)
(Djokovic is able to allow his flexibility to enhance his ability to stretch out for those extremely wide balls without fear or reality of severe injury to the ankles)
(Djokovic knows that when he runs hard after a wide ball, his equipment (filed down soles) will not fail him and will allow him to play the shot with precision, feel, and accuracy)
Djokovic and his team are notorious for working intensely to find the most efficient and effective ways for him to play the game at the highest level physically, mentally, and emotionally. Knowing that your equipment is dialed in just right will allow you to play your best style while maximizing winning points over and over again. Professional tennis athletes and their team of trainers, stringers, physical therapist, and more spend countless hours tweaking the body, mind, racquets, string patterns and materials, etc. to maximize their advantages. Especially with string technology, professional, junior, and even novice players are able to hit with more spin and sharper angles. To keep up with these ball striking capabilities, the way a player moves on court has to be able to keep up as well. I’m predicting that Djokovic and his team may have tapped into the next major modification for players looking to play on hard courts with more reach and flexibility without the fear of injury to ankles and/or other injuries that come from playing on a hard and unforgiving surface.
If you’ve ever played on clay or grass, or teach on those surfaces like me, you find out right away that you feel better physically after playing. Your legs, hips, feet, etc. are not as beat down as when you grind out points on the hard court. I’ve always enjoyed the longevity that teaching on clay provides for me personally, I can teach longer hours as well as more intense play physically and not feel as exhausted the next day. As a 47 year old professional coach, I’ve actually increased my flexibility and movement capabilities knowing that the surface will allow me to change direction and reach for balls without fear of the ground underneath me “locking” up my momentum. It’s a much softer impact on my frame and musculature.
Advantage to Djokovic on hard court: He’s able to slide and maintain extraordinary balance with his great flexibility on a hard court surface. His quickness is attributed to his understanding that he’s actually on a “clay” surface because of the re-engineering of the shoe to give him confidence to play a wide or short ball and not fear the idea that his foot is going to seize up and stop abruptly.
Playing with “no fear” is a big advantage to your road to winning matches and especially Championships. Djokovic seems to be exuding tremendous confidence especially on hard courts and it may just have something to do with the genius discovery of customized shoes!