Djokovic currently holds three of the four Grand Slams – with Rafael Nadal the French Open champion – after an incredible return to form over the past year.
Roger Federer, even at the age of 37, remains a force in the game and has won three Slams since the beginning of 2017.
And Djokovic’s coach Craig O’Shannessy says the top players are so good at returning the first serve, it’s almost as if they turn the game on its head after the first move.
“The first serve comes barreling down,” he wrote on a piece for ATPTour.com.
“If Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic return the powerful delivery back into play, they just completely levelled the playing field.
“An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the Big Three returning first serves on hard courts and clay courts shows they combine to win 50.1 per cent (8555/17073) of first-serve return points when they get their return back in play. The data set comes from ATP Masters 1000 events from 2011-2018 and the Nitto ATP Finals.
“On hard courts, Djokovic was the only one of the three players to be above 50 per cent (52.2%), while Nadal took the honours on clay, winning 50.6 per cent (1378/2723) of first-serve return points.
“When you break the service box down into the three target areas — wide, body and T — you gain a little more insight into the specific strengths of each player returning first serves.
“What’s interesting is that Federer was the top performer returning wide in the Deuce court on both hard courts and clay courts. Nadal, with his lefty prowess, dominated five of the six Ad court locations (three each on hard and clay), while Djokovic was superior with his backhand return against first serves down the T in the Deuce court.
“Of the 12 locations for clay courts and hard courts, Nadal was superior in five of them, followed by Djokovic with four and Federer with three. The stars don’t always put the first serve back in play, but when they do, they basically have as good of a chance as the server to win the point.”
Djokovic won the first slam of the year in Australia and will be confident going into the French as he eyes his second Roland Garros title.
However Nadal is imperious in the clay and will start as the heavy favourite. The pair could even be joined by Federer this season as he looks set to play on the red dirt again.