Reilly Opelka, 22, says he has been watching and studying the way world No. 1 Novak Djokovic returns the serve as improving his return was one of his biggest goals coming into this season. Opelka, who stands at 6 feet 11 inches tall, is one of the tallest players on the Tour and working on his movement will be the key in him further improving his game and becoming a better player.
The 22-year-old American says analyzing Djokovic’s return has helped him as he sees the improvement in his return. Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, is considered by many as the best returner on the ATP Tour.
“It’s a combination of skills. Before I used to split step a lot earlier, and I would come down from the split step and be kind of on my heels. I’d be landing too soon, so I’d lose a lot of momentum from the split step,” Opelka told Racquet Magazine.
“Where if you look now, I’m split stepping way later, way closer to when they’re making contact with the ball. I watched Djokovic a lot—how he times his split step, how he opens his foot. When guys serve to his forehand or backhand, if you watch a slo-mo video, as soon as he lands in the split step, his foot turns out.
“The first move is unbelievable, how quick and how clean that movement is with his foot. When returning, he has such good posture, he’s on balance, and that first step is critical. And he does it better than anyone.”