Drop shot on the rise at Roland-Garros 2020

 - Simon Cambers

It's been drop shots galore at Roland-Garros 2020. Players tell us why the tactic has come in handy this year in Paris

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Roger Federer once called it a panic shot. The French call it “L’amorti”, which literally translated into English means “cushioned” or “absorbed”.

We’re talking about the drop shot and at the rate it’s being used at this year’s Roland-Garros, statistics providers might be wise to give it a category of its own.

The drop shot has always been a key shot on clay but at this year’s event, moved to September and October from May-June because of Covid-19 restrictions, the heavier than usual conditions mean the shot is even more effective.

“It’s going to be a very important shot in these conditions, because it's just so heavy and so slow,” said world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who hit 25 drop shots in his first-round win over Mikael Ymer of Sweden.

“The tendency of the players obviously on clay is to go a bit further back to give themselves a little bit more time and space, because the ball bounces higher on clay than any other surface. But obviously now the bounce of the ball is significantly lower because of these conditions.”

Djokovic has long been an exponent of the drop shot, especially effective on the backhand side, where the natural feel of playing the slice with one hand gives the player more control.

The Serb used it again in his second-round win over Ricardas Berankis and is a firm believer in the shot.

“I think it's a great variety shot, the drop shot,” he said. “I think it's important tactically to have it and to use it at the right time so that you can keep your opponent always guessing what is the next shot. I think it's more important than any other surface really on clay to actually have that variety.”

Rafael Nadal is a rarity in that he prefers to use the drop shot on the forehand side, while others mix it up between forehand and backhand, utilising it most often when they are already inside the baseline and often when their opponent is out of court.

Federer has come round to the drop shot in the past five years or so, realising that it is a great option to have, also offering an element of surprise and putting doubt in the opponent's head.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland Garros 2020, second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The Austrian, Jurgen Melzer, used to be called the drop shot king, but his mantle may have passed to Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian who won the junior title here in 2011 and who is into the third round this year.

“As long as the drop shot is working, then I'm on the safe side,” Jabeur said on Thursday.

“I know it really bothers some players. I love when the drop shot goes good. I don't know, it gives me a good opportunity to be the master on the court. They don't know if I'm going to do a drop shot, if I'm going to slice long, if I'm going to hit.

“I love to really improve in this. I know if I'm loose and I'm having pleasure on the court, I can really play my game. I know this game could really bother some players.”

Ons Jabeur, Roland Garros 2020, second round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

From Simona Halep to Stefanos Tsitsipas, Petra Kvitova to Laura Siegemund, Stan Wawrinka to Dominic Thiem, the leading players all seem to be pulling out the drop shot even more than usual this year.

Jelena Ostapenko, the champion in 2017, was another to utilise the drop shot well in her second-round upset win over Karolina Pliskova, the No 2 seed, on Thursday.

“I think I was using them when I was a junior, but then (at) some time I didn't use them,” she said. “I kind of forgot that I have this good shot, because I think I do good drop shots, sometimes winners, and it's tough for girls.

“I think in these conditions the ball is bouncing super low, so it's even tougher to like get it back. I think, I mean, today (and in) the first match I had some really good drop shots.”

Over-used, though, it can become too predictable and a problem, as Djokovic admitted.

“I may have played too many today, I agree,” he said after the Ymer match.

“Maybe I exceeded what I should have played. But I think it worked well in the moments when I needed to get the point I did.”