I’ve always been a loyal Federer fan and still am. But it’s been about three weeks since Novak Djokovic won the U.S open 2011 and I’m still reliving the epic final between Djokovic and Nadal. The message is clear – There is a new champ in town and his name is Novak Djokovic. For the past couple of years, Nadal has slowly and steadily become the yard stick for guts and glory in tennis. But in the last 8 months, that has started to unravel and quite simply put, Nadal had been weighed, Nadal had been measured and Nadal has been found wanting by Djokovic.
So what has changed this year? I can’t quite put my finger on it, whether it’s the gluten-free diet, a new training regimen or the rumored hyperbaric chamber, but apparently some switch has been flipped and Novak Djokovic has emerged somewhat terminator-like – invincible, inexorable, inexhaustible and unbeatable this year. There were moments throughout the year where Djokovic seems to just absorb Nadal’s determination and return it with interest. I did not realize until the U.S open final that I was waiting for a moment like this where the Federer – Nadal duopoly would be broken. And broken it has with such finality by Djokovic.
Djokovic’s win record is 64 – 2 after the U.S open and to borrow a phrase from Rocky, he has done nothing but “Eat lightning and crap thunder” all year. After a virtuoso display of tennis by Djokovic all year, there is one jaw-dropping moment between Djokovic and Federer in the U.S open 2011 which has made me a true believer in Djokovic. After saving one match point with an impossibly angled forehand return, Djokovic turns to the crowd with one more match point remaining to be saved and raises his arms as if to say “Are you entertained?”. For lack of a better word to describe the moment – gladiatorial, pure testicular fortitude and pizzazz.
A curious thought struck me which watching Djokovic and Nadal stand next to each other at the U.S open – Physically Nadal is to the Hulk what Djokovic is to Bruce Banner. Djokovic positively looks frail compared to Nadal, but his shots seem to land with such thundering power and precision, it may very well be Thor swinging his Mjolnir. All praises aside, a strategic analysis of Djokovic’s shot making is in order to comprehend his meteoric rise in 2011. But that will be grist for another post. Also another curious thought, the triumvirate Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have, in a way, morphed into each others Achilles heel. Djokovic has Nadal’s number inside out and like-wise Nadal for Federer. Only Federer seems to be a threat to Djokovic at the moment. That is a strange Achilles heel triangle indeed!
What next for Nadal?
There is a new nightmare in town for Nadal and his name is Novak Djokovic. Nadal’s determination is nothing to be scoffed at. One thing I’m certain is that Nadal will never quit trying to conquer his Djokovic demons, while Federer seems to have more or less succumbed to his Nadal ones. Nadal’s vaunted weapon against his opponents has been his lefty top spin forehand. But Djokovic has more or less neutralized it with his tremendous backhand down the line as well as the cross-court. Nadal’s speed, agility, reflexes and pit bull tenacity has been matched and surpassed by Djokovic and in fact, Djokovic seems to be the faster of the two. Another headache for Nadal is Djokovic return of serve which is probably the best in the world. If Nadal has to win against Djokovic he will have to find a way around the aforementioned puzzles.
What’s next for Federer?
Admittedly I’m a Federer fan, but Federer doesn’t seem to be floating around like a butterfly and stinging like a bee that much anymore. Those moments of magic which used to come fast and furious have slowed quite a bit. Compared to Djokovic’s on court movement, seems like Federer has put down roots and hitting his shots. Would I count Federer out? There probably was or is no tennis player at age 30 who moves and plays like Roger Federer and probably never in the future as well. Collectively, what Federer has accomplished will inspire generations to come. Judging Federer on the last couple of years will be the most myopic of judgements. Again to borrow a phrase from Rocky, every great fighter has one great match left in him. Seems like the Swiss maestro has several in reserve. The Lion is in it’s winter, but it is still a Lion. Djokovic had a taste of that first hand at the French Open semifinals this year and almost a second at the U.S Open. The best player in the world wouldn’t dare count the King out and neither will I.
What would I like to see of Federer?
Master that topspin forehand of Nadal and start throwing some hurtin’ bombs himself. Start looking hungry again so I can root for him, win or lose. Chuck that complacency down the drain and never go down without a fight. At least one more time, I want to see Federer unleash hell on Nadal who is in his prime. Come to think of it, I never seen Federer go for broke. It’s time to let loose and let the outcome be damned, a la’ Djokovic. I’m not a betting man, but I’m willing to bet that the stars will align and the Federer will be resurgent for at least a few more Slams.
What is in it for us tennis fans?
If ever there was a rivalry of a lifetime, this is it and we bear witness to it.The likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic repeating again as rivals is literally slim to none. There are more battles to be waged among the triumvirate both exhaustingly physical and mental and I hope their bodies and mind will be up to the task for many more years. As to the new shining star in tennis, looks fairly certain that what we seen this year will be Novak Djokovic’s new normal. That’s great news for tennis fans and the tennis world and quite possibly the worst for anybody ranked below No.1.