It’s been 388 weeks since someone not called Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal sat on top of the ATP Rankings. Novak Djokovic is the first since Andy Roddick, but what a difference between the two. Even during his short stay at the number one spot, few would have considered Roddick to be the best in the world. Djokovic? He has proved his worth every bit in 2011.
It’s not just the fact that he’s won two grand slam titles (Australia and Wimbledon) already in 2011, the first player not named Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal to win 2 slams in the same year since Andre Agassi in 1999. Yes, it’s been that long, and yes, the tennis world has been pretty much a two horse race since 2004. Since Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon title in 2003, only 5 players have won any of the majors. Djokovic is one of them and the only won with multiple wins.
The stranger thing is probably how well matched Novak has become when facing Rafael Nadal. Until this year, he faced the same trouble everyone else had. No one could battle Nadal in a baseline to baseline game. Djokovic didn’t have the mental toughness and the stamina to win against Nadal – for example the 2010 US Open final. After Djokovic won a set, Nadal went into that extra magical gear he has hidden, and the match was over.
This year, it’s Djokovic with the extra gear, especially against Nadal. Well, maybe not extra gear, but he doesn’t collapse, doesn’t lose his focus for too long and looks fresh and healthy in the fourth set as he does in the first. His return game has improved to nearly flawless proportions, making every serving game against him a nightmare. Now, even on grass, which always favors the big servers.
Nadal had trouble with Djokovic this season, trying to adapt with each game – the losses at Indian Wells and Miami came after he won the first sets and Djokovic. The Australian Open was supposed to be a chink in the Spaniards armor. He started the year looking so good, coming off his three-slam season in 2010. There was no way anything would stop him en route to catching up with Federer.
If the hard court losses surprised him, than what would you say about losing to Djokovic twice in a row on clay? In two sets both times? ? Yesterday, talking about this year, Nadal shed some light on his feeling and thoughts about 2011 – Seriously, I lost because I was playing against the best player of the moment, the best player of the world tomorrow. when you play against these players and they are playing unbelievable, the normal thing is to lose. That’s what happened the last few times. My experience says this level is not forever. Even for me, when I won three Grand Slams last year, my level of last year is not forever. Probably the level of Novak today is not forever.
He has a point. Djokovic can’t be playing this good for so long, can he? Not with the level of competition he’s facing, right? Well, you can argue on that point, but there’s no arguing the fact that Novak has gotten under Rafa’s skin – I started the match without thinking [about those defeats]. But when you arrive to 5-4, these moments it probably affects a little bit. That’s what happened, and that’s why.
The big points. Djokovic hasn’t made a mess of those for so long – 48 wins, 1 loss this year, need I remind you. Eight singles titles so far. Roger Federer was the only player who beat his this year, in the Roland Garros Semi’s. If it weren’t for him, than Djokovic might have even upset the king of clay at his most prized venue, the clay courts of Paris. Well, there’s always next year.
Novak Djokovic is here to stay, there’s no doubt about it. Less than two months since his 24th birthday, Djokovic is prepped to make his name be talked of for ages, and written down as champion in quite a few tourneys. He’s found his comfort zone and perfected his skills, both mental and physical, to the point it seems it’s only up to him on how much he’ll win in the coming years. Having that mental edge over your biggest rival is not a small task. Just ask Roger Federer.