If anyone has been following tennis for the past few years, you don’t need to be a veteran fan, just being around since 2007 (about) will make you realize just how weird the title of this post is. Novak Djokovic who made his first real impression in the 2007 US Open, making more of an impact with his impressions than with his tennis. He then won the Australian Open, but seemed to have gotten stuck. Andy Murray looked the more ready of the two to break the Nadal-Federer grip on the ATP rankings.
Then 2010 turned into 2011 and Novak Djokovic got handed with the ring of power or whatever it was. He hasn’t lost a game. Not One! 37-0 in 2011, 7 singles titles, 1 grand slam, four masters and four consecutive wins, in finals, with two of them on clay, including Madrid, over Rafael Nadal. Before 2011, Djokovic never beat Nadal on clay. If you remember the 2010 US Open Final, Djokovic’s growing dominance over the (still) world number 1 player is absolutely shocking.
The funny thing is Djokovic isn’t even playing perfect tennis. Going into this year and generally since Nadal’s return to the top coordinated with Federer beginning his final decline, the perceptions was Nadal is pretty much unbeatable. You needed to be nearly perfect to beat him. His mental toughness is the greatest the game has seen in years. Unless some injury slows him down, nothing can stop him.
Novak gave his most dominant performance this evening against Nadal out of his four wins. His two wins on Clay have come in straight sets after twice dropping the first set in his two wins on Hard courts (Indian Wells & Miami). Nadal isn’t used to being bullied around, especially on clay. He always dictates. He always comes out on top. Not anymore, and his confidence has to be shaken, the armour is cracked.
He talked today about Djokovic’s streak having to end at some point. Djokovic is still having trouble with his fitness, at least that’s what he says. He also says he doesn’t think about it. The way his head has adjusted, just suddenly click-boom quick fix and Djokovic is an iceberg. An emotional, exciting, but always resolved, never giving up on the game and on himself. His ability to execute perfectly on the break points, his super aggressive returns that just get stronger as his opponent wears downs. It was always there, but never so consistently, never part of a complete package.
I read an article on ESPN last week prior to the Rome Masters, talking about how Djokovic’s record, streak and achievments in 2011 won’t be worth anything if he fails to win the Roland Garros. With all of the talk and hype, Djokovic is only a two grand slam winner, both of them in Australia. I don’t agree, because Novak has exorcised whatever demons or mental blocks he had that stopped him from becoming a legitamte contender for the world no.1 spot. Sure, Federer’s decline has helped for him to solidify his stature, but Murray had a shot at doing that as well and he’s been struggling for a while, as he usually does after Australian Opens.
Djokovic has actually made Nadal change his game in trying to find a way to beat the Serb. After seeing that his deep baseline style isn’t working, he switched to high, looping shots instead of his usual top spin shots. Djokovic kept responding both styles with flat, near the net bombs, pushing Nadal further and further back and aside. He stepped inside each time and looked like he’s better positioned to take each crucial point. Nadal said he has more up his sleeve for Paris. The way Djokovic is playing right now, with such precision, poise and oozing confidence, I don’t know what Nadal can do.