It was disappointing to hear that Novak Djokovic won’t be playing at Monte Carlo. Another opportunity to watch him try and extend his incredible winning streak, this time on Clay, Nadal’s favorite would have been incredible. This past month Djokovic has launched himself to another level of tennis, another level of fans, media and players appreciation.
His two wins in the Miami and Indian Wells finals over Rafa, both coming after losing the first set, changed the status quo, the balance of world tennis. He’s number two in the world, but with a 26 match winning streak, two Masters and one Major and three wins of Roger Federer (only the fourth player to beat him three times in one calendar year), it seems number one is the next stop.
Not so fast. Despite scoring two huge wins (psychological as well) of Nadal, clay is a different story. Novak has met Nadal twice on Clay in finals – both of the times in 2009, in Monte Carlo and Rome. After the defeat in Monte Carlo (I tend to repeat this, I know) Djokovic said he thinks he can only beat Nadal if he plays with two rackets or something like that. Federer was just before his short rising, before beating Nadal in Madrid and winning the two Slams that finally put him over Sampras and got him the career-grand-slam.
Times have changed. Roger Federer isn’t even in the top two anymore. This time, I don’t think any of us are expecting him to rise again. A Semi Final in a slam? Probably. But I don’t see him beating either Novak or Nadal right now. He just doesn’t have enough to sustain that level of tennis needed to beat them for an entire match – a five setter or three.
Djokovic dropping out of Monte Carlo just delays the next battle, the 27th clash between the two youngsters (seems like they’ve been around for ages, hasn’t it). Tennis needs order. With Federer and a young Nadal, you knew Roger owns the tennis world and Nadal owns the clay courts. In 2008 it changed. Nadal made the leap, the improvement he needed to beat Federer on grass, something I thought was impossible. That gave Nadal the final mental edge he needed to be the next dictator of the tennis world. His win in the 2009 Australian Open over Roger broke Federer. It seemed like a downhill ride from there. You know the rest.
With Djokovic wrecking havoc, there’s no order. Is he the best, or just super hot early this year? Is it total dominance, including clay, or a hard court thing only? Have his two huge wins over Nadal, finally showing his character, determination and a new found fitness superiority (??) scarred Rafa, in his mind at least, giving Novak an edge whenever they meet from now on? I guess we’ll have to wait till after Monte Carlo. He left it for Nadal to win and get his groove back.