This has been Novak Djokovic’s year. Not just in Tennis, but in in all sports. His dominance, which is easily exemplified by him capturing the top spot in the ATP rankings and building a 4100 point lead over Rafael Nadal, becoming the sixth man in the open era to win three Grand Slam titles in one year (Nadal has done it once, in 2010, and Roger Federer three times!), losing only twice all year while winning 10 titles, five of them Masters and of course – beating Rafael Nadal in tournament finals six times in a row.
The funny thing, or scary thing is – he looked more and more impressive as the season went on. It’s kind of a down road from here, with a few Hard court tournaments and the Tour Finals in London, so Djokovic can relax a bit and have some fun. Oops, I stand corrected – he is having fun. He just looks so loose and comfortable while knocking flat and powerful backhands to the perfect spots while Nadal was running himself into the ground. Yes, there was the third set in which Nadal managed to fight back and instill some hope in himself and the crowd.
It ended pretty soon. Nadal was holding his legs, looking worn out, while Djokovic was holding his back, significantly taking power off his serves. He compensated with placement, which was just too much for Nadal who couldn’t run anymore. A bull that can’t run is as good as dead. Nadal’s hope ended when the battery ran empty.
The only two players to chalk up a win over Novak this year are Andy Murray, three weeks ago in Cincinnati, and Roger Federer, at the Roland Garros semi final. Does he have to be worried about them taking him down from the number one spot? Well, as the rankings system goes, Djokovic has a really hard job of protection all those points. A nealry flawless year – What he did this year is probably impossible to repeat. That was Nadal talking after the match.
And he’s right. Nadal had an incredible year last year and couldn’t repeat it. Federer did, three times in four years. But the playing field was different then. Nadal was a clay court specialist and there’s wasn’t any consistent threat to the throne. Djokovic has three players who are gunning for number one. And yes, Roger Federer from a few years ago was simply that good, that great.
Now it’s a matter of playing catch up. Djokovic raised his level of tennis this year while the rest of the pack didn’t make the jump. If he remains so solid mentally, feeling confident in tough, even impossible situations (the Semi Final against Federer as a prime example) while his return and baseline game continue to be a level above the rest, I can guruantee they’ll be no touching him next year.
Nadal couldn’t learn, couldn’t adapt from his six meeting with Novak this year. Rafa kept playing that style of his, relying on huge top spins and the inability of opponents to deal with that high bounce. Well, Djokovic has proven time and time again he’s adjusted. Not only that, it sets him up for easier points. Nadal knows he can reach any ball that’s hit at him and doesn’t bother leaving the corner he hits from. Against Djokovic, that just can’t be done.
Nadal showed a huge upgrade in his game in 2010, especially the serve, adding the ability to win easy points. The problem is I didn’t have free points. The serve didn’t help me. I didn’t start the points with an advantage tonight with my serve. That’s a lot. A year ago, Djokovic couldn’t answer those serves as Nadal tore through him to win his first US Open and complete the career grand slam.
For Djokovic, it’s probably mostly a mental change he’s had. Some say his game is much better, but Djokovic doesn’t think he’s changed that much about the way he plays – I guess it just clicked in my head. Through the last couple of years, I didn’t change my game in any major way. I think most of the strokes are the same they were last two three years. But I’m hitting shots that maybe I wasn’t hitting. I’m going for it.
Next up? Winning the French Open to complete the Career Grand Slam – I am not invincible. I just think a positive attitude keeps you on top of your game, when you go on court and when I had the start to the year that I had. Of course I want to win more majors and prove things to myself. It would be unbelievable to complete the Grand Slam. I need to win the French Open, but I think it will take time.
One thing is for sure – Djokovic’s rise to prominence this year is great for Tennis. A Nadal dictatorship would be much more boring. So was Federer’s time at the top, despite the magical tennis. Can he keep it up? Remember, Novak never has two great years in a row. And it would be nearly impossible to repeat a season like he’s had in 2011.