Novak Djokovic – Still the Best Tennis Player in the World

No matter how good or bad Novak Djokovic does in the Paris Masters, he’ll regain the number one spot on the ATP rankings thanks to Roger Federer withdrawing from the tournament. After all the ups and downs in 2012, Djokovic is still, probably, the best player in the world.

It was never going to be easy recreating the magic, ability and achievements of 2011. I mean, how can you pick up from winning three Grand Slam titles and five Masters tournaments, finishing the season with a 70-6 record and setting a new record for earnings in a tennis season with $12 million.

In comparison with that, 2012 seems too normal – “Just” one Grand slam title in Australia; 3 Masters titles. Not to mention he reached two more Grand Slam finals, in France and the US Open, and lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semifinal. Ordinary, right?

He was never going to repeat 2011. Physically, it’s to demanding. The level at the top 4 of the tour is too high to allow a player to dominate in such a way for too long. Rafael Nadal had his year in 2010, but 2011 was just about chasing Djokovic, even on the clay courts. This season was another Roland Garros title for Nadal, but his body fell apart shortly after, and who knows in what kind of shape he’ll be when he makes his return in 2013.

For Djokovic, the big “slump” began once his grandfather died, while Djokovic was competing for the title in Monte Carlo. Suddenly, that mental edge he had over Nadal disappeared, and he couldn’t dominate matches against the Spaniard on ability alone. It cost him clay titles in Rome as well, and on Rafa’s favorite court in Paris. Good, but not great, or simply not good enough.

Wimbledon? Same story. Roger Federe wasn’t the favorite to win it, but Djokovic simply fell apart in front of him on the grass courts, as Federer cruised in the second half of their contest to a 3-1 win, later beating Andy Murray in the final. Djokovic was the winner in Toronto while both Federer and Murray took a rest after the Olympic games but lost to Roger Federer in the Cincinnati final, including a humiliating 0-6 in the first set.

Something of the mental edge Djokovic had was lost. He was still incredibly difficult to close out, as he showed later on against Andy Murray in the US Open final, playing injured (and maybe faking it just a bit), but not unbeatable. He tried some little tweaking in his game, but in general, his shot making was just not on par with last season. Same as with Andre Agassi many years ago – Djokovic blasts the ball, and eventually, once he got skillful enough, those shots and returns would fall in the right place, but it’s still a high risk tactic. When that didn’t work like in the previous year, his net game and rest of his arsenal weren’t enough to win at the same rate as in the previous year.

But Djokovic had a good enough year to stay on top. He had another great final against Andy Murray in Shanghai, in what seems to be the great rivalry to watch in the next couple of years. He was consistent all throughout the season, reaching the final in all but two Masters tournament, and the semifinal in all but one. Same goes for the Grand slam tournaments: Three finals and another semifinal. You can’t call that a bad year, and with Andy Murray picking up only through the second half of the season and Roger Federer struggling to keep his body in the right kind of condition for a full tennis season, Djokovic still has the best claim for world number one.

Not as dramatically better than the rest like last season, but still good enough to be the favorite in any tournament he goes into, including Paris and the World Tour Finals in the coming weeks, and probably the Australian Open in 2013.

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