Thursday, February 2, 2012

Who will be the antidote to Novak Djokovic?

If Rafael Nadal is Roger Federer’s kryptonite, he's kept the seemingly unstoppable Swiss Master from achieving 17 (20, or more) Grand Slam titles, then Novak Djokovic is surely Nadal’s. It was only a year ago that ‘we’ were talking about a “Rafa Slam” as the intrepid Spaniard, holder of the 3 previous Grand Slam titles (in 2010) was attempting to do what no one – even Federer the great(est?) – has been able to ... since Rod Laver, in whose arena last Sunday’s final was played: hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation; enter Nole (nickname of the elastic man from Serbia). The truism learned in other – particularly team – sports has found its place in tennis: it’s all about matchups. Whereas Rafa’s huge topspin, high bouncing shots breakdown Roger’s beautiful one-handed backhand, they play into Novak’s strengths; the Serb can hammer the high ball from either ‘wing’.

While both Nadal and Federer possess incredible endurance and (Rafa in particular) can wear down their opponents with defense, movement and a relentless array of (or assault with his) shots, Djokovic has taken these assets to another level. His return of serve is the best in the game and with flexibility, guts and a will to win even in the direst of circumstances, he is dominating two of the greatest-of-all-time players. There were numerous opportunities – in both Friday’s semifinal match when Novak was down 2 sets to 1 to Andy Murray, and in Sunday’s final when Djokovic was down a break in the fifth set – for the Serbian to fold. He didn’t. Instead, he kept his nerve, continued to go for his shots, and won both matches.

Now commentators and the press from all over the tennis world are talking about a “Nole Slam”: can Novak win the French Open at Roland Garros to hold all 4 Grand Slam titles at the same time? Or will Federer break this streak like he broke Djokovic’s consecutive match winning streak in Paris last year? Better still, will ‘we’ get to witness a fourth consecutive Rafa-Nole Grand Slam final?

The other question that needs to be asked is the title of this post. Except for an increasingly competitive yet still Slam-less Murray, who’s the same age as Djokovic (they were born a week apart in May, 1987), it would seem that Novak is in a position similar to that which Federer enjoyed in the middle of the last decade, after Pete Sampras’ career. As Roger fades (at 30, he hasn’t won a Grand Slam title in 2 years), the men’s field isn't as strong unless the still young 25 if physically old Rafa (and his coach & uncle Toni) can solve the Novak puzzle and finally beat the Serb again (Nadal has now lost 7 straight - all in finals - to Djokovic!) ... else Nole will quickly increase his Grand Slam title total to double digits, and more.

No comments:

Post a Comment