right_side

About Me

Popular Posts

Sample Text

Pages

Download

Recent Posts

Novak Djokovic

Powered by Blogger.

Đoković o Federeru i Nadalu: Dobro je...

Najbolji teniseri sveta naredne nedelje okupiće se u Madridu gde će biti odigran četvrti Masters u sezoni. Titulu osvojenu prošle godine braniće naš Novak Đoković, a najveći rival biće mu Rafael Nadal koji ove sezone igra odlično i već je osvojio dva turnira na šljaci (Monte Karlo, Barselona).


Reuters
Đoković govorio o najvećim rivalima

- Rafa je imao sjajan start 2017. Bio je veoma blizu da osvoji Australijan open. Na šljaci je uvek opasan, a ove godine je već osvojio dva turnira na ovoj podlozi. To je bez sumnje podloga na kojoj on ima najviše uspeha - kazao je Novak za zvaničan sajt turnira, a potom je prokomentarisao i dobre partije Rodžera Federera:

- U Melburnu je pokazao da je veliki šampion. Posle šest meseci se vratio i osvojio grend slem titulu. Za tenis je dobro što se vratio na staze uspeha unblocked games77.

Otkrio je Đoković koliko mu je značilo to što je prošle godine trijumfovao u prestonici Španije i da li mu je to bio podstrek uoči Rolan Garosa.

- Nisam nekoliko sezona igrao u Madridu, tako da je bilo dobro za mene da se vratim na na ovaj turnir. Sećam se da je to bilo sjajnih nedelju dana za mene. Protivnici su bili jaki, bili smo velike bitke, a posebno je teško bilo u finalu protiv Endija Mareja. Ta pobeda mi je podigla samopouzdanje, a i došla je posle poraza u 2. kolu u Monte Karlu. Bilo je dobro što sam se brzo oporavio od poraza koji sam doživeo protiv Veselog - objasnio je Nole.

Srpski teniser je ove godine popravio rezultat u Monte Karlu, ali parijte koje je pružao u Kneževini ne ohrabruju pogotovo jer je eliminisan od strane igrača kog je pre toga savladao u svih pet duela - Davida Gofana.

How Novak Djokovic Became Serbia's Brand Ambassador

It was his final gesture as he accepted the -trophy on Wimbledon’s Centre Court – the raising of the golden cup to the heavens, uttering the words “Jelena Gencic”, that revealed so much about Novak Djokovic. For he knew that he would not have been standing there as the champion and an inspirational symbol for his country had it not been for a woman who taught him about life as well as tennis. 

Their story was unique, as it had to be, because it is incredibly difficult for a nation to shed a bloody past and, more than any other single person, Djokovic has helped it do so. Serbia wasn’t the only culprit in the Balkans war that raged across what used to be known as Yugoslavia in the 1990s but it copped most of the bad press and, as the new century dawned, its image lay in ruins. 

Restoring a sense of national pride can be difficult but, usually, it doesn’t take as long as altering the perception of the outside world. To get the job done quickly, a nation needs an untainted hero to emerge from somewhere to offer the world a completely different perspective.




Against all the odds for a country that, historically, had not paid much attention to the sport, that hero turned out to be a tennis player called Djokovic. His thrilling victory over Roger Federer, in one of the Championships’ best finals last week, will certainly embellish a reputation that had been growing even before Djokovic startled the tennis world by going unbeaten through the first five months of 2011 and becoming so dominant over a period of 13 months that he won four Grand Slam titles out of five.


If winning the Australian Open in 2008 had set him on the road to hero status, he had been given plenty of support by his female compatriots, Jelena Jankovic, who rose to number one in the world that same year, shortly after Ana Ivanovic had climbed to the pinnacle just a few weeks after winning the French Open. 

With Nenad Zimonjic winning doubles titles, the Serbs were suddenly a pre-eminent force on the tennis tour. Back home, Serbs found they had something to cheer, something to feel good about, never more so than when Djokovic led them to a Davis Cup winning triumph in 2010. In a matter of a few short years, tennis had become the most popular sport in the country. 

It would not have happened had not a five-year-old turned up, all alone, at a tennis camp in the ski resort of Kopaonik and caught the attention of the head coach, who had learned to recognise exceptional talent while working with Monica Seles eight years before. Jelena Gencic saw something in young Novak’s dark, piercing eyes and determined manner that drew her to him and, within a few months, she was telling his parents that they had “a golden child”.

For the next six years, Gencic taught Djokovic about backhands and Beethoven; etiquette, table manners and Serbian poets. She let him choose what sort of backhand he wanted (Novak felt happier switching to a two hander) and, while never telling him not to listen to his heavy metal music, managed to open his mind to the classics. One day she was rewarded when, on listening to the 1812 Overture he said, suddenly, “Jeca, I’ve got goosebumps”. 

Gencic was told these stories to the author Chris Bowers, whose book, The Sporting Statesman examines in great detail the intricacies of the Balkan war and how a tennis player who, crucially perhaps, came from a mixed Serbian, Montenegrin and Croatian heritage, could emerge as his nation’s unofficial but highly effective ambassador. 

Djokovic with teammate Nenad Zimonjic celebrating their Davis Cup win in 2010, which made tennis the most popular sport in Serbia. Ivan Milutinovic/Reuters 
 
She spoke to Bowers at length, something she had never done with a foreign writer before, and he feels that she wanted her story known before she passed away 18 months later at the age of 76. Her death left Djokovic so distraught that he could not fulfill his media obligations while playing in the French Open in 2013. 

Later, he wrote a letter to her and asked that his mother read it out at a memorial service for Gencic in Belgrade, which he could not attend. “I am completely unprepared for our parting,” the letter read. “You were an angel. Both when you coached me and afterward, I felt your support wherever I went . . . I promise that I will speak your name to future generations and that your spirit will live on.” 

Anyone who has sat in numerous Djokovic press conferences will be unsurprised by words eloquently expressed. Speaking in near flawless English, Djokovic presents himself as a young man of high intelligence with a clear understanding of what and whom he is representing. 

“I actually love all the ex-Yugoslav countries, including Croatia, despite the horrible war,” he has said. “I am not a person who holds a grudge. I honestly don’t think that we, as countries, have any more reasons to fight.” 

Such soft, conciliatory words do not sit easily with a public that has only seen the chest-beating Serb warrior in action around the world, and, as usual, Djokovic found himself with minimal support compared to Federer in the Wimbledon final. He is used to it and understands it. Soon, if he continues to win titles with such fierce determination but unerring sportsmanship, fans outside Serbia will begin to warm to a man who has already been spoken of in the Balkans as a future President Tito. 

Many will consider that eventuality a stretch, but once he becomes accustomed to his future role as a husband and father, having recently married his long-term girlfriend, Jelena Ristic, who is expecting their first child, he will seek to expand his life beyond the court. With his charity work well established, who knows where that will lead.   

Already appointed Serbia’s Unicef ambassador; winner of the Laureus Sports of the Year Award and lauded by former Serbian president Boris Tadic, who attended his Wimbledon victory in 2011, for “influencing a better image for Serbia”, Djokovic, at the age of 27, stands poised to serve his country in any way it sees fit. 

“If he ran for president, he would win,” says Tadic. Any such thoughts will be a long way off, but Djokovic got a taste of what public life entails when last year he became one of the few sportsmen invited to address the United Nations General Assembly. His speech was fairly bland but he was less reticent when asked, a few days later, about the prospects of air strikes against Syria. 

“I am totally against any kind of weapon, any kind of air strike. I am totally against anything that is destructive. Because I had this personal experience, I know it cannot bring any good to anybody.”

It is a philosophy that will have him ridiculed by hardliners in his battle-scarred region but Djokovic has earned the right to be heard, and if there is one Serb in the world who has proved he can create optimism amidst despair, it is he.

Correction: This article originally mis-spelled the ski resort Kopaonik as Kapaonik. This has now been amended.

Correction: This article originally stated Djokovic learned of the death of Jelena Gencic at the Monte Carlo Open, when it was in fact the French Open. This has now been ammended.

In: , , , ,

Novak Djokovic Defeats Roger Federer to Win U.S. Open

Roger Federer was on a roll: a new service return, renewed confidence and 28 straight sets won coming into the United States Open final.

Once again, Novak Djokovic was the antidote.

After stopping Federer’s momentum in four sets in this year’s Wimbledon final, Djokovic did the same on Sunday, prevailing against an inspired opponent and a hostile crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium to underscore his status as the world’s No. 1 player.

Djokovic’s 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory gave him a second U.S. Open singles title and a 10th Grand Slam singles title, moving him into a tie with Bill Tilden for seventh place on the career list.

Federer remains on top of that pecking order with 17, but Djokovic has prevented him from adding to his record total.

Federer is playing remarkable tennis at age 34, but Djokovic, at 28, is in his prime and remains one of the great tennis conundrums for any opponent with his tactical versatility and peerless defensive skills.

“You have to find the right dose of risk,” Federer said after his latest defeat. “Sometimes I did it well and other times not as well.”
Photo
Novak Djokovic earned his second United States Open trophy. With 10 major singles titles, he is tied with Bill Tilden for seventh on the career list. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Federer has fared much better against Djokovic than most, and their rivalry is the best the men’s game has to offer at the moment, with Rafael Nadal in a slump that could turn out to be a decline.

Federer and Djokovic have played 42 times, and Djokovic’s victory on Sunday tied the series, 21-21.
It remains a contrast in styles, even more so now that Federer has recommitted to the attack under his co-coach Stefan Edberg, the former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion who was a net-rushing marvel at his peak. But Federer has yet to win a major title with Edberg in his camp and is now 6-8 against Djokovic in Grand Slam matches.

“In Grand Slams, the conditions are not as fast,” Federer said. “Take tonight. These were the coolest conditions I’ve had for a month. I’m not saying I lost because of that, but it’s a fact. Also, to play aggressively against him for a longer period of time is even more complicated. That was not really the case today. I had the keys in my hand and did some good things, but I just didn’t win the important points to turn the match or get ahead. He was always in front, more or less, and at one moment or another, that pays off. He’s more relaxed than when playing from behind.”

Djokovic is hardly just a defender. He takes plenty of risks of his own and is particularly adept at transforming seeming vulnerability into offense when extended into the corners of the court.

The level of risk required to break him down is enormous, and he is also a moving target. The tactic that works in the first set may not work in the fourth.

“He’s like a shark,” Goran Ivanisevic, the former Wimbledon champion now coaching Marin Cilic, told BBC Radio here. “If he smells blood, he attacks.”
Photo
Roger Federer congratulating Djokovic, who also beat him to win Wimbledon. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Hardcourts have traditionally been Djokovic’s happiest hunting ground, suiting his precise footwork best. But U.S. Open finals have been more stumbling blocks than showcases for him. He had lost four of the five in which he had played until Sunday. And he literally stumbled in the first set of this final when he lost his balance while changing direction in the fourth game and fell hard to the blue court, scraping his right forearm and looking a bit dazed for the next few points as Federer, who had been broken in the third game, succeeded in breaking back.

“There was still a little bit of moisture on the court, I think, from the rain and a bit of humidity and so forth,” Djokovic said. “I needed two, three games, really, to kind of regroup.”

This much-anticipated final between the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 players was delayed more than three hours by rain. When it finally did begin, it quickly became apparent (and audible) that Djokovic would be playing on the road, with the sellout crowd at Ashe Stadium giving Federer nothing but positive reinforcement and greeting Djokovic’s winners with polite applause at best and frequently cheering for his unforced errors and missed first serves.

Eva Asderaki-Moore, the first female chair umpire to work a U.S. Open men’s singles final, did her best to manage the partisan vibe. Her plea of “Please” became something approximating a mantra, and she also had a remarkable night reading the flow of play, making correct overrules and keeping a firm rein on a match that could easily have escaped control.

A lesser champion than Djokovic might have cracked in such an atmosphere, but this was hardly his first experience with Federer fever, hardly his first experience battling the crowd as well as the opponent.

He has played and won Davis Cup matches for Serbia for many years. He has beaten Lleyton Hewitt of Australia at the Australian Open, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France at the French Open and faced Andy Murray of Britain at Wimbledon, although he was the victim when Murray ended a 77-year singles drought for British men at the All England Club in 2013.

At this stage of his remarkable career, Federer plays in front of a home crowd in nearly every venue. For Federer, such support has certainly made it easier for him to continue to find the motivation after having won all the major titles (except the Olympic gold medal in singles) that there are to win.

“It’s definitely one of the reasons I keep playing,” Federer said. “These goose bump moments.”
Djokovic was diplomatic enough to avoid any triumphant notes in his remarks during the awards ceremonies. If he is weary of playing against the Federer bandwagon, he did not mention it.

“I can’t sit here and criticize the crowd — on the contrary, I think it’s logical to expect that a great player and a champion like Roger has the majority of the support anywhere I play him,” Djokovic said in his postmatch news conference. “I accept the fact. Everybody has a choice to support a player that they want to support. And he absolutely deserves to have the support he does because of all the years and success that he has had and the way he carries himself on and off the court. Me, I’m there to earn the support, and hopefully in the future I can be in that position.”

Still, it seemed an appropriate choice that Djokovic chose to watch the movie “300” on the eve of the Open final. Like the Spartan warriors against the Persians, he was outnumbered, too. One of the film’s stars, Gerard Butler, was in Djokovic’s box on Sunday.

“When I looked at him, I said, This is Sparta,” Djokovic said. “It felt great.”

Djokovic has become as tough to break down mentally as he is tough to break down in a baseline rally. And with Federer’s first-serve percentage stuck below 50 percent, Djokovic won the opening set.

Federer found his form in the second, but as at Wimbledon, he was unable to sustain that drive, even with the crowd fully behind him, cheering for Djokovic’s missed first serves and other errors.
Federer’s final chance to extend the match came in the fourth set, when he cut Djokovic’s two-break advantage to 5-4 from 5-2 and then had three break-point opportunities on the Serb’s serve to get back to 5-5.

Sports Newsletter

Get the big sports news, highlights and analysis from Times journalists, with distinctive takes on games and some behind-the-scenes surprises, delivered to your inbox every week.
But Djokovic saved them all and was soon celebrating in the players’ box with his friends, family, and team, which includes Edberg’s longtime rival Boris Becker, now Djokovic’s head coach. Their cheers had been drowned out for most of the night, but they ended up cheering the loudest as Federer, who converted just 4 of 23 break points in the match, sat glumly in his chair.

“I think it was the right game plan, just execution was sometimes missing in some crucial moments,” Federer said. “But other than that, I think I played a good match. Maybe I haven’t played this offensive for a very long time, and that’s maybe the reason as well why maybe I was slightly shaky when it came to the crunch on the break points. Who knows?”

What is clear is that Djokovic’s victory made his season one of the finest in tennis history — even better in Grand Slam terms than his remarkable 2011 season, when he won three of the major singles titles and lost in the semifinals of the French Open to Federer.

This year, he joined Federer and Rod Laver as the only men in the Open era to reach all four major finals, his only defeat coming in the final of the French Open against Stan Wawrinka, Federer’s inspired Swiss compatriot.

Federer was clearly inspired himself on this summer hardcourt swing: winning in Mason, Ohio (beating Djokovic in the final), and then reaching the U.S. Open final without losing so much as a set. But beating Djokovic over a best-of-five-set match is still the biggest challenge in men’s tennis, and Federer, for all his tennis genius, has not managed it since the Wimbledon semifinals in 2012.
At least he knows his efforts are appreciated.

“It’s a great consolation for me to receive this kind of support in a country that is a long way from Switzerland and is one of the countries that is the most powerful in sports in general,” Federer said of Sunday’s crowd. “They love winners here.”

Djokovic might disagree.

Correction: September 17, 2015 
 
An article on Monday about Novak Djokovic winning men’s singles at the United States Open misstated, in some editions, his record against Andy Murray at Wimbledon. While he has faced Murray there, he has not beaten him.

Game tree: the unstoppable Novak Djokovic

The Unstoppable Novak Djokovic. Photo: Getty

Twelve months ago, Novak Djokovic headed Down Under with a score to settle after an epic five-set quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka in 2014. Last January, Djokovic would meet Wawrinka again, this time in the semifinals, and this time Djokovic would be the victor.
Djokovic would go on to defeat Andy Murray in the Australian Open final, and from that point on, the Serb was almost unstoppable. By the end of the 2015 season, Djokovic had won 11 titles, including three Grand Slams, and finished the year with an incredible win-loss record of 82-6.

To celebrate Djokovic’s historic season, we present his 2015 interactive Game Tree. Djokovic’s Game Tree allows you to explore his 1033 service games played in 2015.
This rare point-by-point summary shows where Djokovic’s history-breaking season was won – and rarely lost.

How the game tree works

Djokovic how it works
The game tree shows how dominant (or not) Djokovic was on serve during the 2015 season. This unique visualisation gives us a better understanding of the final score, and how close Djokovic’s service games were.
Each point in the game tree is color-coded to reflect the momentum in each of Djokovic’s service games. A match that is dominated by Djokovic is highlighted with a thicker, outside flow through the ‘positive’ points of the game tree. More tightly-contested service games result in thicker lines through the ‘neutral’ and ‘negative’ points of the Game Tree.
Click on each line to reveal how many times the player won or lost that point.

Fast facts
 
• Djokovic played 1033 service games in 2015.
• He won 923 (89.4 per cent) of his service games.
• He won almost one-third (29.2 per cent) of his service games from 40-15.
• His most successful point is at deuce, where he wins 81.3 per cent of the time.
• His least successful point is at 15-0, where he wins 65.9 per cent of the time.

Matches to look out for
 
Not all of Djokovic’s service games were straight out the textbook as his results might suggest. Yes, he was brutally dominant at times against players like Marcos Baghdatis at the BNP Paribas Masters, where Baghdatis failed to put any pressure whatsoever on Novak’s serve (see below).
We saw many more tightly-contested service games in his match against Tomas Berdych at Monte Carlo. The game tree shows that Berdych had some serious opportunities, having Novak 0-30 six times throughout the match. Unfortunately, Djokovic was able to wrestle back the momentum from half of these points and went on to win the match 7-5 4-6 6-3.
Andy Murray, one of the few players beat Djokovic in 2015, did so at the Coupe Rogers in Toronto. Murray piled on the pressure and pushed Novak to deuce six times throughout the match. Murray won half of these and would break one other time at 30-40. That would be enough for a rare victory for Murray.

Three matches to look out for
Summary
 
Djokovic’s 2015 season was no doubt one for the ages, but he didn’t always have it his own way as the results might suggest. The final score of course is only a small part of a much larger and more complex story, and the game tree enables us to better understand that score. Here we have explored just a few interesting examples of patterns and trends that we may have not have seen using conventional tennis reporting methods.
I encourage you to use the game tree to take a deeper dive into some of Novak’s classic matches last year and to see what might have been for some of his closest rivals, as they begin their assault to dethrone the undisputed 2015 king of men’s tennis.

Notes
 
Walkovers not included.
The Djokovic v Nishikori match at World Tour Finals is not included due to incomplete data.
Damien Saunder is a performance analyst who supports elite tennis players and coaches in the area of data visualisation and analytics.

In: , , , ,

Can Novak Djokovic be the Greatest of All Time? (interesting article)

Can Novak Djokovic be the Greatest of All Time?

The dust has well and truly settled from Novak Djokovic lifting the Wimbledon title. It was another major victory for the Serb that has been accompanied by significantly less fanfare than his compatriots. Now with 9 Grand Slam titles, he is certainly entering the argument as to whether he can become the greatest tennis player of all time.

17 is the magic number. Surpass the mammoth total set by Roger Federer and all other statistics and records will fade into the background. Sure, weeks at number one, career titles and win percentage would contribute to this debate, but Grand Slam titles has become the de facto measure of who is the greatest.

– Lob and Smash 2015 Grand Slam Predictions –

Djokovic has established a mighty stranglehold on the top titles in tennis. Once again in 2015 he is been near unbeatable at the headline events, including Grand Slams as well as Masters 1000 events. His unerring consistency is quickly launching the world number one into the history books.

Age: 28 (22 May 1987)

Grand Slam Finals: 9 (5 AUS, 3 WIM, 1 US)

Grand Slam Titles: 17 (5 AUS, 3 FRA, 4 WIM, 5 US)

At 28 years of age, Djokovic is the kind of physical specimen who you can imagine will enjoy an extended career. Meticulous with detail both on and off the court, he has matured into the model athlete in so many ways. His body seems impervious to injury, something that helped Roger Federer challenge for so many majors in his prime.

Putting numbers to the discussion is based heavily in speculation. Saying that he could have five more years at the very top of the sport would suggest that he will compete in, approximately, 20 more majors. In the last five years he has won 8, evidencing why many believe he is within striking distance of 19.

Imagining how he will register 8 more Grand Slams to tie the all-time record, or 9 to beat it, requires some level of optimism, but it isn’t out of the realms of possibility. His hold over the Australian Open is remarkable, whilst he has won Wimbledon for the last two years.

His lone US Open win will be earmarked for improvement. He has lost four finals in New York and his tilt at being the very best may well hinge on righting that record. Even the French Open, where he barron run continued in surprise fashion, is not out of his reach.

Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam History

Tournament 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Aus Open 1R 1R 4R W QF QF W W W QF W
French Open 2R QF SF SF 3R QF SF F SF F F
Wimbledon 3R 4R SF 2R QF SF W SF F W W
US Open 3R 3R F SF SF F W F F SF –

Who Can Stop Him?

Much of the discussion will centre around Djokovic himself and rightly so. He has shown that on his day, he is virtually unbeatable. Performances that have halted his progress, especially at the majors, have had to be inspired. Look no further than Stan Wawrinka in Paris.

However, other names in a variety of ways could have a huge impact of Djokovic’s quest. This has been the era of the Big Four and none of the four men have ever let each other win anything without a fight. Young and emerging talent will also been desperate to end the dominance of Djokovic and co.

Roger Federer

Federer may not have many years in him to contest directly with Djokovic in the latter rounds of Slams, however, he can push the record out of reach. If he were to win one or two more majors, then the number that Djokovic is targeting goes from being hard to nearly impossible.

Andy Murray

You would have to think that in the next few years Djokovic’s main rival will be Murray. The pair have already contested 5 Grand Slam titles, with Djokovic leading their head to head on the biggest stage 3 to 2. He is much more dominant in their career head to head, holding a 19-8 advantage.

Currently the world number 1 has the measure of Murray, winning their last eight meetings. The Britain will soon be the world number 2 and that means that the pair will only have more meetings in the finals of events.

– Andy Murray having career year in 2015 –

Murray may well be going through a barren patch against Djokovic, but if there is one characteristic that has marked his career it is his steely resolve. He will be looking for solutions to get back at the Serbian star, knowing that it is his own personal hurdle preventing him from more Grand Slam success.

Kei Nishikori

You have to think that a player outside of the Big Four is going to emerge as a consistent contender at the Grand Slams. It is something that we have been expecting for a number of years, yet still it hasn’t come to fruition. Stan Wawrinka is the only player to have truly shaken the status quo.

I think that Nishikori could be the man to step into the shoes of the Big Four as their powers begin to decline. He is effective on all surfaces, has shown his pedigree at the Grand Slams and when he is fully fit I believe he is a match for anyone.

Young Talent

One of the biggest unknowns in this debate is whether a player will emerge to challenge Djokovic for the major titles that he craves. Whilst we can be sure that the likes of Kyrgios and Thiem are a distance off going all the way, in a few years it is much harder to predict their level.

Djokovic has done a great job in recent years dampening the hopes of those around him. He does so by consistently reproducing a frighteningly high level of tennis. He most certainly has the ability to become the greatest of all time, but will he have the longevity to get close to 17 majors?

Novak Djokovic Serbian tennis player

Novak Djokovic, (born May 22, 1987, Belgrade, Yugoslavia [now in Serbia]), Serbian tennis player who was one of the game’s premier performers in the early 21st century, when he won 11 Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic took up tennis at age four and quickly ascended the junior ranks. Despite the hardships that came with growing up in the war-torn Serbia of the 1990s, he became Europe’s top-ranked 14-and-under player and later the number one 16-and-under player on the continent before turning professional in 2003. Djokovic entered the top 100 of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) at age 18, and in July 2006 he won his first ATP event. After advancing to the semifinals at both the 2007 French Open and Wimbledon, he reached the finals of that year’s U.S. Open but lost in straight sets to Roger Federer. Djokovic’s hot play continued into 2008 as he won the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, the Australian Open, becoming the first Serbian man to win one of tennis’s four most prestigious singles championships.

Djokovic’s progress plateaued for almost three years, as he won just 10 ATP men’s singles tournaments and reached only one Grand Slam final (the 2010 U.S. Open) between February 2008 and the end of 2010. His fortunes turned in December 2010 when he led the Serbian Davis Cup team to the country’s first Davis Cup title. His Davis Cup victories marked the beginning of a 43-match winning steak—the third longest such streak in the Open era (since 1968)—which included a second Australian Open title in January 2011. Djokovic’s remarkable streak ended with a French Open semifinal loss to Federer, but his strong play helped him rise to the number one world ranking shortly after he defeated Rafael Nadal to capture the 2011 Wimbledon championship. Djokovic later defeated Nadal in the U.S. Open final to claim his third Grand Slam title of the year.

At the Australian Open in 2012, he again bested Nadal, winning a five-set thriller that lasted nearly six hours. The two met for the fourth consecutive Grand Slam final at the 2012 French Open, where Djokovic lost to Nadal in four sets. In 2013 Djokovic defeated Andy Murray to win his fourth Australian Open title, and he captured another Wimbledon championship the following year when he beat Federer in a dramatic five-set final. He again beat Murray to capture his fifth career Australian Open in 2015, which made Djokovic the all-time leader in Australian Open men’s singles championships during the Open era. After a loss in the 2015 French Open final, the top-ranked Djokovic bested Federer to win his third Wimbledon championship. He continued his hot play at the U.S. Open, beating Federer in the final to capture his 10th career Grand Slam title. Djokovic ran his winning streak in Grand Slam matches to 21 when he beat Murray in straight sets in the final of the 2016 Australian Open.

In: , , ,

Scary Thought: Novak Djokovic Is Getting Better at Tennis

When the Australian Open begins in Melbourne next week, tennis fans should brace themselves for the impossible: Novak Djokovic, the dominant No. 1 player in the world, might be better than ever.

Djokovic had one of the finest seasons in history in 2015. He won three Grand Slam titles and lost in the final of the fourth. He won 11 titles overall. He reached 15 consecutive finals. He ripped top-10 opponents to bits and pieces, compiling a 31-5 record against them. He became the second man ever to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open. If not for an inspired Stan Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic at the French Open, Djokovic would have become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Grand Slam singles titles in a season.

Can the 28-year-old Djokovic possibly do better this year? Chances are slim, because there are always injuries, upsets and fluky performances in tennis. The sport just isn’t as easy as Djokovic makes it look. Yet the 2016 season is only a few weeks old and Djokovic is already making people wonder. In Doha last week, he won his first title of the year without dropping a set and beat two more top-10 opponents, including long-time rival Nadal in the final.

Djokovic didn’t just beat Nadal. He destroyed him by a score of 6-1, 6-2. Djokovic hit 30 winners to Nadal’s nine, never lost his serve and showed nice touch at the net, where he hit a few lunging volleys. Djokovic even clobbered overheads, the one shot in his arsenal that has (occasionally) looked awkward in his time at the top. For the first time in his career, Djokovic now has a winning record against Nadal in their rivalry, 24-23. He has won their last five meetings, all in straight sets.

“It did feel as close to perfection as it can get,” Djokovic said after the Doha victory. “There are those days when you see a tennis ball as a watermelon, and I guess this was that kind of day.”
Advertisement

Nadal had a weak season, by his standards, in 2015, but he’s still relentless, athletic, and tireless—a man who doesn’t take a lot of drubbings. He also played much better at the end of 2015 and says he feels good about his game headed into Australia. Yet against Djokovic, Nadal was rarely in control of a point.

“I played against a player who did everything perfect,” Nadal said. “Since I know this sport I never saw somebody playing at this level.”

Brad Gilbert, an ESPN commentator and the former coach of Andre Agassi, gushed about Djokovic’s performance.

“He is as complete of a tennis player as I’ve ever seen,” Gilbert said. “The biggest change in the last two years, the reason why I think he’s become almost invincible, is how much more controlled offense he’s played.”

Djokovic’s baseline attack has become more difficult to read. In the Doha final, Nadal several times hesitated as he tried to anticipate where Djokovic would hit the ball. Crosscourt? Down the line? Deep to the middle? A short angle? Djokovic kept hitting his spots until he caught Nadal leaning, and then he hit a winner. It looked like Djokovic was downloading Nadal’s mind in real time. Nadal’s lefty forehand, one of the best the sport has ever seen, had little impact on Djokovic’s two-handed backhand in crosscourt rallies.

“His backhand is scripted from God,” Gilbert said.

ENLARGE
Novak Djokovic takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. Photo: paul crock/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

As close to perfect as Djokovic is playing, invincible is a risky word in tennis. One tweaked ankle or badly timed illness, like the one that left Djokovic looking pale just before the start of last year’s Australian Open, can lead to defeat. Besides Nadal, there is also Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the future, players like Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Borna Coric, who don’t seem like threats to Djokovic just yet but might in a few months.

Runs like the one Djokovic is on tend to make everyone forget that tennis can change quickly. Federer used to dominate like this, and seemed likely to win at least 20 Grand Slam singles titles in his career. And then along came Nadal, followed by Djokovic. Federer remains one of the game’s best at age 34—he begins this season ranked third, behind Djokovic and Murray—but he has been stuck at 17 major titles since the summer of 2012 (Nadal has 14 and Djokovic has 10).

Right now, Djokovic looks like he should never lose a tournament, Grand Slam or otherwise. He has looked that way for a while, but no one can keep up that pace indefinitely.

“Nobody is invincible,” Djokovic said in Doha. “I know that it can’t go forever, but I’m not thinking too much ahead of myself. I don’t try to make any kind of predictions.”