I just wanted to share a couple of my thoughts from last week’s U.S Open. Novak Djokovic is the real deal. Going 64-2 (one of the most successful years in history) with 6 wins (all in championship matches) against Rafael Nadal is no fluke. He won three of the four major tournaments and looked dominant every time. His four set victory over Nadal in the U.S Open final was a
thing of beauty. Nadal looked overmatched and had a look of disbelief and frustration. You can tell that he has no idea how to beat the guy anymore. Djokovic’s cross court return against Roger Federer when Roger had a double match point was one of the most difficult and courageous shots I had ever seen. Federer was not the same from that point on.
The top four in tennis have been Nadal, Roger Federer, Djokovic, and Andy Murray (usually in that order) for quite some time. Nadal and Federer have been the well-liked gentlemen that have led the sport with dignity. Djokovic (the chest pounding cocky guy) and Murray (the complete hot head) have always been in their shadows. Any time Djokovic or Murray played Federer and Nadal, the crowd (no matter where it was) always seemed to pull for the established favorites who have always been so well-behaved.
Then something changed this year. Djokovic seemed to mature as a person. He became more of the gentleman that tennis demands. He was more easy going on camera and on the court. He seemed to enjoy himself (although 64 wins will do that too) more and more. He started to become likeable. Judging by the crowd support for Federer and Nadal in Djokovic’s final two matches, the tennis world has been slow to recognize his change. The crowd was completely rooting against Djokovic from the onset despite his historic 2011 success. Yet, he maintained his composure and defeated the two mainstays of the sport with class.
No one seems to be able to explain the reason for Djokovic’s success. His arms are as skinny as ever and he really isn’t hitting the ball that much harder. Something must have clicked for him. He has become the best returner in the sport since Agassi. He is the San Antonio Spurs of tennis. He isn’t flashy, but he is built on defense and fundamentals. He makes few errors and just outlasts his opponents with superior defense and footwork. Last Monday, he completely out-Nadaled Nadal. Rafa was scampering all over the place while Djokovic maintained his position firmly on the baseline. Also, Nadal is 25, Djokovic is 24. These are two guys playing in their prime.
This, to me, shows the beauty of sports. Nadal has owned the sport for the last several years. Djokovic could have felt sorry for himself that he is the same age as one of tennis’s all time greats. But he kept working and improving and somehow overcame a legend who is in his prime. He overcame all odds and shocked the tennis world with hard work and determination. That’s what sports is all about and that’s why you play the game. It’s time we applaud Djokovic for what he was able to accomplish this year.