Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bow Down!

Novak Djokovic will take a much needed break this week. That gives us all time to stop and appreciate his incredible start to 2011.

It's hard to fully comprehend the magnitude of Novak Djokovic's achievements this year because it's all happening so fast, but it's pretty safe to say that no matter what transpires for the rest of the year, the 23-year-old Serb has gone above and beyond any and all expectations.

Of course, you have to look at the numbers first -- 26 consecutive wins and 8 consecutive wins against top ten opponents being the most impressive of those -- but there is much more to the story than just pure numbers.

Djokovic's story is one of maturation, more than anything else. Long considered enigmatic, inconsistent, and a trifle unfocused, Djokovic has somehow transformed himself into a picture of stern concentration and stoic self belief. In the past, he'd often come unglued, falling off the tracks at inopportune moments, mailing in a match here or suffering from a heat related malady there, but these days Djokovic is playing as if possessed by some higher power.

The results have been startling, and most of all, inspiring.

What's not to love about Djokovic's renaissance? We're always so quick to point out what's wrong with the best players in the world, and Djokovic has not been an exception, so why shouldn't we be just as quick to heap our praise on the man?

Ever since he stormed the top of the tennis ranks with huge back-to-back victories over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Montreal in 2007, we've been expecting the world from Novak Djokovic. Now that he's valiantly knocking at the door of the No. 1 ranking, it's time to recognize -- and give props to -- the remarkable turnaround that Djokovic has engineered.

What he has done is what we wish for so many young stars to do -- think Murray, think Gulbis, think Berdych, think Querrey. We want them to do everything in their power to reach their highest potential, even though we're very aware of the fact that only a select few of them will do it.

Djokovic, through hard work and spirited determination, has done it, and he's done it with aplomb. Possessed by some inexplicable desire to improve on his already world-class game, he has dug down deep inside himself and pulled out more brilliant tennis than probably even he could have expected.

He's overcome his propensity for breathing issues under extreme stress. He's repaired his serve to the point where it's no longer a liability but a bona fide weapon. And, probably most importantly, he's built a furnace of belief inside his belly and found a way to keep it burning.

The wins have been amazing, but the most endearing part of the Djokovic story this season has been his continued evolution as a person and as a player. The Serb has followed his own muse, and now he's become a man before our very eyes. While he's still the same light-hearted happy-go-lucky comic at heart, it's apparent that Djokovic now possesses that champion's yoke, the inner calm, and the stiffened resolve that has made all his success possible.

Down 5-1 in the first set of last week's final in Miami against Rafael Nadal we witnessed a classic example of just how far Djokovic has come. He was in huge trouble, playing far below his best tennis, and nobody would have faulted him for letting his game disintegrate after running the table for all of 2011. Here, we thought, is a reasonable place for this unbelievable run to stop.

Not so fast.

Here was yet another chance for the new Nole to let his belief do the talking.

In the end, the match against Nadal wasn't so much about the end result. Whether he won or lost, you got the feeling that the changes that have taken place in Djokovic's head will guide him to more than his share of victories going forward.

He's a man now -- or should I say THE MAN -- and it's time to give him his due.


  1. For me, Novak remains a wrestling heel: the guy I love to root against. Impossible to criticize his play so far this year, his accuracy and flexibility and doggedness are amazing to see.

    But I still enjoy rooting against him and I hope he gets his butt handed to him by Rafa and/or Roger sometime soon on clay and/or grass =)

  2. Great piece, Chris. Very fair.
    My only, very slight objection is with the phrase "the remarkable turnaround he engineered". No doubt he has vastly improved in all areas, but "a remarkable turnaround"? I wouldn't go so far. Let's not forget that even in the days when he lost focus, had problems with the heat and health issues, even in those days, nobody was better than him except Roger and Rafa. He ended as the #3 player at the end-of-year rankings for 4 consecutive years. That's amazing consistency.
    He was the best of the rest for 4 consecutive years. Now he's ready to try and be the best period. That's not really a turnaround. That's just plain improvement. He has always been moving in the same direction.

  3. Good points Yolita -- Maybe turnaround isn't the perfect word, but whatever the heck it is it's impressive...

  4. Alex -- you never know. That's the beauty of where we are right now. 1/4 of the season in the rear view mirror, but so much left to get excited about.


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