Friday, July 12, 2013

Dissecting Djokovic

We've all done a good job dissecting Andy Murray and his first Wimbledon title of late. We're practically obsessed with it. We are writing about it, reading about it, toying with the notion of it, contemplating the grandness of it, and that's all well and good.

But I haven't seen too much talk of Novak Djokovic. He's been sort of lost in the wake of the massive Murray wave that is still rippling through mainstream tennis publications. But I do believe it is finally time to circle back to the Serb and try to decipher what it all might mean for Novak Djokovic, now that he'll be leaving Europe with nothing but bitter memories and the taste of heartbreak on his tongue.

Now that Murray has defeated Djokovic in two of the last four Grand slam finals, we must ask: Does Murray's achievement imply that Djokovic is a soon-to-be World No. 2? Is Djokovic already on the other side of the mountain, with his best years (year?) already behind him? Hard to say. He's still the world number one by a large margin. He is still a phenomenal freak of nature, an uncanny artist of the angle, and an on-court contortionist of the highest regard...

Oh, I know why we're not talking about Novak Djokovic lately: Because we're talking about Andy Murray!!!!! Murray tous les jours and vivre le Murray, all the oceans and all the stars Murray, and deservedly so.

That said, FYI, in this corner of the blogosphere I've decided to put a moratorium on Murray talk, as excruciating as that might be, for the sake of discussing Djokovic.

Remember him? Serbian guy. Short hair, no gluten, does imitations. Floats like a gumby stings like a bee. Has dominated Tennis since 2011. The only guy with a snowball's chance in hell of defeating Rafael Nadal on a clay court. Remember now? 184-24 since the beginning of 2011? Won five of the last eleven Grand Slams, only missing the finals of three? Yeah, that guy.

He's been a revelation, but he's also proven himself to be vulnerable this year, Dkojovic. He's been close to perfect a lot of times, even been perfect for slivers, but Djokovic hasn't been perfect enough to dominate the game like he did in 2011.

There were times this year, particularly after Australia and after Monte Carlo, where we imagined Djokovic might slip into his Superman costume and make mincemeat out of the rest of the big four once again. There he was, serving, needing only two games for what would have been a momumental victory over Nadal in the Roland Garros semis; suddenly he gets too cute on what should have been an easy put-away and ends up doing the tango of death with the net.

In the end what looked to be the possible makings of a run at the calendar-year Grand slam was just another searing heartache. If Djokovic had won this year's French Open we'd be tipping him for double-digit Grand Slams by the end of 2014. But as it stands, we aren't even tipping him for 10 by the end of his career. The fact of the matter is that the loss to Murray has taken Djokovic down a notch in terms of reputation.

Now, it seems more likely that Murray will dominate the next two years, and if Murray dominates the next two years where does that leave Djokovic?

Impossible to know. There were times during that Wimbledon final Where Djokovic looked as good as he ever has. There were other times where it was hard not to be scratching your head about his decisions. Why did he come to net so many times when it was clearly a losing strategy? What was the rush? Even on Murray's first match point, Djokovic played a suicidal sequence at the net that took him three pitch-perfect volleys to win. Why was he so reluctant on this day to spar with the Scot from the baseline, especially when the alternative was clearly doomed to fail?

Djokovic wasn't outclassed in the Wimbledon final by any means. He had very good chances, with break leads in the second and third sets, but his inability to recognize that attacking the net behind anything but a near-perfect approach was a tactic that was doomed to fail and inevitably lead to his downfall.

Was it ego?

Was he injured?

Will it happen again?

All fair questions, and in time we will know all the answers. For now, all we know is that Djokovic's most dominant year appears to be behind him while Murray may be in the midst or on the cusp of his most dominant period.

But keep in mind that if Djokovic wins the U.S. Open this summer he'll have finished a three-year period in which he'd won fifty percent of the Slams and participated in the final of 75 percent.

That's the fickleness of tennis. One day you're the cat's meow and the next you're the cat's hairball. Djokovic could be either by the end of the summer, and only time will tell.

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