Friday, 7 January 2011

Novak Djokovic is closing the gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

AUSTRALIA, for Novak Djokovic, is a land of contradiction.

It is the scene of career extremes. Forever the place he first attained greatness when winning the 2008 Australian Open, it is also the cruel country he once departed to a chorus of slurs about his courage and character after he quit mid-match a year later.

Now, with the Australian Open only a week away, it is the setting where one astute veteran believes he could yet eclipse two of the greatest players in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to claim a second crown.

Djokovic has arrived in Australia in a euphoric mood and sizzling form. Only a month ago he led Serbia to its maiden Davis Cup, a victory that elevated him to sporting immortality in the war-torn nation at just 23 years of age. He believes that triumph has made him "a better man, a better person". And boy, what a party.

"We had great times. All the country was celebrating. It was very nice because every time some big success happens in any of the bigger sports in our country, any world title or European title or gold medal or any medal at an Olympic Games, it's tradition to celebrate in City Hall terrace on the balcony," Djokovic said.

"It was an amazing feeling, definitely. They stopped the traffic in Belgrade in the middle of the city and all the cars stopped. They went with all the flags, everybody was celebrating that night. It was a dream come true for all of us and I can rate that as my biggest achievement in my tennis career."

The Davis Cup commitments meant that the world No 3 played a longer season than his elite rivals, but he does not appear fatigued despite a short off-season.

Beginning the year at Perth's Hopman Cup with childhood friend Ana Ivanovic _ they play in the decider today _ Djokovic has been in stunning form.

After taking a set to shake jet lag against Andrey Golubev, Djokovic crushed Lleyton Hewitt in his next match.

It is Hewitt who believes Djokovic has closed the gap on the world's top two players, stating that Nadal needed to produce "a superhuman" effort to conquer the Serbian in the US Open final in September.

Djokovic's movement, Hewitt said, is as good as any player in the world and after tinkering with his serve with less-than-desired results, the motion is again smooth and now a significant weapon. Most importantly, Djokovic said he has the hunger to succeed.

"I am really happy to hear that, especially from someone like Lleyton," Djokovic said.

"I played a great match against him and in the last five or six months of 2010, everything seems to be working for me in a good way. I was much more consistent. I have the motivation, I have the desire and I think I have the qualities in order to compete with the best and now it is just a matter of luck, to have it in the right moment."

Aside from the two superstars, the harsh climate of this sunburnt country again poses the biggest threat for Djokovic, who has been troubled by the heat in the past.

His decision to quit as defending champion in a quarter-final of the 2009 Australian Open, when trailing Andy Roddick, drew sharp criticism from several players including Federer, who noted Djokovic had retired before at grand slam level. Interestingly, Djokovic maintains that he did the right thing by forfeiting and did not rule out pulling the plug again.

"A couple of years back, it was very sad that I had to end the Australian Open, 2009, with a retirement, which I really don't like. But there are those moments in your life when you really want to stay healthy and don't want to push over the limit," he said.

Unfortunately, Djokovic will miss the final of the Hopman Cup because his partner Ana Ivanovic suffering a stomach strain during her straight sets loss to Justine Henin on Thursday.

Serbia's place in the final will now be taken by Belgium, who finished second in group A.

Courtesy: The Australian

No comments:

Post a Comment