Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Novak Djokovic - New York State of Mind

The Montreal Masters was very surprising in some ways, but in others confirmed what we already knew.

It gave us a lot to digest ahead of the final Grand Slam of the season. In the men's draw, I was surprised to see Roger Federer lose to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - even if the Frenchman must be given a lot of credit for the victory.

The Swiss, back in great shape since Roland Garros, lost for the second time in a row against Tsonga. Already victim of a 'Rafael Nadal complex', I fear the same could happen with regards to Tsonga.

Without taking anything away from Jo, Roger worried me with his resignation; however matches of this type are essential if he is to get back to the top and start winning Grand Slams again.

Roger needs intense matches, challenging ones, in order to turn around the big ones when it matters most. It's the only thing he lacks right now - but he often refuses to enter into such fights.

Does Jo impress him? Maybe; he certainly should do. Such an attacking player, combining efficiency and power, is rare on the ATP Tour. Michael Llodra, Ernests Gulbis can hold their own in this way - but not at the same level as Jo in the last few weeks.

The slower surfaces have standardised an approach that was at first based on a solid baseline game; however he also takes risks, which can disturb any player.

Jo is constantly going for shots. His first serves always hurt so he can protect himself with this shot: he goes for a winner on every second serve while returning and comes to the net as soon as he can. This means the opponent is less free to play, and becomes afraid of this aggression. They know the set or match may be over if they are broken.

 He is also more and more relaxed, playing with a good deal of spontaneity, which reminds me of Pete Sampras and Pat Rafter. And he is a respected player - it's a pity he had to give up in his semi-final against Novak Djokovic. He was tired after playing both the singles and doubles - with Stanislas Wawrinka - in Canada.

But now he knows where he stands as the US Open nears: he feels that the best players fear him and that he can beat them all. He'll arrive in New York with the best possible situation.

Not like Rafael Nadal, beaten by Ivan Dodig in the second round. With his five losses to Djokovic, his mental game has been hurt. His best ability is the way he plays the key points in full gear, without mistakes, and pushes the other player into errors. But today, Rafa is missing those key points and is unable to go for the kill when he has an opportunity.

His confidence was not an act - it was built on results. He was winning nearly everything and on clay he was unbeatable. He still has the same physical abilities, but he's not the same player. Nadal is special in the sense that he reached the top level without having learnt to lose. It gave him huge power, for sure, but the consequences can now be seen. Nadal is shaken by the losses Djokovic inflicted on him.

Yet Djokovic is not just anybody. He has just won his ninth title of the year and his fifth Masters of the season - a first in the tennis history. In his behaviour, he hasn't changed at all: in the players' lounge you can see him playing ping-pong with Viktor Troicki and he always looks chilled and happy. His self-belief is huge. He beat Mardy Fish in the final without really playing his best, but that's one of his abilities: finding a way to win even when he's not at his best.

Fish isn't on the same page as the very top players, but two things are interesting in the American who is now a top-10 player. First, he has lost a lot of weight. Tennis is a speedy game, with constant changes of direction - being overweight really hampers a player's balance and game. That is why a lot of players have lost weight these past few months.

For Fish it was a decision: it's a new proof that a sincere and accepted choice made by a player, at the right time, can help him reach new heights.

Those unable to do that are staying still: Andy Murray is one player suffering from that, reliving the same disappointments season after season without taking the necessary decisions to change things.

There was another failure in Montreal this week, where he lost his first match against Anderson. And again he said he didn't play his best... but all the top players know how to also win on bad days - ask Djokovic if he play dream-like tennis every day.

A word now on Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. Monfils is still playing too defensively: when things aren't going his way, he struggles to hang in there and fight. But he's still moving forward because he was already doing good things and now is doing them better and better. His natural abilities are huge. But the way to the top is still closed for him because he lacks the ability to play the key points at 100 per cent.

Gasquet is looking comfortable working with Sebastien Grosjean. I hope that after the US Open he will build a schedule allowing him to out together a winning streak, even if it means playing in the smaller events.

Courtesy: Yahoo

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