Thursday, 31 March 2011
But I can't remember a time when Nadal and Federer were both eating the dust of a player who, if not more highly ranked, was certainly playing better and more consistently over an extended period.
Of course, I mean Novak Djokovic, who just may turn in a perfect score in the first (or Australian Open) quarter of the tennis year. Djokovic hasn't lost a match this year. In fact, he hasn't lost one since November, and it was pretty apparent that he lost that partly because he was preoccupied, looking ahead a few weeks to what would be Serbia's first taste of ultimate Davis Cup glory.
You have to go pretty far back to find a guy who rolled through the first three months of the year undefeated, although the number of events a player chooses to enter certainly has a bearing on that. Among the past five men to win the first major of the year (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Marat Safin and Andre Agassi, which takes us back nine years to 2003), only Djokovic has gone into Miami, the last event of the early hard-court segment, with a chance to run the table and finish the segment at 24-0 (he's currently 18-0).
But this isn't just an opportunity for Djokovic, it's also a great chance for Nadal or Federer to play an unfamiliar role for men of their status -- that of the spoiler. Strange as it seems to think of them in that light, it's about the best either man could do to salvage his early season. Federer has already lost to Djokovic three times this year (although he still has a superior 13-9 head-to-head record). Rafa Nadal is 2-4 in his past six matches with Djokovic, including Sunday's Indian Wells final, and has yet to win a tournament this year (Djokovic has played and won three).
Even if such august personages as Federer and Nadal relish the role of the spoiler, it's going to take more than willingness to beat Djokovic. He's shown this year that Federer just can't hit through him anymore; Djokovic's groundstrokes are too heavy, his court coverage too good, and he changes the direction of the ball and moves from defense to offense too expertly.
Nadal is better-equipped to handle Djokovic off the ground, but the very serve that pulled the No. 1 player through the U.S. Open final against Djokovic hasn't been seen much this year. An excellent returner, Djokovic can neutralize and pressure Nadal -- in essence, set him back on his heels and keep him off balance with a combination of great defense and quick-strike offense.
On top of that, Djokovic has always had a cocky streak, and now that has morphed into formidable level of confidence. The main question in my mind is whether Djokovic is fully focused on completing this transcontinental double. Only five players have won Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back: Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, Agassi, Rios and Federer (who did it twice, in 2005 and 2006).
After Indian Wells ended Sunday, Djokovic flew to Colombia to play an exhibition with Nadal, and then he threw the weight of his name and presence behind a worthwhile cause, the charity soccer match and dinner to raise money for Japan in the wake of the recent earthquake tragedy. Djokovic can be distracted, we've seen that in the past. And with three titles under his belt and the European clay-court circuit looming, he might be tempted to take his foot off the gas.
And I have a feeling Federer and Nadal would me more than happy to help him remove it.
N. DJOKOVIC/K. Anderson
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. If you look at the numbers, it sounds like an easy game, but didn't look an easy one.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, it was anything but easy. Almost two hour match for 6 4, 6 2, I mean, result doesn't show what we had on the court definitely. I mean, I kind of expected him to be aggressive, but he was really going for the shots. He was really putting a lot of pressure on me. A lot. His serve was exceptionally well and hard to read.
In the second set I found that momentum, but I went through situations where I faced couple of breakpoints in the first and second set, and I saved them. You know, I was fortunate in those moments. If he broke me, who knows in which direction the match would go.
Q. But you looked very comfortable and you were enjoying the match. Looked like you were having fun?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: When I was two breaks up in the second set I was comfortable sure, but not before that.
Q. You play against a guy with a big serve. Is there a special way to prepare for that kind of match?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I had Karlovic serving on my warmup. I was trying to prepare in some ways, but, you know, it's very challenging to play a big server who's very aggressive. And if he serves well and very precise and if he manages to get some free points on his service games, he puts a lot of pressure on your serve, and then you're in trouble.
Then you need to try to get as many returns back and get into the rallies. I knew that in the rallies I have a little bit more chance. Some bit slower conditions in the night, so I was kind of relying on that. But he really played well.
Q. Can you tell me about your next opponent, what you think about?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think he's on a great run. He's been playing some really good tennis this week, beating high ranked players, quality players. Today he looked really confident on the court. If he serves well, then he can really beat anybody, I think. It's going to be really unpredictable what's going to happen. Very good match. I look forward to it.
Q. Your next opponent says that playing during the day and night in this tournament is two completely different tournaments.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah.
Q. You've played both during the day and night...
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think I've played all during the night actually, all four matches. So it's going to be different playing during the day. It's going to be faster, and I think it's a little bit more suitable to him.
But, you know, I have a day to recover, to get used to it, to get some practice. I'm sure I'll be fine.
Q. You had five breakpoints to save. You saved all of them. Isn't it the best proof of your confidence and hat your confidence is as high a possible?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, yes. You know, I served well in the moments when I needed to. Okay, he missed some shots, but, you know, I feel that mentally I'm more stable nowadays. Obviously with confidence you're you believe in your shots. You're going for some shots, and it comes back to you.
Q. That's 24 wins in a row going back to last year.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Uh huh.
Q. That must develop its own confidence.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I mean, you obviously get confidence with 24 wins in a row. I mean, it keeps getting better, of course. But I don't want to be carried away from that. I want to keep on working hard and taking one match at a time. You know, when it stops, it stops, but I'm definitely focusing on the next opponent.
World No 2 Djokovic defeated unseeded Anderson 6-4, 6-2 in a quarterfinal match at the $9 million ATP Masters 1000 hardcourt tournament.
"When I was two breaks up in the second set I was comfortable sure, but not before that," Djokovic said. "In the second set I found that momentum, but I went through situations where I faced a couple of break points in the first and second set, and I saved them.
"I was fortunate in those moments."
Djokovic, who has won all of his 22 matches this season, will face American Mardy Fish in the semifinals.
Djokovic has now won 24 consecutive matches dating back to last year's Davis Cup final.
"You obviously get confidence with 24 wins in a row," he said. "It keeps getting better. But I don't want to be carried away with that.
"I want to keep on working hard and taking one match at a time. When it stops, it stops."
The Serb is looking for back-to-back titles in Indian Wells and Miami. It would be his fourth title this season to go with victories in Dubai, Indian Wells and the Australian Open.
Anderson became South Africa's first ATP winner in more than five years when he took the title in Johannesburg in February.
Anderson won their only prior meeting by beating Djokovic in three sets in the second round here three years ago.
At the time, Djokovic was ranked third in the world and Anderson was ranked 122nd.
Djokovic will be the heavy favourite against 14th seeded Fish who will pass Andy Roddick as the No 1 ranked American player when the next ATP Tour rankings come out.
Fish has had an up and down year, making two semis in Delray Beach and Memphis but losing in the second round of both the Aussie Open and Indian Wells. He lost twice this year to 20-year-old Milos Raonic of Canada in the second round at Indian Wells and the semis in Memphis.
Fish ousted an ailing David Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 to reach the semifinals.
While Ferrer had plenty of praise for Fish's strong performance on serve, he said he could not really rise to the challenge because of a stomach ailment.
"I think it's the digestion," Ferrer said. "I went to the court, and I when I run to rallies, a lot of pain in my stomach. In the second set, I cannot run anymore."
Djokovic said like Anderson, he can't look past the match with Fish.
"I think he's on a great run," Djokovic said. "He's been playing some really good tennis this week, beating high-ranked players, quality players.
"I watched him play today and he looked really confident on the court. If he serves well, then he can really beat anybody."
The victory ensures Fish will climb to at least 11th when the rankings are next released, while Roddick will fall from eighth to 14th after losing his tournament-opener last week.
"It's very humbling," Fish said.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Monday, 28 March 2011
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic became just the third player in the past 30 years to open a season with a 20-0 mark as he defeated James Blake 6-2, 6-0 in a third-round match Sunday night at the Sony Ericsson Open.
It's an extraordinary feat, but not something the 23-year-old Djokovic is concentrating on. "To be honest, I'm taking it one match at a time and trying to win against the opponent that I have today and not thinking about what happened or what can happen," said the Serbian, following his win over Blake.
After taking Djokovic to deuce on the Serbian's opening service game, Blake would not have another chance in the match, winning just 22 per cent of his return points. Everything was clicking for the second-seeded Djokovic and he raced away after breaking Blake in the fourth game of the first set to lead 3-1. The American would win one more game, but at 4-2, Djokovic ran the table, winning eight straight games to ultimately triumph in 52 minutes.
When asked about any areas of his game that may call for improvement, Djokovic joked about the need to sharpen his drop shot, but attributed the upgrading of his first serve as a confidence boosting shot. "I have been working really hard on my serve in the last ten months, and now it's coming back to me," he said.
"I have been really trying to use that serve and trying to get some free points out of it, and tonight it was working really great. I think I'm quite a complete player. My game is based obviously on the baseline, but I need that serve so I can get more free points and put a lot of pressure on my opponent. That's where I'm getting lately, so I'm happy with that."
A familiar face stands in the way in the fourth round, his close friend and Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki, a player he's known since they were nine years old. Djokovic has swept their past eight meetings after Troicki won their first encounter four years ago in Umag. The two have played twice this year already, including last week at the same stage at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells, where Djokovic routed his countryman 6-0, 6-1.
Although Djokovic has dominated their head-to-head series, Troicki does have something on the two-time Australian Open champion. "The first tournament in my life that I played, I won my first match and then I lost to him. And he gave me a bagel. It was 9 0. I still have a video of that match, and we still joke around a little bit," laughed Djokovic.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Considering that you played so much tennis, is it helpful that tonight's match was so short?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, definitely helpful. You know, in opening rounds, especially in the first round, you're trying to get used to the conditions and you don't want to underestimate your opponent, so you want to step into the court and try to be focused from the start and try to, you know, get as quickly as possible out of the court. So I did a great job tonight.
Q. How did you feel out there?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Um, I mean, I couldn't feel better, you know. Most of the shots I was hitting were winners, so I wasn't making a lot of mistakes.
Everything was working perfect.
Q. When you're playing like this, are you just chomping at the bit to get back out there as quickly as possible? Is it hard to wait between matches?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it's confidence that plays a very important role in our sport, and in any other sport. So I guess you're trying to keep that confidence level very high, and when you step on the court, you know, you're hitting the ball and everything comes in.
You know, you have a lot of self belief that, you know, you can hit the ball hard and you can step in and take your chances, be aggressive, and that was the case tonight. That's the case, you know, lately for me.
I do look forward to my next challenges. You know, I've played a lot of matches, so it's good that I have an extra day tomorrow where I play doubles and where I take some time and get ready for next one.
Q. How much do you think you'll have to rely on your net game this tournament?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Excuse me?
Q. How much do you think you'll have to rely on coming to the net in this tournament?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Coming to the net? Well, look, I'm not a classic serve and volley player and I'm not coming that often to the net, but I try to put some variety in my game and use the chances that are given to me to come to the net.
It's something that I've been working on lately. It's well. You know, it takes time. I know I have to, you know, mentally kind of convince myself that I can come to the net, I can play well. I'm just happy with the way I'm playing.
Q. Considering the fact that you've been really unbeatable this year, does playing so well bring another level of pressure to maintain that high level of play?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, but, you know, I'm not thinking too much about being unbeaten this year or, you know, what it carries with it, you know, some kind of pressure or expectations.
I got used to that. You know, I'm playing for many years already on a high level in professional tennis, and I'm using this experience this year to be able to perform my best on the court.
I'm fresh mentally, motivated to have even more success. I'm looking to upcoming challenges. I know it's only been a couple of months of the year, but I have been playing great, and I want to keep on doing that.
I need to stay physically fit and healthy in order to, you know, be consistent with the success.
Q. You've got James next; is that right?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes.
Q. Your thoughts about that matchup?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, you know, James has been around for a while. He's a great competitor. He's very exciting to watch. He hits the ball very clean, very powerful. He's a great mover. He's very fast.
You know, he's gonna be having a lot of support from the crowd. You know, it's definitely not an easy one. I have to step on the court and be on top of my game.
Q. You talked about confidence. Andy at the moment has no confidence, I guess. Can you feel for him? Do you understand what he's going through at the moment?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I absolutely understand. Today when I saw when he lost, I mean, that gives you it proves and it gives, you know, another reason and another example, actually, that this sport is all mental in the end, you know.
You can work as hard as you can and you can practice for hours and hours, but if you don't have that self belief on the court, if you don't have that confidence, you know, it can easily turn against you.
I felt it, you know, last year in this period for first five, six months. I had similar early round losses. I know how it feels like, you know. It's incredible, you know, how mental it gets.
You know, if you believe in your shots, if you're just relaxed on the court, then you he has a quality, I mean, to beat anybody on the tour. He's just going through that period that I'm sure it's gonna be over very soon.
Q. What are you going to do in doubles tomorrow to cheer him up?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, look, you know, I still haven't heard from him, so I'll let him sleep over and see hopefully tomorrow. He's gonna be fresh and motivated to win doubles. I'm really looking forward to that doubles.
Q. How does it come to pick Andy as a partner for doubles? You were both practicing doubles to be better later?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, you know, it's idea we had for a long time already, but we weren't managing to kind of organize and play together. We played in 2006 I think in Australian Open and, you know, since then we had a lot of success in our singles careers.
That's what we prioritize, and we didn't play that much doubles. But now that we play together, we should enjoy it. You know, I really look forward to that.
Q. Would you like to see more top guys play doubles? Do you think it's good for the game?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: At Indian Wells I think you had 9 of top 10 players, singles players, playing doubles. So, you know, it gives you example of, you know, singles players getting involved more in doubles.
You know, it's good for serve and volley, it's good for it's good for us to have some practice and enjoy sharing the court with somebody, as well. You know, because most of the time we're alone.
Q. You were this week in my country, in Colombia. How did you enjoy that experience?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I enjoyed it so much. You know, I didn't feel that kind of atmosphere ever in my life in exhibition event. It was incredible. It was very loved. It was just being a part of that exhibition event and the whole day being in Colombia, we felt like rock stars, you know. It's just great experience. I will definitely come back.
Saturday, 26 March 2011
Friday, 25 March 2011
Check the other 2 new videos there. One is from Beijing and the other Bogota :-)
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
The trio will be among a glittering array of tennis stars who take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a second division team, before attending a gala dinner.
The money raised will help finance American Red Cross operations in Japan.
"I am very concerned for the people of Japan and think it is only right that we do whatever we can to help those in need," said Djokovic, who has enjoyed an unbeaten start to the new season, winning his first 18 matches.
Also showing off their skills for a good cause were Japanese player Kei Nishikori, Spanish trio David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, Serb Viktor Troicki, Juergen Melzer of Austria and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.
The players are in Florida area for the Miami Masters, which starts on Wednesday.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
A little over 24 hours after his crushing defeat at the hands of Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells, Rafael Nadal gained a semblance of revenge in an exhibition match in Colombia.
The US spring hard-court season is in full swing, with the action switching from California to Miami for the Sony Ericsson Open. The world's No. 1 and 2 have received byes into the second round and will not be in action until later in the week, which allowed them to head to Bogota for an exhibition hit.
The intensity was not as high as in California on Sunday, when Nadal started supremely well only to be overwhelmed by a rampant Djokovic. A crowd of 14,000 packed into the Coliseo El Campin in Bogota and they were not let down.
Both players produced some sizzling tennis, with stunning rallies from the back and front of the court. Nadal served better than he did 24 hours previous and edged a tight first set in a tiebreak before going on to wrap up a 7-6(5) 6-3 win.
The crowd were wowed throughout, with Djokovic playing the role of court jester before and during the contest. Ahead of the match he produced a song and dance routine and cracked jokes throughout the match as Bogota was served up a treat, while Nadal treated a female member of the crowd to his Latino dancing skills.
New world No 2 tells Paul Newman why his friendship with the Scot, first established in their junior days, is thriving again as they prepare to play doubles together this week
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic last played together in Australia in 2006, since when the Serb has been more successful, beating Murray in this year's Australian final
When they last met, in the final of the Australian Open two months ago, they were friends and rivals. When they next walk out on court together, at the Miami Masters beginning tomorrow, they will do so as friends and doubles partners.
Novak Djokovic's friendship with Andy Murray, dating back to their first meeting at a junior tournament in France 13 years ago, has always risen above the rivalry that has been inevitable in their careers. The widely differing fortunes the two 23-year-olds have experienced in recent weeks – Murray has not won a set, let alone a match, since the Australian Open semi-finals, while Djokovic has won three tournaments in a row this year – has done nothing to change that.
Even in the immediate aftermath of Djokovic's crushing victory in the Melbourne final, the bonds between the two men and their families were reinforced when the Scot's mother, Judy, sought out the winner. "It was a very difficult time for her after the match, but she came and congratulated me and we had a chat," Djokovic said. "She always says hello and we always have a chat when we see each other. That shows something not just about her but about her whole family."
The parallel lives of the two men, who in Miami will be playing doubles together for only the second time in their careers, go back to the very start. They were both born in May 1987 (Murray is one week older) and both have tennis-playing brothers. Jamie Murray, aged 25, is world No 43 in doubles, while Marko Djokovic, 19, is world No 641 in singles, his career having been interrupted by injury. He played doubles with his older brother in Dubai last month, while the Murrays played together most recently in Indian Wells last week. Djokovic has a second brother, Djorde, 15, who is at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida.
Both Murray and Djokovic went abroad as teenagers to further their careers, the Scot to the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona and the Serb to Niki Pilic's establishment in Munich. Murray was the more successful junior (Djokovic reached the Australian Open boys' final, Murray won the US Open title), while Djokovic has often led the way at senior level.
Djokovic broke into the world's top 100 in July 2005, three months earlier than Murray, and the top 10 in March 2007, one month ahead of the Scot. Although Murray was the first to win a tour title, five months ahead of Djokovic in February 2006, the Serb was the first by 17 months to wear a Masters Series crown, in March 2007.
Most importantly of all, Djokovic was the first to reach a Grand Slam final, at the US Open in 2007, and has since won two major titles, at the Australian Open in 2008 and 2011. Murray has reached three Grand Slam finals but lost them all, at the US Open in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011.
Djokjovic, nevertheless, is convinced it is only a matter of time before Murray wins his first Grand Slam title. He also believes his friend will quickly overcome any adverse reaction he has suffered to his disappointing defeat in Melbourne.
"I'm sure it's not easy for him to lose a third Grand Slam final in a row, but he has faced that situation before and I'm sure he's going to recover because he's mentally a strong player," Djokovic said. "He obviously needs a little bit more time to find his way through to his first Grand Slam title. He has all the qualities he needs. He has shown it many times before. He is definitely one of the best players in the world. With his game, especially on hard courts, he will have many more opportunities."
Murray and Djokovic quickly struck up a friendship on the junior circuit, where the Scot won their first meeting 6-0, 6-1 at an Under-12s tournament in Tarbes in south-west France. Djokovic picked up English from an early age but at first had to communicate in sign language with Murray because he struggled to understand his accent.
They were part of a great generation of emerging juniors that also included Rafael Nadal, Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils. "You could see with all our group that they were great athletes with a big desire to be successful," Djokovic recalled. "They showed some incredible talent. I still think Gasquet is the most talented player of all that group, though he still has to fulfil his potential.
"I always remember Andy as a very talented player who was always very confident on the court, regardless of who was on the other side of the net. You could already see at that time that he would succeed. From a young age we got on well. We were always quite good friends. Then our paths separated, because he went to practise in Spain and I went in my own direction.
"We didn't see so much of each other for a while, but in the last 12 months we've grown closer again. I feel that Andy's more relaxed now, both on and off the court. He's surrounded by a great team. We all get along really well – his team and my team. We get to practise, we even get to play football together, like we did in Australia. It's good.
"Sometimes we catch up for dinner. It's good to see somebody you grew up with doing so well in professional tennis and it's great to show to people that top-five players, who are big rivals on the court, can be really good friends as well."
Do they ever exchange notes on how to beat other players? "We do talk about matches and, of course, we do get to chat like this every now and then," Djokovic said. "We might talk about it at practice, but it would more usually be in the locker room or a restaurant, when we're watching matches and just talking it through. Tennis is our common subject and something we can always talk about."
Djokovic has won five of their eight meetings at senior level, though Murray had won three in a row until his defeat in Melbourne. "We have more or less similar games," Djokovic said. "We put some variety in our games depending on who we play, but our games are based on the baseline. We can mix it up. We can play spin, defensive, offensive, and we have quite solid serves."
Like Murray, Djokovic thrives on having both a close-knit support team and family members who join him on tour. "I grew up in a country where the family is the most important thing, so keeping close relations with family members comes naturally," he said. "Luckily for me I'm not just surrounded with a family that thinks the best of me but also with a travelling team of people who are very close to me – my girlfriend, when she can be with me, my coach, my physio."
Djokovic is heading for Florida via Colombia, where he was due to play an exhibition match against Nadal last night, before joining Murray in Miami. The singles will be the Scot's priority there, particularly after his straight-sets defeats to Marcos Baghdatis in Rotterdam and to Donald Young in Indian Wells in his only post-Australia matches, though the tournament also gives an opportunity to renew his friendship with Djokovic. The two men have played doubles together only once before, at the Australian Open five years ago, when they were unfortunate to run into Nenad Zimonjic and Fabrice Santoro, one of the world's best partnerships, in the first round.
As for their singles careers, Murray will need to put his game back together quickly if he is to make up the ground he has lost on his friend in recent weeks. Djokovic has gone from strength to strength, winning 20 matches in a row since his defeat to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in November. In the last four months he has led Serbia to victory in the Davis Cup and won titles in Melbourne, Dubai and Indian Wells. He clinched the latter on Sunday night, beating Nadal, the world No 1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the final, and climbed above Federer to No 2 in yesterday's updated world ranking list.
While Djokovic said he did not worry too much about the rankings, he felt his rise to No 2 was a reflection of his achievements this year. "I think I deserve it," he said. "I've played the best tennis of my life in last three months. I have been very dedicated, very professional, and I want to keep on going."
Monday, 21 March 2011
What I have been able to find are photos from the tennis clinic both players held before the match. By the looks of it they also had a dancing lesson!
Novak Djokovic has already turned his sights to the clay court season after replacing Roger Federer as world No. 2.
The Serb claimed his third straight victory over Federer as he surged past his rival in the semi-finals before beating world No. 1 Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-3 6-2 to claim his third title of 2011 at Indian Wells.
Having never previously beaten Nadal in five ATP Tour finals, Djokovic, who has won all 18 of his matches this season, has now targeted beating the 'King of Clay' on the red dirt.
The in-form Djokovic claimed he had been seeing the tennis ball "as large as a watermelon", but he insists that despite his impressive streak, nobody is invincible.
"I do have the best period of my life on the tennis court, but nobody is invincible," Djokovic said. "You are just trying to play your best in each match you're playing.
"I am extremely happy with the way I'm playing and with the success that I'm having. But I know that the season is very long, and I don't want to be too euphoric about the win. I need to celebrate a little bit, and then move on."
Djokovic will return to action at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami later this week, where he will bid to continue his unbeaten start to the season, before turning his attentions to the European clay-court season.
"I have a big will to win each match I'm playing and I want to keep on going, keep on playing good tennis. Hopefully I can recover and get ready for Miami," he said.
"I believe I can play well on [clay] and I have proven that in the last couple of years. I had a great clay court season in 2009 and 2008, and I've always played well at Roland Garros. In order to win trophies on that surface, big ones, I will need to be physically very, very fit.
"As the slowest surface, it requires a lot of physical strength and endurance and I have been working hard on it for a while. I will definitely pay attention to it more."
There was a brief passage of time when Novak Djokovic lived up to his nickname. The Djoker. Not because he was doing the life-and-soul-of-the-party thing, the impressions, the running commentary, the often profligate banter. No. Of course, it was very funny for a while. A breath of fresh air. But it was after the initial love affair, when all the messing about got sort of old, the mimicking dull, the whining and moaning about this injury or that crowd a little tedious. Yes, he could play ridonkadonk tennis (when he wanted), but quite often, he was a bit of a joke. Get on with it Nole, you might have thought.
The Novak Djokovic that defeated Rafael Nadal to win the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells yesterday was about as far removed from that joke as you could possibly get.Perhaps it was a literal rush of blood to the brain after shaving all his hair off when he helped Serbia win the Davis Cup last November. Perhaps he just grew up a bit. But, ever since he stepped off a plane in Perth on New Year’s Eve, barely a day’s rest afforded to his weary limbs, Djokovic has been a man transformed.
Novak Djokovic in action at Indian Wells
Yes, he still laughs hard, he jokes hard, he even tweets hard (and hilariously so). But he also works hard, thinks hard, and most importantly, he plays hard. In each of his five previous finals against Rafael Nadal, Djokovic has almost stopped before he started. As if to say – “Look, yes I know Rafa is so much better than me, so I’ll just play along, and I won’t really be able to do anything about it.”
Trailing the world No.1 by a set in front of 15,000 fanatic fans, that might well have happened again. Show me any player who always knows what to do on the wrong end of Nadal’s angry looking eyebrows, especially in a final. It’s just such a lot of effort trying to find a battering ram big enough to out-muscle the Mallorcan.
But whether it was that Nadal blinked, or Djokovic suddenly let loose, the great gig in the sky shifted the Serb’s way. Reeling off two breaks in a row to take the second set, Djokovic had Nadal completely befuddled. The Spaniard’s much-improved serve, the shot that won him the US Open last year, disappeared. Or perhaps he was so afraid of Novak crushing it like a mashed potato that he lost the will to hit it.
Two breaks in a row became three, then four, as the two-time Slam champ wriggled his leaner and meaner frame around every shot and spin filtering through from the other end of the court. Bossing Rafa? It’s been unheard of for almost a year.
Staring down a 1-5 third-set crevasse, Nadal held serve to shove the axe back into Djokovic’s hands. ‘Chop me down yourself,’ he might have been saying. It is in this situation that the Spaniard so often manages to sneak under his opponent’s fingernails. Make them think ‘God, I’m going to beat Nadal.’ The rabbit in headlights effect. And nine times out of 10, Rafa’s given a way back in. But Djokovic knows all about this. Serving out in as emphatic a manner as that with which he rips his shirts off (all too often, if you ask me), the Serb threw his head back, and let the cloudy Palm Springs skies have the full force of his vocal chords.
Not for him the lacksadaisical ‘Oh I’m so good’ smirk. It was quite an outpouring. An angry, aggressive, satisfied reaction. He really wanted it, he really worked for it, and he got it. Perhaps that’s his epiphany. Djokovic has become addicted to good old-fashioned working and winning.
The result is a run of 18 consecutive wins without loss in 2011 – the best start to a men’s tennis season since Ivan Lendl notched up 25-0 in 1986. Seven successful matches in Melbourne, five in Dubai, and six in Indian Wells. Add to those the three (admittedly round robin) wins at the Hopman Cup in Perth, and you have 21. Add to those the two victories during the Davis Cup final last November, and Nole has himself a 23-0 winning streak since his last loss, to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Djokovic has dramatically improved his fitness
He’s owned Federer on the three occasions they’ve met since. The first, in the Melbourne semi-finals, was some of the best tennis Djokovic has ever let flow from his racket. The second, in Dubai, was less jaw-shattering, but equally comprehensive. The third, in Indian Wells, was a little more gritty, a little less perfect, and far tighter, but a win nonetheless.
Then there’s the Australian Open final against Andy Murray. It’s no secret that it was not, alas, Murray’s finest hour. But to give Djokovic his due, he never lent the Scot a second with which to begin slicing and dicing, dinking and diving. His court coverage was phenomenal. His aggression unbounded. It was a champion’s performance.
And Nadal? The ultimate test, perhaps. It is not totally bonkers to ruminate over the fact that defeat to Nadal in the US Open final might have given Djokovic the necessary jab in the backside to seek a higher level. It seems he has found it.
Admittedly, although Indian Wells welcomed a record 350,086 fans through its palm tree promenades this year, it was not a Grand Slam, and not a Grand Slam final. It was also Nadal’s first tournament in competition since journalists blubbed over his untimely exit in the Melbourne quarter-finals. He was not at his absolute snarling, spinning-over-the-head best. But he is still the world No.1. And it was still Djokovic’s first win against him in a tournament final.
No matter what happens in Miami next week, the second of the year’s 10-day tournaments that is known by many as the ‘fifth Grand Slam,’ it is fair to submit that the first hard-court stretch of 2011 belongs to Djokovic. Who knows, he may even join Pete Sampras (1994), Andre Agassi (2001) and Roger Federer (2006) in holding the Australian Open – Indian Wells- Miami triple.
What is more fascinating to ponder on is what comes next. Nadal won everything there was to win on clay last year. Djokovic won…nothing. He made one semi-final and the rest were quarters. Not bad for a hard-baller. But if Rafa stumbles on the dirt, for whatever reason, the No.1 ranking will be calling out to Djokovic like the Ring of Power.
Not that we can forget about Federer, licking his wounds in what is possibly the twilight of his career, which, if anything, makes him more dangerous. There’s Murray too, still seeking the je ne sais quoi to leap up as Djokovic has done. And of course, Juan Martin Del Potro, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, and so on and so forth.
Djokovic will need a burn at some point. But until that comes, there’s not a lot that’s going wrong.