From the blog

From Joker to King

  • muller.balazs
  • 14 September 2011
  • 11:09
After winning his first US Open title and third Grand Slam of the year, Novak Djokovic is now undisputedly the best player on tour who deservedly holds the nr. 1 ranking as well.
The fact that he held off the pressure and managed to win at Flushing Meadows was not such a big surprise, considering the stellar season he has had so far. But in doing so, for the first time, he managed to beat both Federer and Nadal in the same Grand Slam tournament.
What strikes me most is the incredible self-belief and determination he has developed, which leads him to victory regardless of the circumstances. It simply doesn't seem to matter what his opponents are throwing at him, he still finds a way to come out on top.
There are still some issues about his behaviour on court - he still has a long way to go if he wants to win the hearts of many neutral spectators and become a true tennis ambassador. For this, he needs to mature a bit more and most likely give up some of the antics and show elements that have made him the "Djoker".
But otherwise, he is in a perfect position. His game couldn't be much better, his condition is excellent and his confidence level sky-high. He will probably finish the 2011 season in the same manner, with one or two more losses at most.
The only question now is how he will manage to repeat this performance next year, with tons of points to defend. I think that at the moment, this is one of the few hopes that his main rivals will cling on to, going into 2012. Because at some point, there will be a moment when this miraculous streak stops, and it could easily turn into downhill after that.
So let's take a look at the chances of the other three players in the "Big Four" and what they should do to challenge Novak's supremacy.
Rafael Nadal has maybe the toughest of tasks of them all.  He has now lost six straight finals to Nole, leaving him bruised, bewildered and clueless about how to beat him. It was clear that he couldn't have given more than what he did in the US Open final - his performance would have been more than enough against anybody else on the tour. But the Serb "owns him" now mentally, making it extremely difficult for him to come back in the near future.
Rafa should now reconsider his options. He is still playing at an extremely high level, which will probably win him one or two more French Opens. But in general, he needs to improve on his serve and become more aggressive. He is now constantly on the back foot against the Serb, using defensive shots that don't bother Nole at all.
The big question for his part is the current mental struggle he is battling. He is a warrior, but with every loss, he loses more and more confidence. He needs to come back with a vengeance attitude if he wants to have any chance to beat Novak.
At the age of 30, Roger Federer may have not won any Grand Slams this year and he may have not been able to maintain his superior level of the past. But a remarkable level of motivation keeps the greatest player of all time going on, still enthralling the crowds with his stunningly beautiful attacking game.
As for his chances next season - Roger can prepare himself with confidence. He is still playing a very high level of tennis and is the only player at the moment who can seriously trouble Djokovic. He proved this both at the French Open, beating the Serb in the semifinal, and in New York, losing after having two much-debated match points. I think most of us still cannot believe that he didn't win that match.
Naturally, this was a bitter loss for Fed, similarly to last year, but I'm sure he is far from done. In his own words, he will come to the 2012 season with extreme hunger for at least one more Grand Slam, which - considering Nadal's bruised confidence and his very good chances against Djokovic -  doesn't seem impossible. I think that he only has a microscopic chance to get back to the nr. 1 spot, but one more Slam looks definitely in his reach.
Andy Murray is the final member of the "Big Four", but he needs to change something quickly if he wants to lift a Major trophy during the rest of his career.
Game-wise, everything is there, solid groundstrokes, nice attacking shots and a good serve. It's still his attitude that keeps him down against the top players above him. He simply needs to study all three of them and learn how they can come back from defeat, how they prevail even under extreme pressure, how they fight until the very end.
This is not something that he can learn from a coach, it has to come from within. I'm not sure whether he actually realises how much damage his sometimes unexplainably negative attitude on court is doing to his results.
He is a brilliant player who needs to calm down and become a positive-minded, ferocious fighter. If this doesn't happen, I simply don't see him winning any Slams during 2012.

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