Novak Djokovic: At Your Peril
It’s been heard often enough in context to Roger Federer. Journalists and reporters reminding us to ‘write him off at your peril’ in the context of another Slam final after a disappointing few tournaments. It’s been heard plenty when talking about Rafael Nadal as he goes down two sets to love early in a Slam. ‘Write him off at your peril, he can comeback from anywhere.’ Yet it took Federer himself to drive the message home in relation to Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s post semi-final press conference. ‘I knew he was gonna be a really tough opponent. The guys who overlooked him don’t know anything about tennis, unfortunately.’
It seems there are a lot of people out there writing, blogging, and commentating who don’t know anything about tennis. Djokovic flew through his tough draw with only one hiccup in his opening round where he battled the heat and Victor Troicki to win in five sets. Djokovic had undeniably the toughest draw of the top four and came through it with aplomb, defeating Phillip Petzschner (who took Nadal to five at Wimbledon), James Blake, dark horse Mardy Fish, and Gael Monfils in straight sets. Yet despite his remarkable play he was completely written off before his semi-final with Federer. Tennis fans and journalists were all too keen for a Nadal-Federer final to the point where Nadal was asked before the second semi-final took place whether a final against Federer would be the most important match in tennis history. CBS news reporters tweeted prematurely that Nadal would face Federer in the final and didn’t bother to fix their error until Djokovic had caused the minor upset. Not that anyone would think it was minor reading the news reports. Yahoo7 for Australia proclaimed it was a ‘major upset’ and the commentators heard on Fox Sports declared after one game that Federer would be the winner. Djokovic was hardly worth a mention according to them.
Not that this is a surprise. Djokovic has been written off, under-estimated, and unrecognised as a top player for the entire year. Despite making the quarters at the Australian Open and the French Open, the semis at Wimbledon and reaching number two during the year, Djokovic is barely talked about as a contender for a Masters series event, let alone a Grand Slam. During the Toronto tournament the commentators proclaimed that Djokovic was not one of the top four most likely to win the tournament despite his ranking of two. Djokovic made the semis of Toronto before losing a tight match to Federer, but come the US Open nothing had changed. The mood surrounding the semi was that Federer would take apart Djokovic in straight sets regardless of the fact that the two had always had close battles on hard courts. It wasn’t to be. Djokvoic came through the five setter as the stronger and more consistent player, highlighting everything about his game that lead him to win the Australian Open in 2008. His ground strokes were aggressive but controlled, unforced errors were kept at a minimum. It was in stark contrast to Federer, who see-sawed between moments of brilliance and puzzling errors. Djokovic was able to weather the storm of Federer’s crisp forehands, meanwhile brewing something special of his own. He righted almost everything he had done wrong the last three times they had played at the Open although sets one and three were almost exactly identical to those matches Federer had come out on top. But this time Djokovic didn’t give up, resigning himself to the fate the commentators had set for him. It was as if he took inspiration from Juan Martin del Potro, or at least had worked out exactly what ‘hanging in there and giving yourself a chance’ meant by watching him last year. He stayed solid, aggressive and steady and threw everything he could at Federer. He summed it up best himself, “I was just closing my eyes and hitting forehands as hard and as fast as I could. If it goes in, great. If it’s out, just another loss to Roger Federer in New York. I was very lucky, it was just a few points that determined the winner.” It was that do-or-die attitude that won Djokovic the match. It was the same few points that had been the cause of celebration for Federer in three previous years. This time, they were Djokovic’s.
After what could be a defining moment in his career you’d expect Djokovic would garner more respect. Fans shouldn’t hold their breath. Headlines after that match read something like ‘Djokovic shatters dream final’, and many bloggers believe that the final will be a walk in the park for Nadal. Although there’s no doubt more people will be wary of writing Djokovic off in the future it seems it’ll take something even more special for the Serb to confirm that he is the future of tennis. If that means shattering more dreams than so be it.