Tennis 2012

Sports Illustrated has a nice piece up that looks back at the year in tennis. One part of it jumped out to me. Coming courtesy of Richard Deitsch’s response to whether Djokovic is the “real deal”:

Oh, he’s the real deal, and barring injury, he’ll be one of the top players in the world for many years. He’s 24, he’s learned to get the most out of body, and best of all, he has zero fear of the top players. Djokovic was 10-1 in 2011 against Rafa and Roger in 2011, and rolling Nadal and Federer time and time again isn’t a fluke. Like all top players, Djokovic will have to manage his schedule smartly. Sure, it’s near-impossible he’ll have the same success next season, but the Djoker is going to be winning titles for some time.

I agree with virtually all of this. Djokovic is going to be a force for a while, as long as his health holds up. I just don’t like the term “rolling” for what he did to Federer. Nadal, sure, because Djokovic beat him soundly in a bunch of finals, as the panelists say. But I can’t help but think of that Open match, where Fed had two match points, both of which Djokovic pulled back, one on an absolutely insane return winner. Of course, all credit to Djokovic, and calling that a fluke shot would be a huge disservice because it took skill and Novak did it. But bottom line is that Fed had that match won and let it slip away. Fed killed Djokovic for the first two sets, playing at an incredible level and Novak was pretty lucky to get away with that one. Even if Djokovic rolled Federer the rest of the year, take away that win at the Open and Novak “only” wins two majors and we aren’t talking about him in the same way.

Even if Djokovic plays in the same form next year, I can’t see him winning three majors again. Now, take that with a grain of salt, because I didn’t think he’d win Wimbledon or the Open and I was wrong about both of those. But to me, it isn’t about Djokovic. Courtney Nguyen puts it well here:

Can Djokovic go 70-6 and win 10 titles next year? No. Can he stay at No. 1 and win three Slams next year? Absolutely. This wasn’t a fluke breakout for Djokovic. He’s been knocking on the door for three years and it was only a matter of time for his game to pick up incrementally and for Federer’s and Nadal’s to drop ever so slightly. That seems to be the margin of difference these days.

Right on. Both Fed and Rafa dropped during 2011, although Roger did pick it up again at the end of year as Djokovic was completely running out of steam. But if Federer is healthy and motivated, he can beat Djokovic. Even if Novak is 100%. Federer needed one more point in the semis in Flushing Meadows to do that and I can see him getting it next match.

And Rafa? If Rafa is healthy, he’s gonna give Novak a tougher time. And I think Rafa will be healthy, at least enough to worry the other Big Two. That’s as much wishful thinking as it is a prediction because tennis is lessened without a healthy Nadal and I’d like to see him come back in his previous form. Same with DelPo, who is as fun to watch as anyone when’s he’s on. And DelPo was just getting a sniff of it when he troubled Rafa at Wimbledon, but still is quite a ways away from how he was at the Open a few years ago.

Other reactions:

– I like Deitsch’s prediction that Tsonga will win a major. I wouldn’t bet on it but I can certainly see it.

– I’m curious to see how Tomic evolves his game. Junkballing can take you far, even into the majors, but not past the Big Three or other Top 10 player when they’re going good (Tsonga, Soderling, Ferrer, even Roddick). And if junkballing can work, it’s gonna be Dolgopolov that makes it happen. Not Tomic.

– As much as I wanna pick Murray to finally win one, can’t do it yet. Might if he has the right matchup, but I can’t have that confidence without seeing a draw.

And, while I’m on tennis, Marat is now in the Duma. That’s all kinds of awesome.

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