Completing the Jigsaw
Years 2009 and 2010 were Novak Djokovic’s sophomore years after 2008, when he started with a bang (Australian Open and Indian Wells) and ended with a flourish (World Tour Finals).
He was trying to find the right balance between offence and defence, gracefulness and gamesmanship, worthy contender and upcoming challenger. The first major is always exciting, and easier to come by; the second one takes more effort.
How much significance should be given to his leading the Serbian underdogs to the famous Davis Cup victory? Djokovic won both his rubbers, which ultimately proved crucial. By becoming the leader of the pack, his mindset—which was dangling in uncertainties—became crystal clear. He found the right balance in his attack and considered himself back in the “contender” circle.
In the semifinal, when Roger Federer was accusing him of taking too much time between points with his ball bouncing, he just uttered one word—“Sorry!”—which had sarcasm written all over it. He finally found the right balance between cockiness (2008) and too-much-gracefulness (2009 and 2010).
Your Time Will Come, Hang in There
For all the negatives surrounding Andy Murray, it is easy to forget that he defended his finalist appearance in 2011, which in itself is a remarkable feat. He did fold meekly to Djokovic, but there have been significant signs of improvement, especially in his semifinal, when he became extremely aggressive after losing the first set—when has Murray hit 60 winners in a match?
Even in the final, it was apparent that he was trying to be more aggressive on the forehand, either by flattening it out or by running around the backhand to hit his inside-out. He failed, of course, but if he continues working, he’ll not fail for long.
...was nowhere as compelling as the one involving Federer and Rafael Nadal. It lacked the quality and intensity of such a final if even one of those two players is present.
However, Federer vs. Mark Philippoussis, Wimbledon ’03, was neither intense nor compelling compared to Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi, US Open ’02. Similarly, Sampras vs. Agassi, US Open ’90, was nowhere as intense or compelling as the one between Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker, US Open ’89.
Before jumping to conclusions, we should give this new rivalry some time—and slack. Despite this being their eighth match, this rivalry is still “new.”
Master of Three?
There was a time when Federer was vulnerable in best-of-three matches but next to invincible in best-of-five matches—which led him to an unprecedented 16 majors.
It was easily explained with any one of the following: lack of motivation, trying something new, other players having more confidence to take two sets from him, but not three... Andy Murray was a classic example: holding a winning record against him but lost in both their matchups in Grand Slams.
Roles have reversed. Since Wimbledon last year, Federer has won four times against Djokovic and lost two. Those two losses have come in the best-of-five!
Explanation is easy. He is trying to become more aggressive, be it attacking the net, chip and charge or hitting topspin backhands for winners. It is not coming naturally to him—it takes effort to change a style that has made you invincible for so long.
The change has worked for him for short periods, but as the match goes longer, he either starts missing or reverts to his original style of play. Either way, he struggles. It showed against Gilles Simon and was fatal against the firepower of Djokovic.
His challenge over the year would be to make his new aggressive approach “natural” to him—so natural that he should feel comfortable enough over five sets.
...is vulnerable. But if history is any indication, he will do just fine. He had his six to eight months of dominance and now suffered an injury. With proper rest and medication, he should be back and roaring once Indian Wells (or Miami) kicks off.
In short term, this would be okay. But you cannot help but wonder about the consequences of these dozens of injuries on his body in the long term—both in terms of his career, and life, post-retirement.
David Ferrer should...
...learn to play the tiebreaks. He is 0-11 in TBs at Melbourne. Had it been 2-9, he, instead of Murray, would have folded against the red-hot Djokovic in the final.
Juan Martin del Potro...
...has the game intact. The mental strength is there too (he won the first set tiebreak 11-9). The match fitness and confidence are missing. I predict he'll end up in the top 20 this year, but breaking back into the top 10 will be humongous.
To Tank, or Not to Tank...
...was not the question for Janko Tipsarevic after he failed to serve for the match in the third set—twice—and did not convert three match points in the fourth. He simply had no energy—mental or physical—left. Whether a fan or not, it was painful to watch.
One has got to feel sorry for Lleyton Hewitt. Despite being an Australian, he had no leeway in terms of draws after having to face David Nalbandian in his opening match—if anything, this should be ample proof that draws are not rigged, as many fans continue to frown on.
He showed all his fighting spirit, gave us the match of the tournament and yet crashed out in five only to see his victorious opponent retire in his second round match due to lack of strength.
On a side note, by making a debut in the commentary box, the hard-working Australian is realistic by accepting that his time as a tennis professional is ending. We wish him good luck for his second career and hope he will be as successful as John McEnroe or Jim Courier.
Should have been the tagline for this Open, especially for Adidas. Murray, Tsonga, Dolgopolov, Clijsters ... all were dressed in bright green complementing the blue courts. With all the global-warming issues with us, it is a good initiative, if they plan to do something about it as well!
Media Under the Spotlight
Always the one to pounce on the players on the slightest of errors, they were on the receiving end in this tournament—both on the women’s and men’s side. Rafael Nadal promptly asked the media to “respect” his opponent and not ask about the injury. Roger Federer toyed with them on more than one occasion, and of course, Andy Roddick enjoyed his time in the press box, as always.
New Baby on the Block
Alexandr Dolgopolov. Definitely the find of this tournament. His funky style of play and effortless footwork are pleasing to the eyes, and he has power and aggression to take on the initiative. He showed good mental strength to unsettle Robin Soderling after the latter cruised away in the first set and further showed his ability to hang in there against the top tier by taking away a set from Murray.
The next item on his to-do list will be developing consistency. There are periods when he appears invincible and others when he looks less than ordinary.
Milos Raonic and Richard Berankis. Keep an eye on them.
Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic.