In a year with four different Grand Slam champions and a mixed-bag of results such that no one player definitively stood out, Novak Djokovic put a exclamation point on his pre-eminence by beating Roger Federer 7-6(6), 7-5 in the ATP World Tour Finals championship match on Monday.
The world No. 1 confirmed what the ATP rankings computer has showed, that he had the most consistent results over the entire year – beginning with a marathon triumph in the Australian Open final over Rafael Nadal and ending with a victory over Federer at London’s O2 Arena in the fifth most important tournament for the players.
Darren Cahill, former coach of Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, and currently an ESPN commentator, put things nicely in perspective with the following tweet after Djokovic’s victory:
The extra pressure & responsibilities of winning so much in 2011 & claiming #1 can never be underestimated. Djokovic finishes in style. #POY— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) November 12, 2012
Djokovic’s 2011 year was crazy good. He surpassed anything Federer or Nadal had ever done in a single year, particularly because he overcame the two of them to reach such heights. After he won the Rogers Cup in Montreal in August, 2011, he had a shoulder issue. If he had not played Cincinnati the following week, where he had to retire trailing 6-4, 3-0 against Andy Murray in the final, his match record after his victory at the US Open would have been a ridiculous 60-1.
So, 2012 was always fated to be something of a comedown, and it was. But he really only had one poor patch – on the grass at both Wimbledon, where he went out meekly to Federer in the semi-finals, and the Olympics where he was beaten by Murray in the semi-finals.
His childhood coach, Jelena Gencic, claimed there was some personal problem bothering him at that time, so possibly that explains those two subpar efforts.
In a year that was so evenly disputed among the top guys, the fact that Djokovic won three titles – including the Masters 1000 in Shanghai and the Tour Finals in London – after the US Open, cemented his superiority over Federer and Murray who had no tournaments wins in the fall.
The match with Federer on Monday had some brilliant moments – including Federer saving a set point in the first-set tiebreak with a terrific stab volley followed by an even more incredible forehand cross-court passing shot hit from behind him that left Djokovic standing completely dumbfounded at the net.
But the Federer forehand deserted him in his last two service games after he led 5-4, 40-15 (two set points) in the second set. Unforced errors flooded into his game and it was not pretty to watch.
Also disappointing was the way Andy Murray faded, after leading 4-2 in the opening set, in a 7-6(5), 6-2 loss to Federer in the semi-finals in London.
This year, Djokovic rarely showed the clear-cut dominance that marked his sensational 2011, but his grit and tenacity were off the charts. In the fall, he lost the first set in three key matches – Murray in the Shanghai final, and Murray and Juan Martin del Potro at the Tour Finals – but rallied to win each time. And on Monday, he came back from losing the first nine points and trailing 0-3 to win the first set against Federer.
His last match of the year dove-tailed with his uber-gutsy five-set wins over Murray – 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-5 – and Nadal – 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 – in the semis and final of the Australian Open last January. The latter match lasted five hours and 53 minutes and was an all-time classic between two truly great competitors. In retrospect, despite Nadal’s record-breaking seventh title at Roland Garros, Federer’s record-tying seventh win at Wimbledon and Andy Murray’s long-awaited Grand Slam breakthrough at the US Open, the epic drama of Djokovic–Nadal at Melbourne Park remains the defining moment of the entire 2012 season.
It was to that match that Djokovic was referring when he said during the trophy presentation ceremony on Monday, “it’s been a fantastic season, and I cannot thank enough my team. Without them this wouldn’t be possible, thank you guys. We couldn’t start and we couldn’t finish the season in a better way. I love you.”
He had refused to talk about his father’s recent medical issues, issues that forced him to make a quick trip back to Belgrade from Paris right before the BNP Paribas Open began two weeks ago. Srdjan Djokovic was originally thought to suffering with a respiratory problem but later it appeared it be a blood issue.
In his media conference on Monday night, Novak was more forthcoming about his father: “Well, he’s much better now. The reason why I was reluctant is because I don’t think that’s a subject for media. It has to stay private in a way because it’s a family matter. I don’t want people to start talking about my father’s health.
“But it is something that has been happening for last couple weeks. At a certain stage, it was very critical. We didn’t know what tomorrow brings. But now he’s much better and he’s recovering. He’s still in intensive care. I’m going to visit him tomorrow and see how it goes and try to bring a trophy with me and at least make him smile."
DAVIS CUP GRAND FINALE
The men’s tennis year officially comes to a close with the Davis Cup final in Prague this weekend with the host nation taking on Spain.
It will be extensively covered on Sportsnet One, which is a first in Canada for a Davis Cup final. Start times (EST) are 10 a.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sunday.
Playing on a fast indoor hard court, the Czechs probably have the best player in No. 6-ranked Tomas Berdych but nobody will underestimate the No. 5-ranked David Ferrer of the visiting Spanish team.
The opening singles match-ups on Friday will likely be Berdych against Nicolas Almagro and Ferrer versus Radek Stepanek. Berdych and Ferrer will be favourites, so there will probably be a split of the opening singles assuring that the tie will be alive heading into the reverse singles on Sunday.
The Spanish have a stand-alone doubles team in Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, the surprise winners of the ATP World Tour Finals doubles title on Monday. The Czechs traditionally rely on Berdych and Stepanek to do doubles duty as well as play singles. The Czech’s two other singles players are No. 84 Lukas Rosol, who upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in June in the Spaniard’s most recent match, and No. 187 Ivo Minar.
Having Ferrer and Almagro rested for the reverse singles might turn out to be the key to victory for Spain. The Czechs have only won a single Davis Cup – in 1980 as the former Czechoslovakia – while the Spaniards are aiming for their sixth title since 2000 in the international team event that had 123 entrants in 2012.
THE HAND OF ROGER
The hand of PeRFection. twitter.com/FedererNews/st…— Roger Federer News (@FedererNews) November 12, 2012
This picture of Roger Federer’s right hand appeared on Roger Federer News on twitter.
It’s interesting to observe the significant callous in his palm. That’s where the butt cap of the racquet rests when he strikes the ball and it indicates that he grips the racquet fairly low on the handle. That would be a reason he is able to get such tremendous whip on both his forehand and his backhand.
FOR THE RECORD
Prominent Swiss tennis journalist Rene Stauffer tweeted on Tuesday:
Federer in Swiss German: "If one of the young guys can make the Top 10, its probably #Raonic. I like the way he works and plays"— rene stauffer (@staffsky) November 13, 2012
AUSSIE OPEN POST CARD
(third in a series)
After missing the past two weeks while I was at the Paris-Bercy ATP Masters 1000 event, Aussie Open post card returns.
This picture is of Margaret Court Arena during the fourth set of the highly-controversial John Isner–David Nalbandian match this year.
It’s possible to determine by the long shadows that it was later in the day. MCA is packed and that is the west side of Rod Laver Arena on the left.
By 2015, there will be 1500 more seats and a lid on the currently 6,000-seat MCA and that will bring the Australian Open’s total of retractable roof stadiums to three.
Isner beat Nalbandian 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5), 10-8 in the second-round match. The controversy occurred at 8-all in the fifth set on a break point when umpire Kader Nouni over-ruled an ‘out’ call on an Isner ace which Hawk-Eye subsequently showed actually was out. Then things really boiled over for Nalbandian when Nouni refused to allow him to challenge.