Watching Djokovic’s struggles now, let’s #tbt to a time when he seemed unstoppable…
It seemed like yesterday when Novak Djokovic, contesting his 4th Roland Garros final, lost to an on-fire Stanislas Wawrinka, who picked up his maiden French, and second Grand Slam title. For Djokovic, it was heartbreak personified. Defeating Nadal in the semis had given everyone (including himself) the belief that 2015 was the year he would clinch the one Slam that had eluded him (and to be honest everyone else, thanks to Rafael Nadal’s presence) in his career.
Alas, it was not to be.
Lesser mortals might have caved or quivered; lost confidence or competence, but not Djokovic. For him, the season had only just begun. Before his French Open title loss, Djokovic was already enjoying one of his best seasons in tennis, second only to his breakout 2011 year.
He picked up the Australian Open 2015 at Melbourne (earning him a fifth Australian Open Slam – an Open Era record,) won the Indian Wells- Miami double (for the third time in a row – also a record,) and won two out of the three clay masters in Italy in Rome, extending his masters titles to 23. His win streak, before the French Open dawned, was 22 matches, further extended to 28 matches, before that fateful final loss to Stanislas Wawrinka.
Djokovic silenced his critics, and one-upped the rest of the field by promptly winning his second Wimbledon title at SW-19, and bringing his Slam count to 9. Federer and Nadal fans had a sudden chill up their spine, and the name of that chill: Novak Djokovic, Demolition Man.
Brief respite came at the beginning of the hardcourt season, with two final losses to Murray and Federer, but the results were still ominous. Unlike the rest of the field, Djokovic’s consistent presence at tour finals was beginning to spell doom for everyone else. Djokovic picked up his second US Open, and his 10th Grand Slam title.
Bagging the French
If 2014 was seen as Djokovic’s year to win the French, 2015 was seen as Djokovic’s year to win everything – including the French. Rafael Nadal’s injury woes continued for most of the season and he failed to pick up a single clay court title. Roger Federer strained his back while doing so me household chores and sat out most of the hardcourt season.
Both of them would make no impact at Roland Garros – Federer having skipped it; Rafa having withdrawn in the third round. And yet, as luck is bound to change, just as these stalwarts retreated, leaving the field seemingly wide open for Djokovic, a resurgent Andy Murray began to pick up titles. Undeterred by his Melbourne loss to Djokovic in yet another final, Murray became a father, and in the process found his clay feet.
He beat Djokovic in Rome and suddenly, just like 2014, it seemed that this year too, the Djokovic was going to concede defeat at an increasingly familiar p lace, and this time, no one would be to blame but himself. Critics and pundits had had their say, and while they said, the Demolition Man suddenly emerge d from his trance-like cocoon to wrest back control of Roland Garros and finally conquer it, and with that win, become the only man to hold all four grand slam titles at once in the Open Era. Another quiet achievement was established: Djokovic also became the only man to win 6 Masters title in one year.
Physical and Mental Endurance
Many critics point out that Djokovic’s recent meteoric rise is due to the waning of Federer and Nadal – that he is simply a product of circumstance, facing a “weak era.” These same critics however refuse to acknowledge why Djokovic’s success has not been repeated by any other player on tour in the same duration, and these same critics fail to note the extraordinary lengths he has gone to, to ensure this complete dominance.
His gluten-free diet is legendary for being the trigger to the gluten-free craze currently gripping the food world, but little and less is spoken about his “mindfulness” techniques or the hours of military-like discipline he brings to his practice sessions.
Djokovic doesn’t possess Federer’s flair or Nadal’s brutality, but his single-minded commitment to better the various elements of his game has paid off: every single stroke of his is a weapon, so much so that even if one fails to fire (as it often does in the world of competitive sport) the others still hold him head and shoulders above the rest of the ATP tour.
The era of the “big 4″ is well over, giving way to the era of the “big 1” because not since Rod Laver has one man held all four major titles together, not Becker, Edberg or Lendl; not Sampras, Agassi or Hewitt, and certainly not Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal. This mastery of the game – and through it – the sport has left fans breathless for more and Djokovic seems intent to rise to the challenge, perhaps we will see him win eighteen grand slam titles, seventeen at the very least.