Novak Djokovic: The Demolition Man Who Destroyed The Tour

Watching Djokovic’s struggles now, let’s #tbt to a time when he seemed unstoppable…

Novak-Djokovic-Andy-Murray-French-Open-Final-2016-June-2016-BellaNaija0009

Novak Djokovic with the Coupe des Mosqteraires. Credit: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

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.

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Kei Nishikori and The Mutua Madrid Open of 2014

OR HOW KEI NISHIKORI WILL BECOME THE FIRST MALE JAPANESE PLAYER TO BE RANKED IN THE TOP TEN!

Kei Nishikori, for you.

Kei Nishikori

He looks rather like a fish, doesn’t he. I’m not one to talk though; on good days I look like a vampire, and on bad ones, a walrus. In fact, making a quick conclusion from today’s title, clearly, the worse someone looks, the better they’re gonna be at tennis!

For example, Roger Federer, who looks great!

Roger Federer

Or, Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Or, aha, Martin Klizan!

Martin Klizan

… Or not.

Anyway, back to fish-face Nishikori, and why he’s the most exciting player right now.

He began the season with the Brisbane International Tournament, and was seeded 2nd, right after Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer.

Roger Federer - With Wimbledon

8 Wimbledon titles and counting…

This boy clearly chooses his tourneys well.

With 32 players jostling in the Qualifying round in the Main Draw, Nishikori sailed through into the second round, after receiving a first round BYE, courtesy his ATP ranking, and the fact that everyone else ranked higher than him (‘cept Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer) was at Doha, for the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open, (given its better prize money) or in some rare cases, Chennai, for the Aircel Chennai Open.

Stanislas Wawrinka

Hullo Stan!

All that rest, while the other guys were sweating it out, gave Nishikori quite the boost. He hammered his second round opponent, Matthew Ebden (a native ‘stralyin’)  6-2, 6-4. His quarterfinal match-up against the ever calm Marin Cilic, went well, and then it didn’t, and then it went super well, posting figures of 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

That three setter must’ve done him a number though, because his semifinal against anotha ‘stralyin didn’t have such a happy ending. His good start failed to convert, and Lleyton Hewitt took back the next two sets with a vengeance, easing into the final against who else but Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer with his 5-7, 6-4,6-3 win over Nish.

(Who also really does happen to look like a Fish…)

Goldfish

The resemblance is…

 

Kei Nishikori - Fish expression

…startling!

Hewitt went on to win the tourney 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, but that’s a story for another day.

Back to Nishikori!

Flashy Goldfish

Image not an accurate representation

Nishikori took his smarting loss to 33 year old Hewitt (practically a grandaddy in Tennis age,) and his 90 points, and headed home to cool his heels till the ‘stralyin’ Open.

He got seeded into the Top Half of the draw – which wasn’t the best place to be, really. Aside from Rafael Nadal (World No. 1) and Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer, Nish also had Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro swimming in his waters.

His first opponent, Marinko Matosevic, yet another ‘stralyin’, (he seems to have found a mating call for them really,) was a hard surfer to swamp. Fish won of course, but after a long, drawn out five-setter of: 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.

Take it from the expert, five-setters are a beast to recover from. Especially under the blazing ‘stralyin’ sun.

 

Desrted Australian Outback

Seriously hot…

 

Nish-the-Fish got his fins together though, and posted a straight sets win over Serb Dusan Lajovic, 6-1, 6-1, 7-6(3). A wobble in the last set indicates Lajovic started to fight the current, but Fish obviously pulled a Gayrados, and hyper-beamed his way into the third round to face American Donald Young. 

Young might have had hopes of flying the Stripes and Stars high in the back and beyond of the Down Under, but Fish triple whammied him in straight-sets , with a breadstick and bagel to go: 7-5, 6-1, 6-0.

Finding renewed strength from the rising sun on the hot Melbourne hardtop, Nishikori sliced his way to meet World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the latter on his way to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam title, and make a new one of being the only player in the Open Era to win every major at least twice.

Nish wasn’t impressed by these lofty ambitions though, and his fillany ways forced Nadal into two tie-breaks, both of which, he eventually lost.

 

Nishikori Losing

It was a hard loss to take :((

 

Still, it wasn’t a bad loss, and Nishikori got a further 180 points to add to his tally.

Better than that though, was Rafael Nadal’s eventual defeat to the Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka, in the final, denying him both his 14th Slam, and new record. Nishikori must’ve given the Swiss a private high-five to make that happen.

And seven days after Melbourne, Nishikori helped his fellow fish defeat Canada 4-1 at Tokyo in the first round of the Davis Cup. The home support – and girlfriend – must’ve counted in his favour.

On Feb 10th, Nish decided to skip Rotterdam, where all the cool kids were heading, and take a Wild Card entry to the US National Indoor Tennis Championships, at Memphis, Tennessee — where the nicer Justin of pop music hails from.

Justin Timberlake

Seeded first, and defending champion, it was sink or swim time for Nish, and dear god, did the man flap his fins.

Once again receiving a BYE into the second round, Nishikori, hammered his German opponent Boris Becker, 6-4, 6-4, wobbled a little bit against Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr., 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, recovered to blast American Michael Russell out of the water, 6-3, 6-2 (despite the latter having gotten rid of pesky Lleyton Hewitt for Fish,) and went on to win the title with a fantastic win against Croat Ivo Karlovic, 6-4, 7-6(0). 

Not only did Nish successfully defend his silverware, he also saved 250 points from the previous year, phew.

Memphis would also be where the King of Rock hails from, as seen by this rather snazzy trophy.

Memphis would also be where the King of Rock hails from, as seen by this rather snazzy trophy.

A week later, Nishikori was at Delray Beach (where he won his first ATP title way back in 2008) and was seeded 3rd.

His first match against Portuguese player Gastao Elias, a qualifier, saw another wobble, but eventual recovery: 6-1, 5-7, 6-2. The back-to-back weeks of tennis got him good though, and he had to retire in the second round with a left hip injury. He subsequently withdrew from the Abierto Mexicano TelCel to give it time to heal before March Madness started.

Indian Wells brought him, once again, seeded into the Top Half – with old favourites, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray,  and once again a first round BYE. In the second, he met Santiago Giraldo, whom he dispatched with relative ease, 6-1, 6-3. 

(Nish and Giraldo would meet each other again, at the Barcelona Open, where the latter would once again lose in straight-sets.)

The third round match-up against the higher ranked Tommy Haas unfortunately didn’t go so well, and Nishikori, fell back into the pond, 6-7(3), 2-6., taking a measly 45 points back home.

‘Cept he didn’t really go back home.

Miami was just around the corner!