It’s also clear that an encore of Djokovic’s epic 2011 season is not a foregone conclusion. His dominance was constructed with extraordinary talent combined with supreme effort and drive.
Djokovic’s dream season was like winning over a supermodel through attention to details such as thoughtful cards, witty poems, pretty flowers, caring phone calls and text messages. However, once the relationship is achieved, will it receive the same level of commitment?
Will Djokovic continue to train with the same ferocity? Will he be patiently aggressive in working long points? Will he keep adding improvements to his game?
An examination of Djokovic’s play in Miami is an open window to study these variables.
The last few matches followed the same pattern for Djokovic. He raced out to an easy first-set victory by crushing his patented groundstrokes, as if programmed from highlights of the past year. He then finished off a second set donnybrook by eking out a tiebreaker.
The 6-1 first set was closer and more grueling than the score would indicate. Djokovic proved his mettle again by winning a tough, 12-minute fourth game after trailing 40-0.
He continued to overpower Murray by stepping closer to the baseline, lulling him with a few shots, and then whipping sharp-angled blasts to the opposite corner. Early on, this forced Murray into errors and coaxed weak returns that Djokovic pounded, usually with his forehand.
When Djokovic is in the zone, there’s not much Murray or any player can do, but the Serb is growing accomplished at keeping his focus and steering himself through tough sets. He will open the door, but slam it shut when it’s closing time.
Djokovic served well, especially early in the second set. In the fourth game, he produced three service winners and an ace. He followed this up with his next service game at love.
If Djokovic can continue developing an already excellent serve, the payoff will occur in the months ahead. It will help ease the grind of wining so many arduous points.
A few times, Murray paced around angrily in his corner as if learning that somebody had wrecked his car. Yet somehow, these emotional moments seem to bring him back into a match. The worst one can say is Murray won't quit.
In the second set, serving at 1-1 and 30-40, Murray persevered in a 25-shot rally before Djokovic plunked the final return into the net.
Murray’s play immediately improved. He hit his forehand harder and usually kept Djokovic from teeing off from the baseline.
He began to win more of the longer rallies, forcing Djokovic to move more and miss some down-the-line shots. He scrapped back with an all-in attitude, and a few serves that topped 130 mph.
Coach Ivan Lendl should be credited for this upgrade. Murray is fighting with greater belief, and is closing some of the cavernous gap that divides him from the big three.
CBS color commentator Mary Carillo also remarked during the telecast that Lendl does not discourage Murray’s emotional moments, so long as self-deprecation doesn't translate into negative play.
Can Murray funnel his storm into a perfect run at the French Open?
He will need near-perfect consistency, like Mats Wilander in 1988, thinking ahead and executing each stroke into a winning series.
He must continue to build his own version of Federer’s variety and court awareness, Rafael Nadal’s fitness and fight, and Djokovic’s championship hunger.
Murray’s in the game, and he will not likely fold.
While it was disappointing for most tennis fans that Federer did not advance to a semifinal matchup with Djokovic, it’s not a cause for long-term concern. He did miss out on bigger computer points, but has been playing excellent tennis the past several months.
Federer is not slated to play in Monte Carlo, but will be ready to continue his quest on clay. He shouldn't be dismissed from winning the French Open three years after his title, as he has come close to winning several more times in Paris. He will be co-favorite with Djokovic, should Nadal falter.
Nadal’s troubling withdrawal from the Miami semifinals was explained as an injured knee through his Twitter link and 42-second video. It’s at least a minor concern, but history shows he has often played through nagging injuries.
It’s further motivation for Nadal to play at Monte Carlo given that he has won the last seven tournaments there commencing in 2005.
Djokovic will also be gunning for Monte Carlo, but for now can enjoy his latest and well-deserved title trophy.
He should be great as long as he remembers to dote on his fabulous skills.
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