Novak Djokovic defeated Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-2, to successfully defend his Rogers Cup title in Toronto, Canada. The Serbian picked up his third title of 2012 and has much-needed momentum heading to Cincinnati for the Western and Southern Open.
Djokovic was resilient the past few days, dodging raindrops and enduring late-night matches. Recent wins over rejuvenated Tommy Haas and compatriot Janko Tipsarevic displayed his toughness and physical play over feisty competitors.
The win over Gasquet was over after the first game in which Gasquet squandered three break-point chances. For the tournament, Djokovic saved 28-of-29 break-point chances from his opponents.
The remainder of the quick match featured Djokovic lasers and Gasquet frustrations for a convincing rout, reminiscent of Djokovic 2011.
Motivation should not be a problem for Djokovic after losing at the French Open finals and Wimbledon semifinals. He is aware that he needs another Grand Slam win, even as the vultures circle in hopeful anticipation that he may be vulnerable.
Now is the time for Djokovic’s opportunity. The drive to defend his U.S. Open title and recapture the No. 1 ranking could set up a monster finish in grabbing more titles to close out the year.
Something Rotten in Denmark
Maybe Djokovic was glad to escape the soft grass and head to the New World where the hard courts demand toughness and physical play. Say what you want about Djokovic, but he was the only top player standing after just a few days in Toronto.
Roger Federer decided rest would be more important than entering the draw.
Andy Murray withdrew after one match because of a sore left knee. His status remains questionable as he heads to Cincinnati.
Juan Martin del Potro allegedly showed up in his opening-match loss.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was also gone in one match and hurt his right knee in a car accident. It requires stitches and 10 days of rest. He will not participate in Cincinnati.
Rafael Nadal has not played since his infamous match against Lukas Rosol, and he may not have the recovery and competitive groove he needs to seriously contend at the U.S. Open.
There has been a lot of reluctance to dive into the hard-court season following the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. It’s had all the enthusiasm of flying to Denmark to swim in an icy pond.
ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, during the Djokovic vs. Haas semifinal telecast, told Chris Fowler that going from soft grass to hard courts is the toughest transition of surfaces and is even more difficult than the more celebrated clay to grass differences.
Gilbert claimed that players need a couple weeks to prepare for the physical pounding of the hard courts and to toughen their bodies.
But for Djokovic, the hard courts have been his domain, and he may find greater strength and recovery as he takes his talents to New York in search of another U.S. Open trophy.
To Play or Not to Play
Djokovic became the dominant No. 1 player for a year through a relentless game and attitude. His mantra was to hit harder than his opponent and to track down every last defensive disadvantage.
At times, his machine-like energy and efficiency seemed like some futuristic combat cyborg from a science fiction novel. In the 2012 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal, Djokovic increasingly hit harder as the match progressed, and even into the sixth hour, to outlast his tireless rival.
And perhaps, he is still trying to find physical rejuvenation from Melbourne. His admirable all-out physical style may have blown a few fuses, and the mental toll had to be burdensome at least.
Djokovic will likely face the dilemma of just how hard to play. Should he pace himself in early rounds against lesser talent and then try and turn on his 2011 generator when heavy voltage is needed to power past his excellent rivals?
But for a warrior like Djokovic, pacing himself may not feel like an acceptable option. How would he feel to let up just three percent and lose his U.S. Open title to a harder-hustling Andy Murray?
So much of Djokovic’s special talent is predicated on his maniacal physical play. To ease up is to sacrifice the essence of being the sole dominant player on the ATP tour.
Djokovic may find his inspirational fortitude through his mental determination and fire. His mind may lead his body to replay the spectacular game he played in 2011. At some point, perhaps soon, this will be the only option.
To Thine Own Self be True
William Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet was a tragic figure of hesitancy. After mulling over what to be, Hamlet eventually lost his bid for power, and even his life. Passive behavior does not win in a cutthroat world.
Likewise, tennis has almost always rewarded aggressive play, even with changes in technology, surfaces and styles of play.
Recently, Federer and Murray have chosen to attack Djokovic with their own upgraded tenacity and strategies. They did not react, but rather seized victory through proactive play and determined mindsets.
And now with a change in surfaces, it is Djokovic who must respond. The conditions will suit his game and fuel his desire.
Which matchup would you most want to see in the U.S. Open final?
He will need to serve bigger and end more points up the lines.
Hard courts will produce more winners for the Serbian who can hit harder and flatter on his finishing shots. It’s preferable to the speed-sapping clay when the ball sits up and helps neutralize the Serbian’s baseline power.
Hard courts will also permit him to dictate more pace and rhythm, which was somewhat missing in the European season. His rivals will not have grass to enhance their slice and low-skidding shots.
He is at his best when he can stamp "return to sender." His shoes will be squeaking as he scampers to stab up skyscraping lobs and scream his stunning shots.
Above all, Djokovic needs only to play with his reckless confidence, to take risks and to control his fate.
It’s better than putting your trust or life in the hands of your enemies, or even your friends. And if Hamlet were here, he would testify.