The U.S. Open rolls on, and Novak Djokovic is playing like a defending champ.
Roger Federer and Andy Murray have displayed beautiful tennis over the last sixth months, and both figure to be in the semis. The absence of Rafael Nadal and early exit of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will make reaching the finals easier for everyone, but do not underestimate the pesky David Ferrer or American juggernaut John Isner.
Even with a field that looks as deep as it has in years, Djokovic is in a great position to repeat as U.S. Open Champion. Here are four reasons why Djokovic will defend his title.
1. Serving Dominance
Novak Djokovic has cruised through the U.S. Open thus far. Just this morning, he defeated the No. 31 player in the world, Julien Benneteau, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in a match that took one hour and 37 minutes. His serve has been the main reason for the early dominance.
Djokovic has never been one to stuff the scoreboard with aces or MPH, and that continues to be the case. However, as usual, he has been efficient in service games. At the present, Djokovic has won 83 percent of his first-serve points and 66 percent of his second serves at the 2012 U.S. Open.
What's most impressive has been Djokovic’s reluctance to be broken. He lost serve in his first tournament game but has not allowed such an opportunity for his opponents since.
2. Hard-Court Success
Djokovic has always had great success on hard court. He was 29-3 on the surface for the calendar year heading into the U.S. Open.
Since the conclusion of the London Olympics, he is 9-1, with his lone loss coming to Roger Federer in the finals at Cincinnati.
The loss to Federer won’t bother the Serb. Interpreting the results of a non-major tournament is difficult to do since they follow a best-of-three format. Djokovic was loved in his first set with Fed, but he lost the second one in a 16-point tiebreaker.
3. Consistent Return Game
Rafael Nadal is the only player on the tour who has won a higher percentage of first-serve returns or return games than has Djokovic—and he’s not playing in the Open. Djokovic also ranks second in points won returning second serves.
With all the big servers left in the tournament (John Isner, Andy Roddick, Milos Raonic, Nicolas Almagro, Juan Martin Del Potro), the ability to return continues to be a huge predictor of success. This is especially true when you consider the added boost serves receive on hard court.
4. Well Rested
Year after year, fitness emerges as one of the defining traits to either eliminate or bring players to success. For all we like to discuss regarding winners, unforced errors, holds and aces, there are inevitably those who retire early or fall 0-6, 0-6 down the backstretch of a match.
In 2012, Djokovic did what so many all-time greats have done before him: He was choosy when signing up for tournaments. The idea behind this plan is, obviously, to conserve oneself for the majors and those events leading up to them.
Suffice to say that Djokovic has been effective in doing this—no player currently ranked inside the top 75 has played in fewer tournaments.
Djokovic’s first big match will come against the winner of the Roddick-Del Potro affair. If Roddick can defeat Del Potro (Roddick has never lost in the fourth round), Djokovic will have an interesting environment for his quarterfinal outing.