Tennis Stars (Mis)Align to Allow Novak Djokovic to Win First Title of 2009

Khalid SiddiquiCorrespondent IIMarch 2, 2009

Fortune favours the brave, they say. So given the amount of good fortune Novak Djokovic had during the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships last week, he is probably the bravest man on the ATP tour.

Even before a ball was dropped on court in Dubai, the top two players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, had withdrawn citing injuries.

His tour boogeyman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and the 'new and improved' Andy Roddick were also not among those playing.

This allowed Djokovic to go into a major tournament seeded number 1, and allowed him to avoid another of his main nemeses, Andy Murray, all the way until the final.

But, as luck would have it, Murray also withdrew at the quarter-final stage, leaving only Gilles Simon as a major threat to Djokovic's title ambitions. Djokovic's journey through the tournament was not hurdle-free, with the Czech Jan Hernych nearly stretching him to his limit in an error-strewn performance.

He had a relatively easier time against up and coming Marin Cilic in the quarter finals, but still had demons to exorcise in the semi final against third-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon.

As Djokovic was the most improved player on the ATP tour in 2007, Simon certainly warranted a mention in same category along with Andy Murray for 2008.

A daytime semi-final in the heat of Dubai certainly brought back memories of Djokovic's stamina lapse at the Australian Open quarter final stage earlier this year. 


Epic semi nearly wilted Djokovic again

Djokovic's now-famous breathing problems and fragile stamina nearly caused him to lose out in the Dubai heat once again. The signs were quite ominous when he dropped the first set 3-6. But he seemed to change gears for one final thrust in the second set and won the set 7-5. 

After being broken early on in the final set, it seemed Djokovic would wilt away in the heat once again. However, as the sun started to set and the heat started to dissipate, Djokovic found his last ounce of strength to break back and then take advantage of Simon's errors to win the final set 7-5 as well. 


Night final a blessing for Nole

Once he had gotten past Simon, a night final awaited against Spanish fourth-seed David Ferrer, against whom he had a head-to-head record of 3-3. Djokovic must surely have breathed a sigh of relief looking at the match time. 

Even though the 7-5, 6-3 scoreline suggested a comfortable straight sets win for Djokovic, the performance was highlighted by several errors. 

Errors like the ones he committed against Ferrer would never have gone unpunished against the likes of Federer and Nadal. Both sets were littered with breaks of serve either way.

However, a breath of fresh air was the way Djokovic handled Ferrer's baseline game and tried to cut down his running time along the baseline.

He was more willing to come to the net to neutralize Ferrer's baseline game, and the absence of the scorching sun allowed him to play a bit more freely.

Now that Djokovic has his first title for 2009 under his belt, it should give him some confidence despite the absence of quite a few top-ranked players. He has even closed the ranking points differential against Roger Federer to 1,580 compared to 1,990 prior to the tournament.

But the reality is that the next few ATP tournaments leading up to the French Open will be on clay. This should involve a comfortable march to every major title in the next few weeks for Rafael Nadal (provided he plays those tournaments).

The real battle for Djokovic will be to try and tame his shortcomings against the likes of Murray and Tsonga to consolidate his position as world No. 3, while hoping for some luck in the French Open draw as well.

If he is in Federer's half of the draw, he could possibly ponder playing in his first French Open final, but that is the best he should probably hope for from the claycourt season given Nadal's ruthless clay form.