Novak Djokovic: Coming of Age
It is often said that winning the second major is more difficult than the first. And what better proof of this is there than Novak Djokovic. Not only because it has been a while since he stunned the world No. 1 Roger Federer on course to win his maiden grand slam title in 2008, but also because of the performances that followed after that show us exactly why it is said so.
Complementing his major with two more masters in earlier half of 2008, he was a definite star and was being spoken of in the same breath as the two players ranked ahead of him. And this was the period when the elements of self doubt and skepticism crept in. The Serbian was unsure of his place in tennis—whether as a legitimate slam contender or still an exciting upcoming competitor.
After repeatedly placing himself within one victory to attain the No. 2 ranking, and missing on both occasions, he went through a very tough period in 2009, whether it was due to the criticism for his fitness, his relations with the media, the emergence of new stars in Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, or a series of near misses at the Master Series—specially his heartbreaking loss against Rafael Nadal at Madrid. The lack of titles did not help matters, and the Serbian No. 1 was in danger of being the forgotten hero.
The Novak Djokovic in the indoor season is a completely transformed player. He has developed much more meat and become much fitter and stronger than before. The transformation from a player unable to battle the Australian heat to the one clocking 94 appearances and 76 victories—both being the highest on the tour—speaks for itself.
The increase in fitness and strength has been well complemented by the maturity developed in his game. He has added more speed and accuracy to his forehand, although the margin of error can still be reduced further, especially on the faster courts. His serve may still not be comparable to Federer or del Potro, but he possess immense variety in his first shot, including the recently developed serve right at the body, something which he used cleverly against Federer and Monfils. And he looks as confident as ever at the net either by hitting good approach shots or infrequently using the now-extinct chip-n-charge approach.
Everything else, though, is overshadowed by the way he has carried himself on court. He confidently gave a punishing lesson on hard court tennis to Rafael Nadal (against whom he held a poor 5-14 win/loss record) and battled with two partisan crowds in Basel and Paris which were heavily rooting for the player opposite to him.
He maintained his concentration and composure when Gael Monfils was launching an unexpected counter attack riding fully on crowd support. He shrugged aside the disappointment of blowing away of early leads and stuck to his basics, rather than folding his arms to the heaven for divine intervention, by doing the things that were under his control.
He never once lost his nerve in the final set tie-breaker against Monfils and took control of points by timing his net approaches perfectly and springing off exquisite volleys to easily win the breaker, and the title. This was especially courageous against someone like Monfils, capable of running down balls from every part of the court.
And once he broke his streak of the defeats in the finals, he let the old Djoker out by his trademark chest thump towards his camp.
Djokovic has utilized the fall season brilliantly to work his way into form and gain a lot of confidence with this much needed title which will definitely help him put behind the disappointments of this season.
A new Novak Djokovic awaits us in 2010.
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