How He Fared in 2009: Novak Djokovic Seems To Be Getting Serious

antiMatterSenior Analyst IDecember 28, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 27:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns the ball during the men's singles round robin match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on November 27, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Joker, the arch-nemesis of Batman, is a man without a plan. He is out there to beat the guys with the plan—guys who try to control their little world.

His namesake, Djoker also known sometimes as Djokovic, seemed to be no different for a while—trying to beat better prepared guys on tour.

With the number of retirements from matches increasing, and many in losing positions, the man's commitment and conduct were in question. He was the man without the plan. "Why so serious" about these paraphernalia like fitness?

The story about retirements was no different in the beginning of the year at the Australian Open, when he let Andy Roddick a free pass.

Djokovic had turned to Head from Wilson and many people were of the opinion that not only was his body responsible for his plummeting results, but his Head was, too.

While he won the Dubai Open in the season-beginning hardcourt season, it did not mean much in the broader picture that had Federer and Nadal in it who also were the more prominent aspects of it. Indeed he could be spotted in the picture only on careful scrutiny as these tennis giants towered over everyone else.

But coming off the hard-court season, he seemed to be slowly finding his feet on clay. He took on himself the task of challenging Nadal and did pretty well, too. That is to say, against a 100 percent Nadal, no one probably could have done better.

Runner up to Nadal in Rome after a three-set affair, he went on to put on his best performance in Madrid where he almost threatened to win in straight sets. But despite playing his best, he still couldn't win the match—one of the nearest misses of the year.

Probably that match took so much out of Djokovic physically and mentally. He lost meekly at the Roland Garros—a round before the comrade with whom he had conspired to come up with magical clay court tennis a few weeks ago.

Perhaps the fact that he was deprived of a clay court title at Monte Carlo as well, before Rome and Madrid, which is almost three titles, might suggest that Nadal taking some time off during this part of the season would have helped not only Nadal.

The Roland Garros probably acts as some sort of scale to delineate between the two halves of the season.

Looking back, it could be surely noticed that Djokovic had problems with fitness, a changed racket, and a lack of form and confidence, to which it cannot be said that the first two did not contribute, at the beginning of the season, where his results were no better than mediocre.

But then he had regrouped with the beginning of clay court season. Perhaps more setup on clay helped him retool his strokes with the new racket and blend them together better.

Whatever it was, he was firing on all cylinders, and he almost got the better of the man who, on clay, was constantly challenging the law of conservation of energy, which probably is the best achievement in tennis, and the most chivalrous service to Physics.

Now we will move on to the rest of the season. It seems as one darts quick glances through reams of memory that Djokovic's stellar progress right through the clay season had suffered a set-back due to the physical beating at the hands of Nadal, and the mental beating the close losses had dealt upon him.

Let's look at it a bit more carefully.

Then came the shortest, yet most prestigious season of the year where someone once opined that cows should have more court time than tennis players (probably out of "terrible" disappointment). And there, on both tournaments, a Federer-less Gerry Weber Open, and a Nadal-less Wimbledon, he lost to the guy who was very much there—Tommy Haas who was having the time of his life.

Going into the hard-court season, Federer turned red-hot probably wanting to see how it is to turn red-hot after seeing all these other guys do it and having a lot of fun from it. Djokovic lost to the Batman in Cincinnati.

He was again foiled by Federer in the US Open, where he came marginally short to Federer on three occasions in the match, and stupendously short on one shot that got Federer the match-point.

It could be said that Djokovic was still recovering from the midseason maladies. But his record from then onwards tells us nothing but stories of "The Season of Nole and Koyla."

He went on to win three tournaments heading into the season ending WTF. He beat the goat (Federer) which was now contented and happy, the giraffe (Cilic) which was being noticed everywhere not only on account of its height, and the puma (Monfils) which had found out that the purpose in life is not the circus, but hunting for its own food. Probably a highlight would be his clinical, authoritative victory over Nadal on the way.

Probably Djokovic had proven a point by then, and was already looking forward to a relaxing year end time off. And perhaps this explains why he was so off colour in his defeat to Robin Soderling at the WTF. And perhaps if mathematics had kept away from interfering with tennis, he would have found his way into the Semifinals.

This season, for Djokovic, has probably helped him mature a lot, where he came back from multiple slumps to elevate his game and shine as much as anyone else, especially towards the dusk of the season where the only brighter star would be Davydenko.

Another trend that one should mention is the way Djokovic has been conducting himself in the press and on the court.

From being almost hated for being arrogant after predicting (wrongly) Federer's doom, getting into fights with the fitter Roddick (fitter with words and fists in case they take it to a bar), he has gotten back his share of popularity which was on show when he took on Johnny Mac at Flushing meadows in a show of camaraderie and talent.

Probably we will see a tougher, stronger Nole next season.


Please read Claudia's excellent account of Fernando Verdasco's progress this season, which is the previous article in the series, here.