Whilst 2011 has been a spectacular year so far for Novak Djokovic, there is every reason to remain cautious about labeling him the "next big thing."
As Leon Spinks once said after he defeated the veteran Muhammed Ali, “I’m the latest, not the greatest.” Someone, of course, was going to step up to challenge Federer and Nadal, and at this moment in time it is most certainly the extrovert Serb.
He’s had an excellent start to this year’s clay court season, ending Nadal’s two-year run on the surface. But this is some distance from taking the Spaniard out in five sets on the slow clay of Roland Garros—arguably the least enviable task in tennis.
Federer has beaten Nadal on the red dirt before, but always ended up summarily thumped by him in three French finals. So, this will be the next big test for Djokovic who has yet to win a slam outside of Australia.
With a win, the French and his status goes up a whole new level, but I don’t imagine a certain Spaniard is quaking just yet.
Next comes grass of course, a surface Djokovic hasn’t reached his full potential on as of yet and where he will possibly be less fancied than Roger or Rafa. But now that Novak seems to have left his hypochondriac/self-doubting tendencies behind him, there’s no reason why he can’t improve on his 2007 semifinal appearance at Wimbledon.
He will, to some degree, be an unknown quantity at Wimbledon this year because he brings such a new attitude to his game these days, but on his current form, who could be blamed for thinking he may go all the way this time?
Djokovic has proved his mettle at the US Open, having already reached one final, so it would surprise nobody if he were to go the extra step at this venue either.
One area of concern for me (the same observation many people make about Nadal), is the high-octane nature of Djokovic’s game. He is a tremendously fit athlete, but like Nadal, his game and style isn’t economical and I can see injury and fatigue affecting his career, if not this year, then over the next few.
His is probably not a game tailored for longevity. He’s having as good a start to the year as he could possibly have wished for, but as Nadal and Federer could easily testify to, he will need to do it year in, year out to get to the top of Mount Olympus.
I wish him well, and look forward to the remaining story of 2011 which may simply be "the year of his life" or the start of a new era of domination.