When 2011 began, Novak Djokovic was simply the stepping stone in the continued, and much-storied rivalry at the top between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Six months on, he stands alone, one man at the top.
For all those who continued to doubt his world No. 1 status following his semi-final win against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the championship winning performance against Rafael Nadal should lay all such doubts to rest. As of right now, Novak Djokovic is officially, and practically, the best tennis player in the world.
Having run up a 48-1 record in 2011 already, Djokovic is already in position to put history to the test in the last few months of the ATP season. The one loss on his report card for 2011 came thanks to an out-of-this-world performance on clay by Roger Federer, who served unbelievably in their semi-final at Roland Garros and probably played his best match on clay ever.
Novak's mother has put his ascent to the top down to the "fearless" nature of his play, and his belief that when he steps on court he feels he can take down anybody. Now that he has beaten Nadal on all playing surfaces this year, and that, too, without losing even one match in their five encounters (all finals by the way), there is likely to be no argument as to who is the better player right now.
Roger Federer must be feeling thankful for Novak's sublime coronation as it probably keeps his Grand Slam haul of 16 titles out of Nadal's reach for the time being. But then he must also be realizing that he is probably now that stepping stone at No. 3 in the world that Novak used to be up until the end of last year.
The mental disintegration of Nadal has probably left Rafa and his coaching staff thinking they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Their man hasn't beaten the new world No. 1 at all this year, and he was absolutely bullied at times in their Wimbledon final.
In fact, the second set of the final was probably the best set of tennis that Djokovic has played all season (although it was followed up by a huge loss of concentration and energy in the third set). That point in the second game of the second set where he ended the point by playing the ball behind Nadal and breaking his serve left the crowd feeling they were witnessing something special . . . something with more than a touch of class.
Nadal fans might begin pointing to "that foot injury," which didn't hamper Rafa against Del Potro or Murray, as an excuse for his loss to Djokovic. But losing to the same player twice on hard courts, twice on clay, and then once on grass courts, needs a pretty long list of alibis where there are none.
To those who argue that Djokovic could do with a bit more humility...imagine being your country's greatest-ever sportsman at the age of 24, with your country's president cheering you on at the Wimbledon final. That should be more than enough to fire up any one. For the record, please note how many times during a match Novak applauds his opponents' outstanding shot-making.
But after the Wimbledon final, it is impossible to argue against the ATP rankings. The tennis world has a No. 1 not named Federer or Nadal, and a Wimbledon champion not named Federer or Nadal.
Novak Djokovic stands peerless at the top now, and he is without any doubt the real No. 1.
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