After watching tennis the last few weeks, you just have to love where the men’s game is heading. A while back I labeled the period between 2002 and 2006 “The Age of No Competition”. I took a lot of heat for it, but I still stand by that, and now we are finally seeing a new group of players, led by Novak Djokovic, who are changing that and are ready to take over tennis. And it’s great to see.
Rafael Nadal aside, Djokovic is the best of the bunch right now. I love his attitude, the fact that he thinks he can beat anyone on any surface at anytime. He’s got no fear. And he’s got all the shots including a wicked backhand, whippy forehand and the ability to play the net and get people to the net. I still wonder about his fitness – if Guillermo Canas could have figured out a way to win that third set in Miami Sunday, who knows? – and he needs to muscle up just a little bit, but overall he’s a solid Top 10, Top 5 player the next few years.
Of course Djokovic joins Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych, Marcos Baghdatis, Evgeny Korolev, Sam Querrey, Juan Martin Del Potro, etc., to comprise a terrific class of new players who like Djokovic, and unlike some of the guys who’ve been in the Top 10 the last few years – James Blake, Tommy Robredo, Nikolay Davydenko, etc., – don’t seem to have that fear of facing the top guys in big matches.
Sure they are young and they’ll continue to have their ups and downs (see Monfils, Berdych recently), but with these new guys in the field, in my mind tennis is much tougher now than it was just a year ago, and it stands to reason that the level of play and competition will only be stronger a year from now as this new crop matures and get more matches under their belt. And I think they will really challenge Roger Federer and his top spot if not later this year then next year. Heck, since the start of the 2004 season Murray, Gasquet and Berdych already have more wins over Roger than veterans Blake, Roddick, Ljubicic, Haas, Gonzalez and Robredo combined. (Okay, the latter group has a big fat ZERO!)
That said, from a pure tennis perspective, I love watching these guys. They play with so much variety and each seems to have their own unique style. Djokovic is a masher. Murray is a thinker. Gasquet is Mr. Talent and his countryman Monfils, Mr. Energy. Korolev is a grinder. Baghdatis is smooth and Berdych is Baby Marat.
Looking ahead and trying to figure who will finish as the best of the bunch is really hard to say. Obviously Djokovic and Nadal are the front runners right now, and both have got the drive and the ability to be the next No. 1. Once they get their heads on straight, Gasquet and Monfils have an enormous upside, but their games and mental toughness may not fully blossom for a few more years. Murray and Querrey will have the most monetary and coaching support (and the luxury of having Slams in their homeland) while Baghdatis, Berdych, Del Potro and Korolev will find it tougher in those areas. And there are a few guys I left out, like Marin Cilic and Jeremy Chardy and many others we haven’t heard about yet who are in the junior ranks.
So while I like Djokovic and you have to consider Nadal, I think one of the Frenchmen, Gasquet or Monfils, may ultimately reign supreme, though I really don’t forsee anyone dominating anywhere close to level that Fed has. My guess is once the Fed Era has passed, there will be many guys winning Slams and many guys grabbing the top ranking for a short periods of time. But if in five years Djokovic is playing Gasquet or Monfils for the US Open title, I think Djokovic beats Gasquet but Monfils, who will have the crowd energized, would take out Novak. So I guess my pick is Monfils! Now I just need that to happen. Actually, I need a lot of things for that to happen. But man, what a great match that would be.
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