Djokovic, Tsonga Add Intrigue to 2008 Tennis Season
Well, Novak Djokovic really put a dent into Roger Federer’s plans for continued world domination in tennis. The 20-year-old Serb not only had his way with the world No. 1, he has all but prevented Federed from eclipsing Pete Sampras’s record 14 Slams this year. Sorry, Roger. Put the champagne back in the fridge because you’re not breaking that mark in 2008. Not by the looks of it at least.
And I know it’s early but Djokovic, not Federer, not Rafael Nadal, is in the driver’s seat in the 2008 point standings, and the kid has the moxie and the game to stay on top. Djokovic also won two of the last three meetings with Fed, and arguably could be up three straight had he converted any of those set points in the U.S. Open final.
As for Federer, the Swiss will have a good month until Dubai to contemplate just what went wrong. After some scintillating tennis the two rounds at the Australian Open, Federer looked like a mere mortal in a five-set escape against Janko Tipsarevic, then needed Tomas Berdych to choke to gain the upper hand and the first set, and then was broken three times in a quarterfinal win over James Blake. The warning signs were there.
Yes, he reached the semifinal, which for many players would be an excellent result. But as even Fed said, he didn’t play his best, and from my vantage point the guy looked slow and listless. Almost like he did at the US Open.
So what just what caused (or is causing) the mighty Fed Express to derail? Was it the lack of match practice coming in? Was it the bad chicken he allegedly ate before the event? Was it the absence of any coach? Was it the slower blue courts? Was it the post Pete Sampras slump? Was it Mirka? Or are the players like Djokovic simply catching up to and even passing the Fed?
I’d say it’s a mixed bag, but whatever the root cause, Fed needs to be a little concerned. Maybe setting up shop in Dubai collecting cash and hitting with Florida Gators isn’t such a good idea after all.
But first full credit and congrats to Djokovic, who deservedly grabbed his first Slam singles title for his native Serbia overcoming Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Judging by the comments and reaction to his win, Djoko might not be the most likable guy but he is undeniably an incredible tennis player. He’s a flat-out masher who can crush strokes off either wing, he possesses a deceptively effective serve and service return and he plays excellent defense when needed.
Yeah, he’s still working out some drama issues with injuries and breathing, especially when he gets tight, but the more the Joker wins the less those tense moments should get to him. At least for his sake that better be the case.
Will he win a few more Slams? I’d certainly bet on that, but I’m not so sure he’s ready to take over tennis just yet. Let’s first see how the kid reacts to this first Slam win – look what happened to Safin following his Grand Slam wins – then we’ll get a better sense of his hunger. The kid still won’t be the favorite going into any Slam this year at least.
Speaking of Safin, watching JW Tsonga reminded me a lot of the big Russian with his fluid serve and penetrating groundstrokes. I didn’t see much of his earlier round matches (yeah, he hammered my finalist pick Murray!) but wow, what raw power and poise the kid showed in his win over Nadal and again in the final where he had real chance against Djoko to extend it to a fifth (he must be the highest ranked guy to have never ever played a fifth set!). Ali Jr. even had the stones to complain to the chair ump about Djokovic’s slow serving. For a guy in his first tour final of any kind that’s pretty damn good showing that he wasn’t going to back down. Gotta love the kid.
With that kind of game, if the Frenchman can stay out of the doctor’s office he’ll be on the favorites list for many future Slams.
And as a side note, it’s amazing that Tsonga’s now gone further in a Slam than his more highly-touted contemporaries like Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils – did anyone anywhere predict such a run before the event? I admit I didn’t see it coming this quickly, or really at all unless the real Ali became tennis’s comissioner. I just hope the kid can keep it together and replicate his Australian run down the road when faced with the new pressure.
Keeping it together is something Maria Sharapova certainly did quite well in winning her third Major, this time without the loss of a single set. Sure, you could make the case that the Russian took advantage of Justin Henin’s knee injury, Serena Williams’s “issues” and Jelena Jankovic’s fatigue, but screw that, Maria was the best player on the tennis court those two weeks. It seems of late anytime in women’s tennis that a non-Henin or non-Williams wins an event it’s because the top gals were absent or injured. And that’s garbage.
Love her or hate her (full disclosure, I am not a big fan), Sharapova is one French Open title from a career Slam, and let’s not forget she’s only 20. And despite making all that cash off court she still competes and screams like nobody else on it.
I will say that thanks to the new face of Tsonga and Djokovic’s sudden Slam, 2008 is off to an absolutely fascinating start and I hope even more surprises are on the way.
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