By Matt McGladrigan
Well, Novak Djokovic has once again proved he is the best in his sport at the moment, by beating the great and twice-defending champion Roger Federer in two tight sets to win the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals in London, bringing the curtain down on arguably the most exhilarating year of men’s tennis yet. It was always going to be tough for him to follow up last year, after having such a phenomenal season winning three of the four majors. Despite only lifting one Grand Slam in Australia, back in January, the Serbian has had a lot of success to revel in when he now relaxes for a while in the off-season.
Melbourne, Miami, Toronto, Beijing, Shanghai, London: the 6 cities that Djokovic has been victorious in during 2012. He has won some big matches this season, but has also had some particularly heart-wrenching defeats. The Serb lost in the finals of both the French Open (where he had the chance to be the holder of all 4 Grand Slam titles) and the US Open. The first half of the year was probably mainly about Nole against Rafa, with all the important matches seemingly involving those two. Second half has been about Djokovic-Murray. And mix in some classics with Roger, and those top four have absolutely dominated again.
But what has made Djokovic become so great and the number one player in the world? Quite simply, he wins the big points in the big matches. He has that absolute knack of being able to perform to the best of his ability when trophies, paycheques and rankings are all on the line. We saw it all year: saving match points against Tsonga in the last 8 in Paris (much to the disgust of the fanatic home crowd), against Murray in Shanghai. Nole will outlast his opponent too; he’s just first-class in the lengthy baseline rallies. Nadal was the one that could engage in these with him the most, but Murray has really stepped up in that regard and improved his defences too.
The world number one has got pretty much every shot in his arsenal. His forehand is inch-perfect. The slice is effective. The serve too – which always used to be his problem. He is able to pull out a 130mph first serve at break point down. He has power and pace, mixed with soft hands. But, the shot that is probably the most formidable is that backhand. It just flies off the racket and puts the opponent under so much pressure to find something quickly with their own racket. Perhaps, the only area of shakiness at times is the smash, seen in London this last week.
The Serbian is one of the best movers we’ve ever seen. He is athletic, strong, flexible, and can convert defence into attack with the flick of a wrist. We all saw that pass on match point at the end of year championships at the O2. You have to win the point against him 4 or 5 times more than against most players on the Tour. He returns serve extremely well too, putting lots of pressure on the server with their second shot.
It could be said that the rankings in the women’s side of the game are farcical at times. Caroline Wozniacki was at the top for 67 weeks, yet she hasn’t won a Grand Slam title to this day. At the moment, Victoria Azarenka is undoubtedly one of the best female players currently but she was 0-5 against Serena Williams this season (making it 1-11 in total) but still above her in the rankings. We all know who the top woman in the game is at the end of 2012; she sits at No. 3 though. With the men, however, No. 1 is a much bigger deal. You don’t get there by not winning a lot of major tournaments and Novak Djokovic deserves to be there after the year he’s had.
We have to be thoroughly excited for 2013 in men’s tennis. Those top 3 are so close now. Federer could have had that final last night; Murray could have beaten Novak in the group stage. Throw in that powerful (well not his knee at the moment) Spaniard, Rafa Nadal, into the mix and who knows what will happen. It would be fantastic to see these 4 reach the semi-finals of many of the major championships next season, and battle it out. Who can call how it’ll go? Will Djokovic retain his title in Melbourne, or will Murray have something to say about that on his favourite surface? Will Rafa reign supreme in France? Roger at SW19 again, or the home favourite to realise his dream?
Hurry up 2013.
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