Year-End Review – Everything Hard: Djokovic Made of Stone
Originally, I thought to divide the second half of the season into two parts (outdoor then indoor) but I think it’s better to include them in one. Why do I want to overstuff this one? Two words: Novak Djokovic.
The fact of the matter is that Djokovic really proved that he was the number one player in the world following the Olympics. He received some ridicule for playing (and easily winning) the Masters event in Toronto. But I really feel like he needed it. Not just for the easy points, but to ease his mind. He hadn’t won a title since Miami back in March. He lost a couple of big matches to his main rivals in the Big 4. His two big goals (win the French Open and the Olympics) were thwarted. Honestly, if he had gone off the rails at the end of the year, there would have been a ton of justifications.
Instead, Djokovic flew over to his favorite surface and got his game back on track. He then reached his fourth Cincinnati final but fell short to Roger Federer. And he played some incredible tennis (see: Djokovc-del Potro quarterfinal) at the US Open.
Credit Federer for the Cincy effort where he played some of the most care-free tennis I have ever seen from him (or anyone). But a lot was made of that bagel he dished Djokovic. People like to forget that when Federer gets on a roll, he’s absolutely the best. I was more surprised that this was the first bagel he ever served Djokovic. But that second set shouldn’t be overlooked. Federer quite nearly lost it, and who knows what would have happened in the third set? I believe this experience had a significant impact on their encounter at the World Tour Finals a few months later.
Based on form, Djokovic should have won the US Open. He came through tougher opponents in his final few rounds than Andy Murray and he showed just how unstoppable he can be in the third and fourth sets of their final. But Murray finally, finally, found a way to turn the tide, finally found some mental reserves to stay the course, to close out the big match, and to actually step up and play big tennis. Throughout four sets it was very frustrating to see Murray slice and dice his way to a lead that Djokovic could have easily had himself. But there’s nothing to say about that fifth set. Murray’s final few service games were nearly flawless. Big serves and big forehands. That’s how you win a major final. That’s how you win the US Open. And that’s how Murray finally became a grand slam champion.
But once again, Djokovic shrugged off the disappointment and would go on to lose only one more match the rest of the year. He won in Beijing, saved five match points to beat Murray in Shanghai, and then went undefeated to win the World Tour Finals. Ironically, he suffered his worst loss of the year in Paris when he lost to Sam Querrey after winning the first eight games of the match. But I doubt he lost any sleep over that and I hope that Querrey can build on this win, it’s about time he got a big one.
Federer has won the year end championships six times and made the finals a total of eight. But it should be noted and really emphasized that five times he won it going undefeated. So yes, Federer is the master of the year end event. Djokovic, however, won it back in 2008 against a slightly weaker field, against a much weaker draw, and with a loss in the round robin stages. Considering that we all four majors were split this year, that the number one ranking was just barely decided in Paris, and that the only two guys who weren’t in great form at in London were Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Janko Tipsarevic, Djokovic’s undefeated run is incredibly impressive. He beat Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, both who’ve played some great tennis this year. But he also beat Murray, del Potro, and Federer to take the title. And as a result, he ended up with winning records against all of his biggest rivals save Rafael Nadal (who was really missed, especially after the pathetic effort his replacement, Tipsarevic, put in).
Looking towards 2013, Djokovic is the best player on hard courts. It’s always going to be open, but he gets a slight edge when he’s playing his best. And considering his prowess on clay and Nadal’s questionable health, he is in the best position to remain number one at the end of next year.
Murray definitely has a chance, but he needs to step it up outside of the slams. Funny how the year he finally nabs his major he fails to win basically anything else. He’s not going to be number one with zero Masters titles. Federer’s age is showing only in his schedule. But his game is clearly still top notch. He spent half the year at number one and to be fair, he’s won a major more recently than Djokovic.
It remains to be seen if del Potro can be a consistent threat to the Big 4. And to be a threat he needs to score wins, in the majors and in the Masters events. It’s great that he finally beat Federer a few times but he needs to do it during the main events of the year, not just at the end. Besides these guys, it’s hard to see anyone else breaking through. The ATP is just unreasonably top heavy. Maybe Berdych can use Davis Cup as a spark to ignite a run but I wouldn’t bet a dime on Berdych to do anything consistently (win or lose).
It’s amazing how much history was made in just one year. I’m not sure how 2013 can top it, but I hope, more than anything, that we finally get a serious young gun breakthrough. Milos Raonic, please, win a major. Recreate some chaos and make us forget that we ever thought someone could play their best tennis above the age of 30.
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