Novak Djokovic: Because Of Rafa And Roger, I Am What I Am Today
by Tom Gainey | March 31st, 2014, 9:41 am

After his big win yesterday over Rafael Nadal to win a fourth Miami Sony Open, Novak Djokovic credit the Spaniard and Roger Federer with pushing his game to the limits.

“I think challenges, big challenges that I had in my career changed me in a positive way as a player,” Dokovic said on Sunday. “Because of Rafa and because of Roger I am what I am today, you know, in a way, because when I reached the No. 3 in the world and won the first Grand Slam title in 2008, the years after that I struggled a lot mentally to overcome the doubts that I had.

“And all the big matches I lost to these guys was consistent but not winning the big matches, and then they made me understand what I need to do on the court.

“I worked hard, and it’s paying dividends, I guess, in the last couple of years. Obviously it’s not easy when you’re playing a top rival at the finals of any tournament, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. You have to win against the best players in the world. That’s the biggest challenge you can have.”

Despite a 18-22 mark against Nadal, Djokovic has won three straight over the Spaniard. And he’s won four of his last five against Federer, though the Swiss still leads 17-16.

The current World No. 2 will take a few weeks off then return to defend his Monte Carlo title in two weeks.

“I have couple weeks till my first clay court match in Monte‑Carlo, a place where I live for last six, seven years,” Djokovic said. “I won that tournament last year. I love playing in Monte‑Carlo. I couldn’t ask for a better March of this season. Hopefully I can carry that confidence on clay.”

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44 Comments for Novak Djokovic: Because Of Rafa And Roger, I Am What I Am Today

Skeezer Says:

He’s got 2 weeks to get energized. Good for him. Best of luck during the “Rafa Season”.

RZ Says:

I have a theory that Djoker needs Rafa in order to play his best. If you look at Djoker’s best results, most of them have come when Rafa has been in the mix. When Rafa was out with injury in 2012, Djoker faded a bit until Rafa returned.

Giles Says:

Rafa is the ultimate challenge for all these guys not just joker.

Leni Says:

@Skeezer – I’m not sure that this will be Rafa’s season. Because, the last match was more reminiscent of Novak’s season in the 2011th.

@RZ – After such great success in the season 2011. it’s normal that Novak faded a bit.Rafa’s injury has nothing to do with it.

@Giles – Novak ended the year 2011. with 10-1 record against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.So, who was then the ultimate challenge for all these guys?

Patson Says:


Well said.

Leni Says:

@Skeezer,RZ and Giles
The above article says: “Djokovic has won three straight over the Spaniard. And he’s won four of his last five against Federer.”
I’m sorry, but the numbers are again on Novak’s side, not on Rafa’s and Roger’s.

Leni Says:


RZ Says:

Leni, I agree that it was certain that Djokovic would fade a bit after his stellar 2011. My point is that Djokovic seems to rise to the challenge against Rafa more than he does in finals against Fed or Murray. If you consider his 2012 and 2013 in matches where Rafa wasn’t his opponent, he lost some very winnable matches to Murray (Wimbledon final, US Open final), Federer (Wimbledon semis), and Del Potro (Olympics semis). My theory is that he’s more motivated against Rafa than these guys.

Leni Says:

RZ, No matter what, Roger’s career is on the wane, and Rafa is Novak’s main opponent, not only because he is still number one. So it is no surprise that Novak more celebrated victory over Rafa in Miami than against Roger at Indian Wells.

At Wimbledon against Andy Murray, Novak had to play against the crowd, not only those who were present in the stands. It was a long-awaited victory for British tennis. To Andy that gave wings, and Novak has succumbed to the pressure of re-conquest of Wimbledon and he had lost the match. Therefore, I would say that Novak in the final of Wimbledon against Andy Murray was too much and not too little motivated.

DC Says:


imo, Nole has more problems against Fed than Nadal.He has often Beaten Nadal at his best (especially in 2011)

Nole has a bad match-up with Feds good game.

Fed is able to play a better offensive game against nole than he is able to play against Nadal. When Fed is not making too many unforced errors, Nole has troubles.
Issue is that Feds game is not inconsistent and hence Nole has been able to have a few victories against Fed.

more or less, When Nole plays Rafa, the winner is decided based on Noles level of play. When NOle plays Fed, the winner is decided based on Feds level of play.

Leni Says:

And one more thing. It is much easier to become the number one player, but keep the number one position.So Rafa really was not then his opponent. But, Novak’s biggest opponent was the number one position that needed to be defended.

Leni Says:

Well, times are changing and Feds was far from his best.He may have been close to his best 2011th year.But we should recall the U.S. Open semi-finals that year, and turns that Nole is then made​​.However, perhaps not far from the truth that the Feds, when in the best shape, is the greater threat to Nole than Nadal.
It’s something that we can agree, I guess.

RZ Says:

Leni, I’m getting the sense that you think I’m putting down Djokovic. I’m not. He’s an amazing player who has had (and continues to have) amazing success against what is possibly the toughest competition ever. I’m not disagreeing with anything that you are saying. Perhaps I didn’t make my point clearly. I just think that Djokovic seems to have more success overall when Rafa is his main competitor for titles and the number one ranking. His match and win-streak titles seem to come when Rafa is fit and playing well and when he’s either challenging Rafa for the number one position or maintaining his ranking as number one.

Leni Says:

Well, Rafa is Novak’s main competitor and the two have played each other the largest number of mutual matches. That’s 40, if I’m not mistaken. No wonder then, that you have impression that “Djokovic seems to have more success overall when Rafa is his main competitor for titles and the number one ranking.”
Your impression is absolutely correct and I agree with that.

RZ Says:

When you consider how many of those 40 matches have come in finals and semifinals, it shows just how good those two guys are.

Leni Says:

They are good, no doubt. End, good night!

pigoonse Says:

Feds is going on 33. He is doing quite well considering…in spurts and streaks. He can look like a more refined, masterful, version of his prime. His fans get their hopes all up and then suddenly he is Federror for a match, after playing some brilliant tennis. Perhaps much better for Feds to meet Nole and well, why not, Rafa, in the round of 16 than in a Masters or GS final.

The point is, Feds is still in the equation, he is just unpredictable. Murray is in the equation when uninjured. Rafa is Djokovic’s most consistent rival. Consistent being a relative term here.

Hippy Chic Says:

Apparantly acording to some Rafas not very good against Novak though,the only time he wins is if Novak is playing badly,as many people like to point out,and say the match always seems to be on Novaks raquet,even though the H2H seems to be so evenly contested hmmm,but whatever??

pigoonse Says:

^Who is going that far? There is not really the evidence to support that the match is always on Djokovic’s racket. Just us Nole fans want him to defend his Monte Carlo title and win the French Open…this year. Have not read anyone claiming the match is always on Nole’s racket when he plays Rafa.

A Tango Lad Says:

RZ, yes Djokovic seems inspired with Nadal in the mix while Roger seems inspired when Nadal is injured.

Roger is looking his best this year until he runs up against Nadal or Djokovic I’ll admit with Dubai being the lone exception. With Nadal that has pretty much always been the case but I’m still able to appreciate the Top 2 for the great tennis they provide us with.

I look forward to watching Roger and Stan in Davis Cup this weekend!!

Hippy Chic Says:

Pigoonse i agree with you but thats not what was said/implied on the other thread,IMO they are evenly matched,and the pendulum can swing one way or the other,i give credit to Nole for playing well,so why cant people do the same to Rafa?its always he shouldve won the FO semi,even though Rafa should actually have won the match in the fouth set,and he lost the USO because he threw it away,he lost in Monte Carlo 2012 because he was grieving etc,agree with you that if Nole wins some finals on clay he will go to the FO as the favorite,and i will always give him and his fans credit as i have done yesterday and today,the only thing i get p*ssed off with is when people think my favorites wins are down to Novak playing bad,or Rafa been lucky,however i will say hes the best player in the world ATM.

pigoonse Says:

Someone said the match is always on Djokovic’s racket when he plays Nadal?

I missed it. But that would be a troll move to get a rise out of Nadal fans.

Hippy Chic Says:

A move to get a rise out of Nadal fans,well it worked big time didnt it??

pigoonse Says:

That is up to you Hippy Chic. Think about it. How absurd it is to make that claim. It’s amateur hour.

Hippy Chic Says:

Pigoonse true taken on board..

A Tango Lad Says:

Exactly Pigoonse, your response is what the troll feeds on. Without reaction, they have no motivation.

It’s all in your control HC. Why care what someone else thinks about your favourite player? Not everyone likes Roger or any other player for that matter so I can see through the motivation of trolls trying to get a reaction from his fans and vice versa.

Quite sad for them indeed. You are fortunate HC that you are not like them.

pigoonse Says:

No Hippy Chic, never read a post from you that seemed troll-ish. And I doubt the remark was meant for you. But there are plenty of troll-ish comments on here which is what the Fedal War thread is for – really absurd claims meant to get someone’s GOAT. Pardon the pun.

roy Says:

as if this place wasn’t already discredited enough with it’s systemic roger-ramming over the years, according to the trunk list nadal is being dominated by djoker the way nadal dominates federer!

oh, the poor fed babies desperately trying to drag down nadal with their djoker proxy!
you can even pin point the year the fed fans went from hating djokovic to supporting him in their war against nadal!

christ it’s pathetic.

let’s have a look at the reasoning behind the idea djoker is to nadal what nadal is to federer.

nadal/djoker h2h:

All matches: Nadal, 22–18
All finals: Djokovic, 11–9
Grand Slam matches: Nadal, 8–3

does that look anything like the nadal federer record?

please read that last line again, and remember for fed fans, only grand slams matter.

nadal leads 8-3 in slam wins (3 all on non-clay, 5-0 to nadal on clay) but djoker is dominating him like nadal dominates federer!

harry Says:

It would have been great to have had Nole win a few more GS in the last couple of years, but it is also important to see it for what it is:

[In discussing his rivalries with others, I am discussing a few specific matches because others brought these up earlier in the thread]

Nole vs Murray — I don’t think the Wimby 2013 final with Murray was in Nole’s racket (sure, Nole could have fought far more he did). But I think Murray was playing spectacular grass court tennis; Fed at his best would perhaps have beaten Murray then on pure tennis terms (or a Rafa from 2010 on pure psychological terms)… In 2012 US open against Murray — I think Andy used the conditions really well (having also had the advantage of experiencing it in his SF); remember, it was a very windy match and Murray had a windy SF against Berdych as well (whereas Nole had a “wind-free” SF against Ferrer).

Nole vs Rafa — I think it is an over-simplification of their evolving dynamics to say that everything is in Nole’s racket. Sure, Rafa’s topspin bothers him the least (of the rest of the big-4); sure the sheer physicality of Rafa’s game does not trouble him as much as it does others. But (after 2011) Rafa has improved and has made a few crafty changes — he has improved his backhand CC, improved his serve strategy (i can quote some stats to support this). And there are a few more smart things that Rafa has done (which i skip now in the interest of space)…

Nole vs Fed — Fed in the latter rounds of 2012 Wimby was playing (in my opinion), if not his best, but close-to-his-best grass court tennis. So I don’t see that as much of a missed opportunity either (for Nole).

In my view the cases listed above are legitimate losses by Nole to others.

But it is true that over the last two years, Nole has had a few crucial mental lapses (which he did not have in 2011); and it is quite likely that he would have had better results without these.

For example, why did he agree to leave for the rain-break in 2012 RG finals (when he had the momentum winning 6 consecutive games)? Or fluff the volley at last year’s RG SF match late in the fifth set by touching the net? or mess a crucial volley in this year’s AO QF against Stan (again late in the fifth set)…

It is not clear by any means that he would have won these matches if he had not had those lapses — but he certainly would have had more fighting chances in those matches without those lapses.

But some are even more worrying careless errors. For instance, appointing Becker was a careless error — I am not saying that Becker is a bad coach for him — he may even end up as a good coach (which only time can tell). But the fact that he finished the last season so well (winning 20-odd matches without losses, 2 or 3 Masters on a trot, and the Masters Cup to boot) meant that he had finally turned a corner after a relatively quiet year (and was therefore doing things really well)… What then was the need to change things and get a new coach, whoever that may be (even if Vajda could only spare less time than usual)? There are other impulsive errors too: as an example why celebrate by throwing your racket into the crowd after your famous wins, when your opponents can buy them and analyze them? Agassi, for instance, purchased his opponents’ rackets to study them… And it goes on (but I will stop here in the interest of space).

madmax Says:

We Always talk about the greats of the game and there is no doubt that novak and rafa have the greatest rivalry here, just by the times they have played each other.
Still, can anything match the rivalry, the anticipation and the sheer brilliance of the Federer v Nadal rivalry and the joy it has brought many over the years.

Doesn’t matter if you think it is on the wane, with fed’s age. They have played some priceless matches.

Still can’t enjoy the bash bash of the two grinders. Can’t help it. Even Federe said this about his all time great –

“One of my all-time heroes, Rod Laver, has just published his autobiography. Among many other tennis records that Rod set, he remains the only player ever to have won the Grand Slam twice, a truly phenomenal achievement. I regard him as the greatest champion our sport has known, and his book should be read by anyone who loves tennis. The hardback edition of Rod Laver – A Memoir is only available at the moment in Australia and New Zealand, but it’s available globally as an ebook.”

Interested to find out whether anyone has read this yet?

Michael Says:

All credit to Novak who broke the stranglehold of the Fedal grip in Tennis. It is nice to know that he is drawing inspiration from these Legends who have made themselves proud with their pinnacle of achievements. Novak is today an extraordinary player who is taking the Tennis World by storm by his phenomenal performance. His achievements glitter even more due to the fact that much of these victories he managed by beating Rafa and it is well known that the toughest thing in this sport is to beat Rafa in a final. Novak is now heading into Monte Carlo, a tournament he won last year by beating Rafa in straight sets and thereby broke that incredible winning streak. I am not sure whether he will be able to retain the trophy, but if he manages to do it then it would send a strong message to Rafa ahead of Rolland Garros that Novak would be the man to beat.

Hippy Chic Says:

Thanks Pigoonse and ATL,i am not a troll,i must admit i do say things i wish i hadnt,as i have the last few days,i always try to be objective,but we all get it wrong at times i suppose,nobodys perfect as they say..

Rita Says:

I think tennis is such a fickle sport. Literally a month ago everyone was talking about how Nole isn’t playing great anymore, is having a mental block, is a case to worry about because it’s the first time in whatever years he had gone to IW without a title etc. etc.
And boom!.,,,now everyone’s proclaiming he’s going to dethrone rafa on clay and going to apparently dominate the whole year.
12 months is a long time so I think people should hold their horses a little bit.
But of course not to take anything away from Djoker himself, I mean doing the IW and Miami double is no easy feat! So congrats are definitely in order! But probably best to just watch the sport as it unravels instead of making ridiculous predictions

Hippy Chic Says:

Nice post Rita a little perspective sometimes wouldnt go a miss with some people.

Hippy Chic Says:

Agree with Madmax about the Fedal rivalry,no disrespect to Novak but they were and always will be the big draw in mens tennis,the Rafole one might be closer and more evenly contested?but the Fedal one is the rivalry that the paying public still want to see..

Okiegal Says:


I say on a daily basis how fickle tennis is. I agree with your comment 100% ……..yeah, people, hold your horses!! Lol

Hippy Chic Says:

Okiegal the minute Rafa losses a GS especially if its RG he will be written off,some are already saying that he wont win a GS this year..

courbon Says:

@ harry: Great post-could not agree more.

@ Hippy Chic: You are taking seriously everybody’s posts.Rafa is finish, Novak is finish,etc…we heard that thousand times, don’t pay attention ( if you can ).(-:

Daniel Says:


Tennis is a what have you done for me lately sport. And lately it has being Djokovic, He is already dominating the last 6 months even though he lost the most important one, AO 2014. After the US Open 2013 he won 6 out of 8 titles he played and has a 36-2 record ever since. 6 more months and he will have another stellar year, possibly be #1 again, he can even be #1 this year without a Slam or with just 1, as he holds 5 Masters Series as of now, a record. Nobody ever hold 6 out of the 9, he can very well do it if he wins 2 more out of the next 5.

Also, tennis is a confidence sport and all you need is a good stretch and one of your adversaries faltering and bang, anything can change. Rafa in 2010 when Fed was #1, Roger in 2009 When Rafa was #1 and had just won AO, Djoko 2011 when Rafa was a solid #1, etc…
After AO, Nadal was more than 4000 pts away and most thought his year was guarantee #1 for him. Now he hasn’t won anything expressive in 6 months and is losing a lot of finals. After US Open 2013 he is 2-4 in finals, this is not good signs for a player who had one of the best records in finals ever, now even his Slam record in finals is worst than Roger’s (13-6 to 17-7). Add this new back issue (once you have back problems usually associated with aging, it never goes away) and you have a potential losing scenario set for him.
The good is that he is still dominating competition and beating most of the guys he should beat.

He can off course revert this any time because we all know he can, but age is catching up with him and eventually he will have a clay season where he will not dominate. Every year since 2005 he wins minimum 3 titles on clay per year, even 2011 and 2009 his worst years on clay he won 3 titles (MC, Barcelona, Rome in 2009; MC, Barcelona and RG in 2011). Eventually he will win only 1 or 2 titles and a he ages and by the law of averages this day will come, could it be this year, or next, or 2016, but the anticipation is there. Especially now that Djoko seems resolute against him again, who knows. Some Nadal fans dismiss this possibility based on past and in part they are right, until somebody actually do it, he is the safest bet.

Okiegal Says:


Yes, he’s had hiccup in his game as of late. The FO is won before it’s even been played. I hope Rafa reads this stuff on TX……He might get fired up like I do! Lol You and I have discussed the law of averages more than once….Rafa definitely has that monkey on his back…..defending points…..being #1. Lots of pressure. But one thing we know for sure, clay is his comfort zone!!!! Cheers, friend, we will weather this storm together!! We will see…

Translated Age Says:

Last time I checked, Nole has a whopping 95 point lead on Nadal in the Race to London, a stretch in which you say Nadal’s age, back, results are so relatively poor and Djokovic is playing the best in the world.

95 points? That’s it? Really?

Heaven help Nole if Rafa bouces back even slightly.

Too bad Rafa’s not headed into his favourite time of year…oh wait.

harry Says:

Thanks Courbon :-)

Hippy Chic Says:

Courbon/Okiegal exactly right thankyou :))..

Klaas Says:

There is no doubt that the greatest rivalry on clay at this time is Rafa-Novak, in fact some might say it is the only top rivalry.

A confident Novak, and a seeming somewhat mentally tiring Rafa, just makes it even more interesting.

As to all those convoluted theories: let us wait and see what happens. I for one am looking forward to it, and hope it will include some great tennis!

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