We all watched in awe as Novak Djokovic somehow outlasted Rafael Nadal during that inhumane six hour long 2012 Australian Open final slugfest. It was incredible to watch two tennis players at their best go toe-to-toe, shot-for-shot for that long with such quality and intent. Eventually though, it was not Djokovic but Nadal who broke down. The mighty Rafa was only left to wonder who or what this indefatigable opponent was he was asked to conquer? A superhuman? A robot? A mythical god?
This past Sunday, we watched again. And again in awe. However, this time Djokovic’s opponent, Andy Murray, only lasted about half as long as Rafa could. Can you blame him? The two played some serious knock-out tennis for the first two hours. Long points. Breathtaking rallies. Ridiculous retrieving. Both guys red lining.
Djokovic took the first. Murray fought back for the second. Then with the momentum, perhaps reality hit the Scot. Maybe he thought to himself for just a split second, “I’m going to have to keep this level up for two more hours just to have a CHANCE to win! @#$# me!” And then he relented.
On a hardcourt in Australia, that’s the task you face in beating Djokovic. Murray is a fit guy. He’s strong. He’s built for the physicality. But like he did to Rafa three years ago, Djokovic broke Murray’s spirit. He asked Murray if he could maintain his level for another two sets. If he could, too good. He couldn’t and Djokovic proceeded to feed he Scot a humiliating bagel to close out his 5th Australian Open title.
Yes, there were a lot of histrionics during the match, particularly from Novak who fell on his thumb and was later in some sort of lower body muscular phenomenon. Perhaps it was just gamesmanship, I don’t know, but what I do know is that Djokovic, who started the event with a virus, finished it as the stronger man.
The Serb had just about every answer. Changing direction on the spot. Stretching to run down a would-be winner. Lunging to fetch a drop shot. These aren’t new shots. but it’s just amazing there’s no dropoff from minute one to hour four.
Point is, that’s what today’s men face when they get to Australia. Look what Stan Wawrinka had to go through a year ago, 9-7 in the fifth just to beat Djokovic? And he won in part because Novak panicked with that Becker-influenced (allegedly) serve-and-volley stunt at the end. Otherwise, they might still be on the court.
To beat Novak in Melbourne you are going to have to train your ass off during the off-season. And hope you are good. Playing exos like Wawrinka and Murray did this past December won’t cut it against a guy who starts the year fresh, eager and ready for the long hual. So you have to work in. And even then it might not be enough.
He’s not only just the best tennis player, he’s also the strongest both physcially and mentally right now.
Three years ago Ivan Lendl once told his then-charge Murray, To prepare for pain when playing Djokovic. Nothing’s changed.
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