When watching tennis now, you are blessed to be watching 4 of the most talented players in the history of the game. In any given tournament we are now poised to see a semi final line-up of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. Throw into the mix Del Potro, Roddick, Fish, Monfils and Tsonga and you have 5 Grand slam winners and a very healthy competition.
So how good do you need to be to rise to the top during this time. The answer is pretty simple. Very Very Good. And that’s probably an apt description for Djokovic. He won the Australian Open in 2008 and then kind of fell back behind the powerful duo of Fedex and Nadal as their rivalry was the only thing that mattered in world tennis. But 2011 was the Serbians year. He not only won 3 grand slams, he only lost 2 matches in the year! Truly phenomenal and definitely the front runner now for the Laureus Sportsman of the Year.
For the past decade we were blessed to see the brilliance of Nadal and Federer, winning 24 of the 28 grand slams available between 2004-2010 and at the start of 2011 many thought that dominance would continue. The 24 year old Novak thought differently and went on to a remarkable 43 match winning streak to start the season. It culminated in wins in Paribas masters (Beating Nadal in the final), the Dubai Tennis Championship (Beating Federer in the final), the Serbia Open (Beating Feliciano Lopez in the final), the Madrid Open (Beating Nadal in the final again), the Rome Masters (once again, its getting kind of silly now, beating Nadal in the final), the Sony Ericsson Open (Beating Nadal in the final) and the Australian Open (Beating Andy Murray in the final). His rise in the standings backed this up as he had moved ahead of Federer into second place in the world and after his Wimbledon victory against Nadal in the final (really, would you expect anything less) he moved to world number 1, a position he has held tightly since then.
Growing up I was a Pete Sampras fan, I loved the guy (Serious man-crush). I remember in the one year this pony tailed youngster was playing him and broke his service in the fourth set. Sampras then had a break point and a second serve in the next game to win the break straight back. The young man served, was sent wide by a brilliant return only to smash a cross court winner which was pretty much make or break. It went in and the youngster held serve. The youngster in question was Roger Federer and the comments after that shot was that we were witnessing the changing of the guard. What this story has to do with Djokovic you might ask. Its quite simple. In the US Open semi final Djokovic was facing two match points to a Roger Federer serve. Federer served well, Djokovic replied with possibly one of the greatest returns seen in tennis. He attacked the cross court and got it in by centimetres. The commentator was heard to be saying, are we seeing a changing of the guard?
With no disrespect to Federer and Nadal, when they were winning, there was no one else on tour who could really stop them. They were that much better. But as already discussed, Djokovic is facing what I believe is a much sterner test and succeeding brilliantly. He has 4 majors, but should he stay injury free he could get 4 more next year!
Are we seeing a changing of the guard?