February 19, 2013
What do you get when you combine superb technique, frightening will-power and brutal, animal strength? Novak Djokovic. It’s no joke, as Roger Federer found out on Monday night.
The Serbian finished top of the pile, completing an even better season than Andy Murray and the legendary Federer had enjoyed.
A worthy number one, a true warrior, a likeable, bubbly character. Djokovic reminded us how lucky we are that he too is taking tennis to another level.
Fans know 2012 has been one of the best of the lot for sheer drama. How we would have loved Rafa Nadal to have played a more prominent part. Still, you can’t have everything. Tennis has never been more popular, seats at the big occasions never more precious. Since incredible entertainment seems to be more or less guaranteed these days, it is hardly surprising.
The climax to the season more than lived up to expectations. Novak out-flanked Roger 7-6, 7-5 with an intensity some might have thought impossible at this late stage in the year. He refused to be beaten, refused to let Federer have the upper hand.
I once asked Dame Maggie Smith, an avid tennis fan, what Andy Murray needed to add to his game. ‘He needs to be more of an animal,’ she replied somewhat surprisingly.
This year Andy added some animal to his game. But the biggest beasts in the jungle are still Djokovic and Federer. And Murray could yet be forgiven for admitting ‘I wanna be like you,’ to quote a famous song on the theme. ‘To see the sweat fly at close range, while we just sit on our backsides, this is to see what warriors these men are,’ Kylie Minogue told me at last year’s Wimbledon. I was reminded of her words as we heard defiant roars booming from these two tennis gladiators during this epic final in London.
Just when we thought our city had been filled to capacity by the greatest sport the world has ever seen and could simply take no more this year, there was one last treat in store.
Both men had been world number one, both had taken a Grand Slam title, and there was little to choose between them. Novak is just that little bit younger and combative, that little bit more of a beast. And how he roared in the moment of triumph.
We tennis fans must be the luckiest in the world. There seems to be no end to the drama. The men’s game has some of the greatest players the world has ever seen, doing battle relentlessly, with no foreseeable end to the drama. We just have time to take a deep breath before it all starts again after Christmas. Well done Novak, world number one and perhaps the greatest warrior of them all! Roger fought so bravely, but Djokovic looked ready to fight until he dropped so that he could this incredible year in style.
As it turns out, Novak is the last man standing.
by Mark Ryan (part of the Mail on Sunday‘s Wimbledon reporting team)