November 12, 2013
So Novak had the last laugh.
It wasn’t the greatest final, but it completes one of the greatest end-of-year comebacks, especially from a world number one who had been so unceremoniously toppled from his perch by the man on the other side of the net. Djokovic beat Rafa Nadal 6-3, 6-4 in the ATP World Tour final at London’s O2 Arena. Now Novak has won twenty-two matches on the bounce, and no one can be left in any doubt: he fully intends to take this kind of form into 2014 – and that means we can all look forward to more titanic struggles for world domination.
It was some show of character after Novak’s defeat in the US Open final. A Davis Cup title will probably provide the icing on the cake for Djokovic – and deservedly so. If the Serb can maintain the momentum for a little longer, he will take back the top spot and give Rafa Nadal something fresh to fight for. Perhaps that’s what the jaded Spaniard needs. And we can feel sure the rivalry will still be simmering nicely come Wimbledon 2014.
No one could reasonably have expected Nadal to continue his scintillating year right to the end. He has performed miracles, he has won ten singles titles, he has achieved what we all thought impossible at the start of 2013. ‘It has been the most emotional year of my career and one of the best,’ admitted the ever-popular Nadal.
But what if Rafa had won last night? What if Djokovic had been crushed, just when his dented confidence had finally returned? That would have left us with less to look forward to in 2014, because it would have been hard to see past Nadal in the biggest matches on hard courts or clay.
It could have happened that way, because Novak’s self-belief looked fragile at times, especially when he squandered a 3-0 first-set lead to let Nadal back in at 3-3. That amazing stretch-lob to go 5-3 calmed his nerves. Djokovic was also helped by the rare sight of Nadal’s forehand misfiring; and the match was over before the crowd was ready to go home. Rafa’s punchy winners were missing – and there was no time for him to discover where they had gone.
Make no mistake, this tournament was marvellous theatre – but it wasn’t Wimbledon. There’s something not quite right about men playing best of three. Shouldn’t they at least make the final the best of five? There’s nothing quite like a Grand Slam – and there’s nothing quite like Wimbledon. Lose the first two sets and a man can still find a way to claw himself back into the match. The crowd know it, the players know it, everybody loves the prolonged drama.
Still, thanks to Novak’s swift victory last night, we can sit back now and look forward to 2014, with nothing to choose between Djokovic and Nadal for the new campaign. And we have Andy Murray’s return to savour too.
Below the big three, Roger Federer fans will hope he can build on a creditable display in London last week. Juan Martin Del Potro and Stanislav Wawrinka know they can beat anyone on their day as well.
Yes, events at the O2 have only served to heighten our anticipation. As the stars leave London, we long for their return at Wimbledon 2014. Can any of us confidently predict a winner? That’s the beauty of this situation.
A wonderful 2013 has ended perfectly for those of us who harbour hopes that 2014 will be every bit as special.