April 19, 2015
Novak Djokovic took yet another title yesterday – his 23rd Masters – and threatens to dominate 2015. How does he keep winning?
As Djokovic found a way to beat Tomas Berdych 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the fading Monte-Carlo light, there was a sense of inevitability about the result -even though Novak wasn’t at the very top of his form.
And that’s what can be so frustrating for his opponents. Even when they are playing well enough to make a temporary impression, they know deep down it is unlikely to last.
TEN REASONS WHY NOVAK IS NUMBER ONE
Novak wasn’t born this elastic; he works at it almost every day with a series of excruciating warm-up exercises that almost make him look double-jointed. Add his fitness and strength to the mix and you have a supreme athlete, whose body is totally tuned to tennis excellence.
That elasticity contributes in no small measure to the greatest defensive game the world has ever seen. Opponents know they need to do something extra special to get past Novak and few are able to do so with any consistency because it is so exhausting. Just trying to do it creates a high number of unforced errors, playing into Novak’s hands.
Djokovic has every shot in the book, his all-round game is now so strong that there are no obvious weaknesses. You could argue that his serve is breakable – and it is. But when Novak is broken, the likelihood is that he will just break you straight back, for the reasons listed above. That can be soul-destroying.
Novak has great confidence in himself, a deep self-belief that can be called upon in times of trouble. That enables him to ride out a storm, absorb an opponent’s brilliance and gradually wear him down.
Djokovic can lose his temper out on court just like anyone else. The difference is that with Novak the tantrum doesn’t last long. He gets the anger out of his system and moves on, wasting very little nervous energy. That isn’t the same as going into meltdown, which can destroy a player’s chances entirely.
Novak doesn’t torture himself over his own mistakes for long, he puts them behind him. That ability to forgive himself is priceless. Some players are their own worst enemy. Novak is his own best friend.
Djokovic enjoys a happy stability in his personal life, he has an adoring wife and child and that translates into a healthy love for himself. In fact, Novak’s biggest problem is when crowds don’t love him as much as he thinks they should! This hurts him and he punishes them for it…with more crushing tennis.
Boris Becker has given Djokovic an extra edge, he has added a ruthlessness to Novak’s game which wasn’t always there in big finals before. Far from being threatened by Becker’s powerful personality, Djokovic feeds off it and increases his own fighting spirit.
Djokovic understands the way a match ebbs and flows, he doesn’t panic when opponents come at him with all guns blazing and he can sense a weakness in an opponent. He knows how to break an opponent’s rhythm and ultimately his spirit. It is the perfect combination of physical and psychological superiority that keeps Novak on top.
Novak’s three biggest rivals seem to be past their best. Federer is still formidable yet more beatable than before due to his age. Nadal’s previous injuries and the brutal nature of his tennis seem to be taking their toll. Murray lacks mental strength since splitting with Ivan Lendl. This state of affairs could leave Djokovic dominating centre-stage for a long time to come.
During the Monte-Carlo final, Djokovic had to increase his focus after Berdych achieved an early break to take a promising 3-1 first-set lead.
With typical self-assurance, Djokovic simply raised his game to coax errors out of Berdych and strike back quickly. Almost before we knew it, the cool Serb had taken the lead for the first time in the match at 4-3 and then broken to move within a game of the first set.
To his credit, Berdych countered when we least expected it, engineered another break and leveled at 5-5. But Novak just turned the screw once more. And although the Czech saved two set points, he fell to the third.
Tomas squandered two break points at 2-2 in the second set, and could have been forgiven for thinking his last realistic chance of victory had just passed him by.
He complained about excessive water and initiated a rain delay that lasted well over an hour, although it only seemed to put the inevitable on hold.
Yet Novak was broken and fell behind 3-4 once they restarted, losing the second set 4-6 to some scintillating forehand power-play from his revitalized opponent.
Would Djokovic stay calm and find the answer? Of course he would. The venom of his shots increased perceptibly, the outrageous angles he found flummoxed a tiring Berdych, and suddenly Novak had sailed into a 3-0 final-set lead down by the sea.
Still Berdych wasn’t finished and almost brought matters back onto serve. Yet the sheer effort involved in punching a hole in those Djokovic defences ultimately finished the underdog. It happens time and again – and that’s why Novak is world number one.