I can already hear you thinking ‘I’ve heard enough of this Djokovic praise from Ru-an. Didn’t he do enough of that in his last two posts?’. And the answer is yes and no. I did give Djokovic a fair amount of praise in my last couple of posts, but this is the single most remarkable title run by Djokovic I have seen from anyone ever. And I have watched a lot of tennis. I don’t want to sell Djokovic short.
But it is also the boring and outworn Federer hype from rabid fanboys and the media which causes me to make this post. And of course, the rabid Federer hooligan crowd in the US Open final. I cannot emphasize enough what a difficult situation that was for Djokovic and how well he did to win the title under immense pressure. Here is how he did it:
“What I was actually doing was trying to play a mind game with myself,” he said in an interview on Monday. “They would scream, ‘Roger!’ and I would imagine they were screaming, ‘Novak!’ ”
You do what you gotta do to get the job done. Personally I would have used the crowd’s bias against me to make me stronger and motivate me even more, and maybe that was the case with Djokovic and he didn’t want to mention it, but the above method sounds just as effective. Even Federer’s coach had to admit Djokovic did a tremendous job:
“Hats off to Djokovic for handling that, because frankly it’s not easy in terms of the nerves,” said Severin Luthi, Federer’s co-coach.
But the most telling part of the article is probably this:
“I go through a lot of emotions on the court, like anybody else,” Djokovic said. “I just think, over the time, I’ve managed to learn how to use the experience and how to handle and cope with this pressure in tough moments. But I also think a lot comes from my character and from the fact that I grew up in circumstances which were not very ordinary and maybe not the circumstances that most of the guys grew up in. They have shaped me and my character, and those memories give me that bit of strength that I use in occasions like the one last night.”
This is the crux of the matter as far as I’m concerned. I think Djokovic had it much tougher than Federer growing up which is exactly why he handles the pressure better than Federer. It’s telling that Federer with something like 90% of the biggest tennis stadium in the world behind him and 23 break points still could not pull through. Djokovic, on the other hand, with almost half the break point opportunities(13) and a Federer hooligan crowd against him got the job done.
How on earth is that possible?! I’ll tell you how. Adversity makes a person strong. Privilege weakens you. It’s like that line in The Dark Knight Rises from Bane when he tells Batman ‘Peace has cost you your strength, victory has defeated you!‘, and then proceeds to give Batman the beating of his life. Of course, in this situation a scene from the Joker may have been fitting too but I think Bane’s words illustrate my point better.
If you take a lot of beatings in life and rise back up you come back stronger than ever. You become almost invincible. Only after Batman rose back up from the adversity of a beating from Bane and the hell of ‘The Pit’ did he have the strength to defeat Bane. It’s just a story, but it illustrates my point perfectly. Djokovic fought himself out of a war-ravaged Serbia and economic hardship to the pinnacle of the tennis world.
Now take the circumstances Federer grew up in and you find almost the exact opposite. Federer grew up in a peaceful country Switzerland and they never had economic hardship as far as I’m aware of. Peace has indeed cost him his strength, and victory did indeed defeat him. For too long did victory come too easily until a Spaniard came along who disturbed his peace and spoiled his victory.
Federer was not used to being challenged this way and he didn’t feel like adapting, until Nadal one day gave him the beating of his life in the 2009 Australian Open final from which I don’t think Federer ever truly recovered. It seems Federer never returned from ‘The Pit’ because the beatings only got worse and worse at the hands of his tormentor since then. Sad but true.
Fortunately for Federer his tormentor is having some struggles of his own, but now there is a new tormentor in town. The demons don’t go away until you face them head on, and I suspect that ship sailed back in 2009 already. Where Nadal left off Djokovic took over. But enough of Federer. This post was supposed to be about Djokovic’s heroic US Open title run. He needed it badly to remain in the GOAT debate and he got it.
Asked whether he is thinking of Federer’s 17 slam titles he said this:
“I would not be truthful to you if I would say I’m not thinking about it,” Djokovic said. “Of course I am.”
There you have it, folks. He has Federer’s record in his sights. And who would bet against him getting it? But what about his age you ask. There is an answer for that too:
“If I keep taking care of my body and have this kind of a mind-set where I keep the same lifestyle, I think it will give me longevity, and if it gives me longevity, I think I have a fair chance to fight for a few more Grand Slams,” he said.
I like how he almost downplays his chances with ‘I think I have a fair chance to fight for a few more Grand Slams’. It wouldn’t be wise to add any unnecessary pressure on himself. There will be enough as it is. I won’t be surprised if he gets it. But I have also said he would be smack bang in the middle of the GOAT debate if he wins 15 slams which include a French Open title, because he doesn’t have the damaging flaw of Federer that his main rivals own him.
I think Djokovic is doing all the right things anyway and I think he can have good longevity. He is a kind of health fanatic and stretches so much that he almost never gets injured. He has also changed his game to a more attacking style under Becker which will serve him in the long run. It’s always difficult to say, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think he can win four slams in the next two years.
It could be more, it could be less. But let’s say four then he only needs to win one more past the age of 30 to get to 15. Assuming one of them is the French Open, he’d already have a GOAT claim. And it’s not out of the question he can have Federer’s kind of longevity and win even more slams after that. He won’t decline mentally as much as Federer that’s for sure. He’d still be out there beating the youngsters with sheer mental strength.
He also understands what it takes to be appreciated in the long term:
“Honestly, I think, first of all, it’s about enduring,” he said. “True tennis fans respect somebody that shows commitment to the sport — not just shows results, but shows his passion for tennis and respects them, the tournaments, the opponents and the sport in general. I think it’s also about what you represent. Are you respecting the true life’s values, and are you a man of conscience that plays tennis but also gives back?
“I think the whole package is important. That’s what I try to do. It’s how I’ve been brought up, and I hope the crowd recognizes that. But in the circumstances, when I’m playing against Roger at this point, I cannot expect something else.”
These statements show a lot of maturity from Djokovic and will also help him to achieve longevity. So to summarize, I think Djokovic showed immense mental strength and maturity to win the US Open against a rampant Federer, an even more rampant hooligan crowd, and a poor finals history in New York. This was without a doubt a defining victory for Djokovic. He proved once and for all that he is the real deal and must be taken extremely seriously.
To get to double digits in slam titles is no small feat and Djokovic is compiling a season that may even surpass Federer’s incredible 2006 season. I was never convinced when people said Djokovic is back in 2011 form. But he may even surpass his remarkable 2011 season now. You can view the comparison so far here. Of course, this year he made the French Open final as opposed to losing in the semis in 2011.
But he also won Dubai, Madrid, and Montreal in 2011 which he didn’t do this year. His winning percentage was also better in 2011 at the current stage of the season and he had that incredible 43-match winning streak which was the third longest winning streak in the open era. That said, after the US Open in 2011 he was burned out and lost five more matches including a retirement and a withdrawal.
I don’t think his opponents will be so lucky this time around. In 2011, he was playing a much more physical game and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins Beijing, Shanghai, and London. Paris is in his schedule, but it may be wise to skip it again. If he wins those three events he may well top his 2011 season and even Federer’s 2006 season because Federer won four Masters so Djokovic needs just one more to top that.
It’s gonna be difficult but not impossible. I’m very much looking forward to the final chapter of this season to see how Djokovic performs compared to 2011 and to see if he can top 2011. That in itself would be a monumental achievement. Then there is also the possibility of completing the Djoker slam next year if he wins in Melbourne and Paris. He missed out on the calendar slam this year by a couple of sets, but the Djoker slam would be almost identical.
If he does that then he would already be in the GOAT debate so we may be in for a very interesting first six months next year…
- A Little ‘Fun’
The is in your court.