29. 09. 2010. · Sean Calvert holds his hands up and admits to ignoring Novak Djokovic’s chances in this year’s US Open. At least our man warned you off Murray though…
He has the third best record at the majors of any current player and had reached the semi-finals or better in New York for the previous three years yet still no-one really fancied him for the 2010 US Open. He was number three in the world (now he’s number two), he’s a Grand Slam winner and yet he was friendless at 16.0 for glory at Flushing Meadows.
Novak Djokovic confounded the doubters, the critics and the naysayers by re-producing the sort of form that led people to assume back in 2008 that it was merely a matter of time before he, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal dominated the game as Federer eased into retirement.
It didn’t happen for Djokovic (and Murray), but as Federer himself said in his press conference after losing to the Serb in a five set semi-final classic in New York: “The guys who overlooked him don’t know anything about tennis, unfortunately.”
If that’s the case, then pretty much every pundit and punter the world over – and I include myself in this – knows nothing about tennis because I don’t remember Djokovic even being mentioned in the clamour to favour Murray, Nadal and Federer before this year’s US.
At least I can claim credit for warning you all away from backing Murray, but I didn’t see Nole having a match in him like the awesome display of quality that despatched the five-time champion from match point down.
So, how did we all overlook the guy given his record and ranking?
The reasoning must lie in his distinctly below-par performances over the last 18 months or so. Djokovic’s first Slam appearance was in Australia in 2005, when the then 17-year-old was given a tennis lesson by Marat Safin in the first round to the tune of 6-0, 6-2, 6-1, but in 2007 he began an impressive Slam streak that had punters reaching for their notebooks. He reached the semi’s at Roland Garros (losing to Nadal), which was the start of a five-Slam streak where he reached the semi’s or better, winning in Melbourne in February 2008.
Then he lost his way as a straight set dismissal by Nadal again in the semis of the French preceded another loss to Safin, this time in the second round of Wimbledon. By the end of 2008, he opted to switch racquets.
At the time that was seen by many as a questionable decision and Tim Henman commented: “That’s a big risk to take when you are about to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time.”
Henman was right and Nole failed to make it past the quarters of the first three Slams of the year, losing to the likes of Philipp Kohlschreiber, Tommy Haas and Andy Roddick. I was doing a preview show for the 2009 US Open when a colleague dismissed Djokovic as: “Going downhill faster than Franz Klammer.” Harsh, but fair at the time and despite reaching the semis, Nole never looked like he gave himself a prayer against Federer in defeat.
His racquet issues were compounded with a mystery breathing ailment that led to significant retirements, such as the infamous one against Roddick in his Aussie Open defence, which has still not been diagnosed.
It causes the Serb massive problems in the heat and at times he looks a step away from collapse, only to find something from within and tough it out like he did against Viktor Troicki in New York. That’s why he should never be written off by punters and ‘experts’, because despite further average form in the 2010 slams – a heat problem in Melbourne, a five set loss despite being two sets and a break up in Paris and a straight sets loss at Wimbledon, he was able to find that champion’s mentality in New York.
No, he didn’t win it, but if he’d had another day to recover from that quite brilliant effort against Federer, he may have taken Nadal out as well and how good was that Davis Cup effort against a fully rested Tomas Berdych a matter of days later?
Can you honestly see Murray beating Fed from two match points down at Flushing Meadows, then going on to produce another epic against Nadal, then flying back to rescue his country in Davis Cup? Thought not.
Djokovic has reached the semis or better in nine of his 24 Slams. Compare that to Murray’s four from 20 and the Scot started New York over 10 points shorter in the betting.
The next test now for the world number two is protecting his ranking points from last autumn, but you can be sure that when Melbourne comes around, no-one will be writing him off this time.
Author: Sean Calvert