Ho Hum: Carry-on, Mr. Djokovic

Nothing surprising about Miami but we first and foremost need to acknowledge how much we appreciate the consistency and willful greatness of the Djoker.

Had Kyrgios gotten past Nishikori, we might have had some fireworks. I did not see the Aussie – Japanese tilt, but understand that Kei was strong, aggressive and professional in spanking the youngster.

Although I have continued to buy stock in Kyrgios despite the public’s criticism, he does worry me a bit. To be dominant in this sport, one has to adopt a kind of stoic watchdog-deathstare to guard the drama and emotion of championship tennis. Great players have tempers, become upset; but the maturity, will and mettle of the great athletes is undeniable. Sure there’s the physical necessities. But that certain intangible we simply call “greatness” has to emerge for long-term success in this or almost any sport.

I read recently a piece by Peter Bodo about Gasquet. He destroys Gasquet; this is back in 2008 or so. He laughs at the comparison to Federer. Why? I’m not sure he says it this way, but Gasquet has not a hint of this greatness (I completely agree). Nor do players like Simon or Berdych or Murray for that matter. As I started to blog about tennis a year ago, having watched the sport my entire life, I was surprised to see apparently knowledgeable tennis folk giving these lesser players so much chance. Then again, there are a lot of draws through-out the year and we have seen some of these “subordinates” rise-up. But that’s always an exception.

Does Kyrgios have this flair for the magic? We’ll wait and see. People are all onboard the Kyrgios will be top-10 at the end of 2016. There’s nothing insightful about that. The question is will he go even higher.

Nishikori winning that SF was a bust. He had no chance vs. Novak.

I watched the final. He can’t consolidate at 1-0 in the first. He breaks back at 2-4 but can’t consolidate at 3-4. On the other hand, Djokovic breaks back at 0-1. And he breaks back at 4-3. This was a man vs. a boy, not to be too tough on Nishikori. The match had all of the tennis of their AO QF match about a month ago when Djokovic spanked him there 3 2 and 4. Nishikori trying to out hit Djokovic, hoping to end points quickly, hit lines and ride some kind of momentum? Fatally flawed strategy, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Kei is just not a 1000 final type. Other than that 2014 USO shit show, Nishikori is not able to handle this kind of quality.

(Ooops, I brought-up the ’14 USO, so you know what that means. I have to throw Cilic under the bus again. Here’s what I want you to do: watch this player’s progress this year. Maybe even next year, as well. Tell me what you find. That 2014 USO final four was one of the most disturbing couple of days of tennis in the history of tennis balls. Get-the-fuck-out-of-here. With the sport clamoring for major talent, where in the hell is this USO champ? Keep an eye on that guy. If any of you want Cilic stock, there’s a few notes in my trash can.)

In the end, congrats to Novak on another Masters. He is without peer. I have been calling this the Djokovic era for a year now. People still like Nadal to return from his “slump,” think Roger is playing better than ever despite his age (and now the surgery, which is a product of age in case anyone was wondering), and many still think Murray is legitimate. I have only recently seen the voices of the sport say it’s just the Big One.

It’s been the Big One for a while, folks. Sigh.

A little perspective on Nole. There isn’t much out there to challenge him, folks. Miami, consequently, was a giant ho hum but for the interesting look at Djoker v Thiem. Thiem and Kyrgios with a side of Raonic is about all you got, folks. Enjoy.

Now, where was I. . . Oh yeah, Nole. He is absolutely historically great at this point. He’s running into the proverbial deep-end of the big boy tennis pool with the rest of the 2016 season as a potential feast of glory. If he finishes ’16 with 13 majors, wow. If he wins the Calendar, he’s going to solve world hunger. But 13, very realistic, would/will be truly unreal.

But I have a little issue with the big historical claims to fame. They’re so wrought with flaw, poured into a tulip of bias. The weak era arguments are weak. I don’t have a problem with that aspect of today’s oversized enthusiasm for this golden era of unprecedented greatness. If you think Djokovic’s legacy will somehow be degraded because the field has been so weak for about 2 years and counting, you’re not very smart. He’s earned this, like I’ve said.

Rather, I just think people are often prisoners of the moment. 

My problem is with the idea that this era is so absolutely the GOAT. Here, for example, is the Masters titles list:

All Time Masters 1000 Titles
1) Novak Djokovic 28
2) Rafael Nadal 27
3) Roger Federer 24
4) Andre Agassi 17
5) Andy Murray 11
5) Pete Sampras 11

Wow, look at this era dominating the charts (sarcasm). Wow, and look! By these calculations Murray is right in the mix there with Agassi and Sampras.

Folks (spoiler alert), the sport has changed a lot over the years. The equipment, the nutrition, the pay, focus on title-accumulation, the schedule, the events, etc. This list tells me a few things. Firstly, it tells me that Novak has won a shit load of tournaments. And Agassi and Sampras played in a different sport. That’s about it. Nadal’s numbers are. . . yeah, read through my archives. Sure, Roger has been prolific, we knew that already. And then there’s Andre, Andy and Pete, the three musketeers. Seriously, it was almost a different sport, if you ask me.

We can go further back and say look at Borg’s and Conner’s decisions not to play certain majors. If Pete and Andre played in this era, under these “conditions”. . .

I am absolutely on-board with Djokovic dominating. I am not one to cry the sport is weak, the sport is in trouble (at least not yet; tough to see anyone beating Novak in these big tournaments though, which is a little odd. Who has the game to do it? And get the F out of here with your Murray bullshit. He’s D.O.N.E. Maybe Fed rises again? I’m not so sure).

But I do think that the Novak-is-playing-the-best-tennis-ever-played spiel is troubling. Those are the words of a prisoner of the moment.

You might have heard something along these lines about Stephen Curry or Lebron James. Folks, this is a different NBA than what was played as recent as the aughts and for sure in the 90s and on back. Dennis Rodman, the mega talented and mega flawed individual, said Lebron would be a pretty average player in the 90s. I’ll disagree and say above-average, but the point is here’s a guy who’s 6’9″ and plays in a league that prevents players from playing really tough D. Lebron’s numbers, therefore, are totally inflated. Rodman’s insight has been overlooked. And then you have James’ post-season legacy. This only supports Rodman’s and my argument.

Curry is the diminutive guard who can shoot from way outside. No question, the guy is pretty incredible from beyond the arc. But that’s just it; without the three-point line, he’s just a good shooter. People are putting him in the same air as a guy like Jordan. That’s just very poor perspective. That’s awful sport intelligence. He won a championship last year, but has yet to consolidate, which is what champions like Jordan or Djokovic do.

As we speak, Curry’s Warriors are trying to break Jordan’s single-season record of 72-10 from back in ’96. They have been ahead of that pace all year. They lost tonight to the Minnesota Timberwolves at HOME, losing a 17 point lead. They are at 69-9, with four games left. People get a little ahead of themselves, I’m afraid.

That’s the prisoner of the moment phenomenon.

In tennis we have a bit of that (we have that in life, folks, a natural reaction to the times in which we live). But tennis, not unlike basketball, has had even more changes I would argue that render it a very different sport from the one we enjoyed 20-30 years ago. At least acknowledge that.

Novak Djokovic is no Stephen Curry or Lebron James. Novak is the REAL deal. But let’s take a break on the this-is-the-end-of-the-world-and-Nole-is-Jesus-he’s-gonna-save-us! routine.

He is a brilliant champion and there is no one (and I mean no one) who seems willing to stop him. Carry-on, Mr. Djokovic.

11 thoughts on “Ho Hum: Carry-on, Mr. Djokovic

  1. RKB

    Hi Matt,

    This is a nice POW (piece of writing)!

    Surely, there must be someone out there who will eventually rise to the occasion and take it to Djokovic, who can’t possibly keep winning forever. Do you see anyone?


    1. What will most likely happen is Djokovic will lose some of that sharpness in those key match moments. Remember the massive number of BP he saved vs. Fed in the USO final. You look at any match of Djokovic’s and he’s simply brilliant ESPECIALLY during those critical games or points. He seems never to lose those. That’s crushing for the opponent.

      He will, like any great, start to lose those here and there and that will open the door.

      As for players, tough to see anyone who can. I still think Federer is your best bet, who matches up the best with Novak (always has – the H2H seems lopsided because of the last year or so). And those critical points I just mentioned are so key. A few of those go the way of Fed (or anyone) and entire match can be affected.

      But again the sport is pretty thin right now. Kyrgios, Raonic, Thiem, Berdych (Ha), Murray, et al in a five setter. . .blood bath.


  2. R Sigh

    Hey Matt,

    Spot on with your analysis. Different eras cannot be compared in a straightforward manner, and the people doing so have their own personal agendas (you know who I have in mind, though you can also make a strong case about mental instability about that particular person). I know what Djokovic is doing now is spectacular, but his performance raises many legitimate questions. A lot is made about his tough background. I would really like to know the details. He lived in a country torn by war, true. Was his actual life in danger at any point? Did he see piles of dead bodies with his own eyes? Did he see people getting killed in front of him? Was he really very poor? If the answer to all these questions is no, then I can bet that billions of people have and continue to go through much more traumatic experiences in their lives. Very few of them grow up to be first class whiners in the first place (they simply can’t afford to do that), and I can bet Kim Kardashian’s ass that none of those whiners suddenly transform into Batman in their mid twenties. So, if his childhood was that tough and transformative an experience, why did he grow up to be a quitter and whiner? And how did he get rid of all that within a year?


    1. R Sigh, hmmmm. What are you implying here? Do you think Djokovic is cheating? Can you clarify?
      And I got this comment from 2-3 different senders. A little confusing, but thanks for commenting.

      Clarify your comment above?


      1. R Sigh

        No, I’m not saying that yet; all I’m saying is that the incredible story of his rise raises a lot of questions that we should not forget about. Whether he is cheating or not can only be answered after people decide to act on these and have more convincing data. But the possibility should always be kept in mind. Far too many people are buying into this hype about superhuman mental strength without even considering the alternative possibilities in their minds. The narrative is seductive, no doubt; a man yearning for, and almost reaching Godhood through sheer effort and (suddenly acquired) immense strength of character. Makes us all believe, in the back of our minds, that we can too. But put your rational glasses on and uncomfortable questions begin to surface. That is all I’m saying; don’t forget about those questions and don’t shove them out of your (not referring to YOU, of course!) minds, no matter how attractive the mainstream narrative appears.


    2. We never truly know about anyone’s absolute honesty and with regards to cheating in sports there are too many cases, too many shocks, cases of remarkable lying and deceit to be too surprised by anything at this point.

      But I’m going to defend Djokovic until I hear of something. He actually has been in the mix for a long time. He won his first of six Miamis in 2007 at 19. He beat #2 Nadal that year in the QF before beating Murray and Canas in the final. His first major (AO) was in 2008, a year later, so he’s been around; unfortunately for him, Fed and the Spaniard were going along pretty well then, too.

      Sure he had his physical issues (asthma, heat), but I think that’s been explained by his current attention to diet, etc.

      Lastly, he hasn’t had the injury bug like so many who we all suspect of drugs.

      I wouldn’t blame you for being suspicious given the times in which we live, but I am refraining from those sorts of assertions with respect to Djokovic.


    3. Gordon

      Probably no to all those questions above – I don’t think his life was that tough – his family are quite well off and own several businesses. Djokovic practices meditation which would aid his mental strength – I’m not sure when he started this, maybe last few years? He is also an avid stretcher, which would mitigate chance of injuries and of course his gluten free diet would help also


  3. RJ

    Hey Matt,
    Great post. Will provide a longer response soon: I’m interested to see how young Nick fares against Djokovic and maybe one last GS hurrah for Roger on the farewell tour (admittedly wishful thinking)…but borrowing one of your thoughts we’ll see if Ivan has helped Federer change tact when facing Novak.
    p.s. I’m biased but it seems 90s NBA had the right balance of physicality and athleticism. Players commented how hand checking Jordan was the only way to slow him down. Imagine if he played in this era? His ppg would be immense.


    1. Yeah, as I said to RKB above, I think Fed is about the only one who may have the game (still) to challenge Novak. Nick has a lot of game too, but we have to see it to believe it. Really a shame he didn’t reach the Miami F.

      I can go for days on the NBA. You are correct in your assessment of MJ and today’s game. He would average ~40 today. I know it sounds cliche to call today’s game soft, but it’s soft. Period. Part of that is the rules, part the three-pointer. . .

      Thanks for the comment.


  4. Nambi

    Good Write up Matt…

    Spot on in Weak-Era arguments, it’s beyond my understanding why many not getting that….especially when few make arguments such as When Roger won most in Weak-era then have him to backup why Novak is much better “GOAT” since he beats him.. Reading on Tennis.com, MTF etc now I really have doubts on who has more cult followers between Roger and Novak… Looks like dominance creates cults for sure….

    Nick seems have much better brilliance than Kei, Milos for sure, still as you said we may still needed to wait to see how he turns up….I have feeling that he may end up like Saffin if someone not helping him…let’s see…

    Consistency, it’s really amazes how Novak does that after that disastrous 14 USO…..I couldn’t believe how in earth Clic won that thing still after 2 years…..


    1. Yeah, don’t get me started on Cilic. I would be happy to seem consolidate that win, but all we have so far is a fluke MAJOR that followed a drug suspension. What a disappointment, what a tragedy.


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