The Twelfth Major

Indeed my title is a play on my previous post, but I (we) also need to know that this next chapter in the 2016 ATP tour is all about Djokovic finally securing the elusive FO, which would be his 12th major title. If he can win RG, he’ll be locked and loaded to make all kinds of headway in the journey to the top of the sport all-time.

This is a tough major for sure since more players are brought into contention given the dicey conditions. The playing-field is leveled. Novak has been on the verge of this championship for years; whether it’s running into the net, getting upset by an older great, meeting his demise at the hands of the king of clay a few times (like everyone else), or just meeting a good clay courter playing out of his mind down the stretch, Djokovic is 0-fer in RG. We all know he needs this 12th major and he needs it now.

He turns 29 in a few days. Talk about the clock about to strike midnight! Will Djokovic press a bit more for this win? Does he feel like time is running out? Who knows. The Rome final and Andy’s clay consolidation adds to this amateur numerology. They’re 1 and 2 in the world. They each have 1 win in their last 2 Masters. I could go on and on, folks.

What do we make of what happened in Rome? Here’s my assessment: Novak played a ton of competitive tennis in a much tougher draw and is ready for Paris. Go look again at the Rome draw. Absurd.

I am going to say this probably benefits Djokovic. He doesn’t get his 30th Masters, but no one really cares about that number, I have to say. Murray has more Masters than Sampras. This most recent era has fully implemented the mining-for-Masters sport within the sport. Therefore, I don’t put much stock in Rome, especially considering Novak won Madrid and had a ruthless draw that got him plenty of practice on the clay against some good clay courters.

Granted, some of the Rome final analysis I have seen suggests that Murray is really thinking about his strategy toward Novak. In the second set, facing BP serving 1-2, for instance, Murray’s serve out-wide caught Novak off-guard, expecting the Scot to more predictably target the middle T. Big point of the match, and Murray escaped ala Nole. Murray’s net play, and more aggressive court position too speak to Murray having some meaningful strategic leverage on the match and perhaps in his future meetings with the Serb. Last Sunday, he was too much for Novak, who was coming off a 3+ hour SF, 2+ hour QF, etc., not to mention the high on which the Serb has been dominating the tour.

So, Murray earned the win, played smart and well to finally get past Novak, but there were some extenuating circumstances that might have facilitated the upset.

A note on the “extenuating circumstances:” I will admit that Novak could have had slightly better form and not had to play his Nadal/Nishikori double in over 5 hours of grinding, physical clay court difficulty. He brought some of these circumstances upon himself.

Then again I am not going to buy that. The draw was a bitch and the clay is even more of a bitch. Novak did admirably to reach the final. If you see a post or two back, I wrote that going out against Bellucci in R16 wouldn’t be the end of the world given the up-coming events in Paris. He was struggling in Rome, for sure. His match vs. Robert saw this. We all saw this.

How much of this is Novak doing just enough to win to reach the bigger stage and raise his level and how much is this that Novak is tired, burned-out? Great questions! You know me: I’m adding that this surface is like playing soccer on a hardened dirt field in a vacant lot, somewhere in South America. These are tough conditions.

Meaning that Novak is in great shape, all things considered. Had he gone 3+ hours in the Rome final, to win or lose, I might have a different tone.

I am not saying he conceded the match, but he was happy for his friend Andy, celebrating his birthday, finally beating his friend Novak.

And on that note, gag.

This “friendship” adds an interesting feature to Rome and maybe even Paris. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might recall my biggest criticism of Novak’s legacy (if there is anything of which to be critical): Murray’s two majors have come at Novak’s expense. I am from the school of not buying much stock in Murray. I think his game is very limited (his clay mastery might strengthen my case although his all-court clay game is impressive when compared to the sluggers who stand 20 feet behind the BL and “outlast” their opponents).

But this “friendship” is a little troubling. Maybe it’s simply a match-up problem, but then again the H2H suggests this is not the case. Either way, Novak seems almost too congenial with Murray.

In last year’s FO, I was disturbed that Novak needed two days to beat Murray. He goes up 2-0 (3 and 3) and then shits the bed for two sets before FINALLY cleaning-up on the next day with a breadstick? Sloppy. Some attribute this to his difficult draw (I agree with this, too), but there is a history of Novak seemingly goofing around with the Scot. I know they’ve been friends for a long time, nearly same age, both have new borns, etc. But there is a pattern here with Novak and Andy. Some point to H2H and say the pattern is Novak smashing Andy. I don’t see it that way necessarily. And that 2015 FO SF is a great example.

Here’s why I put money on Novak for the win at the 2016 FO. First, he’s #1, has dominated the tour and he’s got plenty of hours on clay to have honed that game (I am confident in his preparation and don’t quite agree with people who think he should have skipped Rome. Given his finals result there, we might even suggest he “skipped,” but I do think Andy was smart enough to take care of business).

Secondly, the five-set format. I think taking 3 sets from Novak at this point is a very difficult ordeal. If he’s lacking top form, has a brutal draw and just seems gassed (a bit like last year’s final where analysis showed he was drifting behind the BL while Stan took firm control of that court in Stanimal fashion) anything can happen. It’s tennis and it’s clay.

Let us reconvene when the draw is released. Although I don’t give Thiem, Kei, Rafa, Stan, Andy (or anyone) much of a chance in a five-setter vs. Novak, if the Serb has to play 3 or 4 of those blokes in succession, who knows (the draw-is-rigged banter is quite interesting).

Lastly, it’s time for Novak. He has been so unlucky at this tournament it makes me almost feel like Roger has been more fortunate (which is not the case).

In the grand GOAT narrative, Novak needs this at some point. The standards require it now, I guess (not necessarily for me: Roger and Pete still have the most impressive resumes out there and one RG between them 😀

Novak’s maturity, good-will (I am not ignoring his IW comments, which were pretty spot-on if you ask me, but maybe watch making those comments in this public”), and genius form (especially from that defensive end) push him to the front of any FO predictions. Andy is solid player and sure Rome bolstered his confidence. Sure Kei is playing very well right now. Sure the Spaniard has somehow “rediscovered his confidence.” Be that as it may, this should be Novak’s tournament, his 12th major.

 

3 comments

  1. Agree, he has to be favorite (just like previous 5 years, and no dig i intend mentioning that)…..he is indeed too good player to miss this out..

    Roger seems withdrawn which makes Nadal QF void to anyone…

    Let’s see how all plays out…

  2. Yup, Federer has announced he won’t participate at RG this year. He’s not 100 percent, translation: Focusing on Wimbledon + Rio singles gold medal. At his age it makes sense.

  3. Yeah, Roger out. Kinda saw it coming given the last few weeks, time of year, etc., but what a shame not having a 100% Fed plotting through a draw. All things being equal he’s still probably #2 though Murray looks to be tough on clay (today).

    Since AO the tour sans Roger has been a real gem: the resurgence of Nadal. Pass.

What say you?