Has Djokovic “earned,” finally, his French Open championship? Do his career accomplishments thus far warrant a FO, at last as a gift from the tennis gods?
The draw is unbelievably favorable for the world’s #1. We previewed it earlier and clarified his fortune, but we need to reiterate how incredibly soft is his top half of the draw. Worst case scenario is a Ferrer or Berdych QF or maybe a good mudder gets through like Cuevas, but this is baby-pillow soft. Last we heard from Berdych he was double bageled by the tweener Goffin in Rome. Who knows what that all means, but unless he makes like Murray and sets sail on a nice little run sans coach (Berdych recently split from his), Berdych is a dead man, with a tough R1 vs. Pospisil to boot. Ferrer made an effort in Geneva getting to the SF, losing to Cilic. The point is this quarter has Djokovic pretty much into the SF untouched.
As I said earlier, this could work against Novak, not able to be tested, lacking that sharpness he’ll most likely need in the SF. But that’s a weak point as almost anyone would take the soft-ball draw over one with difficult tests throughout.
So, does this mean that the organizers are granting the Serb a virtual free pass to the final four to play the celebrated nine-time FO champion Nadal, who has a lot of work to do just to get there?
If there is such a case of one “earning” his reward via so much past difficulty and high achievement, this would seem to be the case.
Is that what happened with Roger in 2009? Not exactly. He had a healthy and dangerous Del Potro and Djokovic in his half. He needed five sets to get through the Argentinian in the SF. As “luck” would have it, Soderling knocked off Nadal, but as far as the draw was concerned, it wouldn’t be described as soft.
This speaks some to the current level of talent on the tour. At best, we call this the Serb’s reign and a transitional period where guys like Thiem, Zverev and maybe Kyrgios can establish some kind of championship character. In other words, there isn’t much in terms of take-it-to-the-bank depth on tour. Andy looks solid, Stan can-do, and Nadal seems to be revisiting his clay heyday, but all three are not sure bets regardless of where your bias has dragged you off to and clunked you over the head. Murray v Djokovic is one-sided in a best-of-five, as is Djokovic v Nadal, at this point. No question on both of those match-ups.
On the other hand, there is the history of Djokovic failing to grab his opportunity in these majors. He is 11-8 in finals. If you look at the all-time men’s records, that stands-out a bit in terms of opportunities. He’s going to go 17 or 18-8? Seems like a very difficult set of circumstances, especially when we have seen him struggle at times in these majors when it’s time to close the deal.
I’m sure some of you have seen the 2015 FO final recently as Tennis Channel has aired it among other highlights from the past. What a remarkable match. Whether Djokovic is tired at that point from his tough draw, tough to say. But listening to Gimelstob and Annacone call it brought back to life that amazing match.
A couple of things jump-out from that final. Stan’s power and his BH go hand-in-hand. He pushed the Serb deeper behind the BL than anyone is used to seeing. We could attribute that to Novak’s fatigue, but I think most sensible folk see that as Stan just hitting him off the court. There were some great rallies and in several cases, either player might attempt to step forward to take a ball early and badly miss hit the shot. A lot of pace on that court, that day. Stan was just a little bigger, a little more relentless.
Another part of that match that stands-out is Stan’s effective BH slice that often put Djokovic in an uncomfortable position. Sure his big attacking BH DTL, CC, finding angles, depth, etc., was very impressive. But watching Novak come in to play this sort of low cut BH makes you realize how much more he prefers to stay on the BL and hit from either side. Stan was able to mix it up pretty well.
As Gimelstob points-out at some point (it takes these commentators a while to realize they’re seeing Stanimal burn-down the house), Stan did such a good job of re-setting after each point. He might miss terribly, get beaten by Novak on any given point. On to the next point. This was KEY to that match. The mental game, as we know, at that level is the difference. Nadal has been so successful because of his optimistic approach to the game. After each point, re-set. Keep bringing it. Stan was able to do this through those first couple of sets when each tried to establish control.
On the other hand, Djokovic’s body language failed him. He started to talk. A lot. Reminded me of Murray some when he’s unraveling during a match even when the result is far from decided.
Mental fortitude. If Stan has it, he’s a beast. His win in Geneva and surviving that R1 match vs. Rosol today could help. We’ll see. His tennis was more patient today compared to that final in 2015. Which makes sense. It’s early. He was certainly in a bit of trouble today but the BH showed-up in time to rectify the order and get him through the 2R. In that final, he was relentless. I hope he can find that form to add insanity to that bottom half of the draw.
So, that’s the question then: How relentless will Djokovic be in securing his first FO? He has shown the inability to seize the moment in some of these big matches despite his insane run over the last year and a half. Is he feeling the pressure? Can he elevate through that?
The draw suits his pursuit. Then again, is irony lurking late in the draw where a toughened and tested Nadal has a level to upset the Serb? Will Novak perhaps find some early tests as he’s want to do, seemingly playing to the level of his opponent?
We’ll have to wait and see. Enjoy.