Djokovic’s Ascendancy

I just wrote that title to start this and as corny as it sounds, I’m keeping it.

That’s all this is really about, the 2021 French, the SF, F, etc., etc., etc.

Some of Nolefam and many of his other social warriors talk about how Novak doesn’t get the respect despite already (especially in their eyes) edging ahead of his older siblings for a few years now. Granted, if Nadal had spanked him again in that SF, like it looked early on, we’d have all sorts of jibber jabber; or what if he had, indeed, fallen to Tsitsipas in straights, or in a nail-biting loss in 5 to the precocious Greek?

But none of that happened.

He overcame Nadal, which I and many others felt he could do for a long time (ago). I am not a Djoker fanboy, but the objective view here is that Nole is the only one who can truly hang with Nadal on this surface. Even though watching it transpire live was beyond expectations.

He won his 2nd French in a classical, virtuosic manner, by beating the clay GOAT, and then in fairly typical fashion came back and beat the youngster in five.

Every hour that passed after that final had concluded, and I had written a little teaser about coming clean with some juicy commentary later that day or yesterday, I felt further and further from that surreal coronation of a tennis great; and therefore less able to capture the majesty of the tennis.

His comeback from two sets – nil was fantastic. I actually doubted his win for a couple of breaths, but the change there in the 3rd quickly got things back square, kinda.

Give Stefanos a hand for making the Serb work there in the fifth. I was in a no-lose situation. I wanted Djokovic to consolidate the win over Nadal. But a one-hander winning the French — come-on. I would have been sipping some champagne.

Shout-out to my big 2021 prediction as we reach the end of the second major of the year, i.e., we have still a lot of tennis to play: I said simply that Thiem and Tsitsipas would be the two best players on tour at the end of this year.

I made this call in December or January.

Thiem never recovered from his USO title. I’ve talked about his lack of a killer instinct many times before, even though he has lowered the boom on some big talent on big stages here and there throughout his career. But he’s completely smashed, infamously hungover from his one big, big victory. I trust he’ll make a nice run this summer on the hard courts. Stay tuned.

But Tsitsipas: damn.

He’s a better player than Medvedev and Zverev at this point; these boys are bunched together, but I’ll take the one-handers all day and I think the results will back me up.

As I said, Novak will probably still be #1 and Nadal is the next best thing, but come November, I think we’ll see the two one-handers wreaking lots of havoc in any draw.

One more move here before I call it a night.

I have to chime-in on the prospects of Nadal having won this French, his 14th, his 21st major (to underscore the significance of the Novak win). The GOAT discussion/debate is fairly trite; none the less, we’re face-to-face with that rodent if we watch or read anything men’s tennis these days. Nadal would have been pushed above Novak and Federer based on that #21 (god knows he did not need another Roland Garros). The status quo, the loud mouth professional and amateur commentators would have held hands and blushed in Nadal’s direction (at the same time he’s picking his underwear out of his ass).

Nadal, you know where I stand here, is not, nor would he have been, by any stretch of the imagination, the Greatest of All Time. Nope. Read back through 4-5 years of heavy reading and writing on this blog to know what I and you (should) think of this particular conversation.

Novak winning eclipsed all of that non-sense. No, I am not saying that Djokovic is the GOAT. I think I’ve actually made all of this pretty clear, even recently, though this is an evolving discussion, of course, and we do have more to chew, if you catch my drift.

But this just means we can avoid hearing the stuff about the Spaniard and all of his majors.

Folks, that’s really the point, ultimately, of this debate. It misses the point, fundamentally. This past weekend with a SF for the ages and the five-set comeback coronation of a Serbian king steps into the light as a perfect illustration.

It’s not about the majors. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have played (are still playing) some of the most ridiculously sharp and athletic and top level tennis anyone has ever seen (not going to say “or will ever see”). For a real fan, granted the titles, numbers, etc. allow us to practically stereotype, which is so much easier on our brains. But the tennis, yep, is the all the evidence we need.

Go back and watch Djokovic build that mesmerizing resistance on the terre battue of Philippe Chatrier. Nadal is vulnerable on other clay courts, which he showed again this year. But at the French he brings a dominant game of heavy, high-spin ping-pong at his opponents and there’s really no earthly way one can win a set, let alone two or three against him.

The essence of Nadal’s legacy, aside from the clay, is his almost unsurpassed competitive spirit. Only one other player can go toe-to-toe with him in that cage.

Nadal was in form. He showed a couple of signs (vulnerability) earlier in the tournament, but he really didn’t. Schwartzman, as he’s done before, took one set. Thiem has done so and so have others. For Novak to mount the charge, to muster the wherewithal to win that war with Nadal scratching and throwing the kitchen sink at Novak like that. For the Serb to rise from 0-5 in the first and finally go on and win going away? Thank god we don’t have to talk about #21.

And sure Federer has to have cracked a little smile and a glass of bubbly, for old time’s sake. For shits and giggles.

These two warriors this past weekend have done this before, several times. And we think back to some of Roger’s great runs. These guys play a brand and quality of tennis that drives us crazy and embarrasses us at the same time. I should say embarrasses the rest of the field. What else explains the untouched futility of professional tennis players over the past 18 years or so (I should just say 20 for obvious reasons) not named Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.

You saw the graphics, the stats — you have seen these same ones for the last 10-15 years. The Big 3, more consistently of the last several years from Nadal and Djokovic, have won every major since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

I bag on the sport, the field, the nextgen, et al. Indeed, I am disappointed that no one (no. one.) has risen to the occasion and inserted himself into any part or parcel of this conversation. These regal tennis gents (especially these particular two) simply play at far too high of a level to suggest any semblance of an ending, an epilogue, or a eulogy. Or a chance.

Tsitsipas looked dangerous. For sure. That’s my boy. I think Thiem has it in him, as well. But we’re not there yet.

Along with Djokovic’s numbers, his tennis, on incredible display last week in Paris, is the top of the sport. Don’t kid yourself.

Thanks for reading. I have more to say, so I’ll talk to you later.

Remember this point? Nadal actually wins the two or three after this to break back. This third set. Holy shit.

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