Monday, 6 December 2010
Novak Djokovic - Career defining moment?
Serbia joined the elite group of nations that have won the Davis Cup, just five years after making its debut in the competition. (Feel free to figure out Balkan states politics on your own.) And if you think Davis Cup is irrelevant or must be reinvented, go tell it to Novak Djokovic.
A solid world No. 3 and a Grand Slam champion, Djokovic has had the misfortune to be in his prime in an era dominated by the consensus Greatest Player of All Time (Roger Federer) and a younger rival insolent enough to successfully steal Federer's thunder (Rafael Nadal). But as a proud Serb, Djokovic has spent most of the fall treading water, preoccupied by his nation's chance to join powers like the United States, Australia, Spain and France as a Davis Cup champion.
Over the past few weeks, it became abundantly clear that the Davis Cup had become Novak's major -- a title that would satisfy his craving for the success and distinction that has been denied him through the 11 Grand Slam events he has played since winning the 2008 Australian Open.
Scoff if you will; we all know that neither Federer nor Nadal played Davis Cup this year, clearing the path for Djokovic. Still, the team nature and the inherent unpredictability of the Davis Cup draw ensure that the ride to the title usually is wild, woolly and unpredictable -- and therefore that much more satisfying when successfully completed.
This final was a fitting testament to the volatility of Davis Cup. In the end, the toast of the tie was Viktor Troicki, who crushed France's Michael Llodra in straight sets to secure the win in the winner-take-all fifth rubber. This is the same Troicki who was passed over as a singles competitor the first time around, when Serbia chose to nominate Janko Tipsarevic as its No. 2 player (behind Djokovic).
But Tipsarevic's unconvincing performance against French No. 1 Gael Monfils on Day 1 convinced Serbian captain Bogdan Obradovic (no, he's not Irish) to roll the die and play Troicki -- trumping the decision of French captain Guy Forget (no, he doesn't suffer from memory lapses) to pull Gilles Simon, the original French No. 2, in favor of serve-and-volley throwback Michael Llodra.
Obradovic won the mind games, and the rich subtext provided by those substitutions only served to enhance the theory that while Davis Cup consists of only five matches featuring some combination of four team members, the possibilities are intriguing, if not exactly infinite, and wonderful fodder for armchair quarterbacks. The day of the typical "reverse singles," with two men from each squad fighting out the four singles matches, may be over.
The strategic nuances this week overshadowed the fact that Djokovic admirably completed the one critical task he faced: He won both of his singles matches. Troicki may have emerged the hero, but Djokovic was the rock. Serbia was down 2-1, on the brink of elimination, when Djokovic beat Gael Monfils in the battle of the No. 1s. When the dust clears, it will be obvious it was Djokovic who carried the Serbs to the final in 2010, and Djokovic who set up Troicki for his career moment.
You may not believe, as I do, that Davis Cup is an event of utmost significance. But this was Djokovic's long-awaited second major, and I think it will provide him with rocket fuel for the rest of his career. How much did it mean to Djokovic?
"I would put everything behind me that I have achieved in 2010 just for this win. Definitely the best feeling that we have experienced on a tennis court, ever."
This was a powerful statement from a Grand Slam champion who is now in the company of Nadal, Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Rod Laver and many other icons as a Davis Cup winner.