Saturday, November 26, 2011

Will Djokovic retain the #1 ranking in 2012?

In a word, No. In a few words, I don’t think so. Or I can say this more certainty – hell no, not gonna happen. I’m not saying that Djokovic is going to flame out, or that he is going to be any less challenging the opponent he has been throughout 2011. It’s just that I think that having worked his ass off to become #1, Djokovic is about to discover that becoming #1 and remaining #1 are two entirely different issues, and that it is possible to achieve the one but choke in fear at the prospect of the other.

Tennis is a fascinating sport. It is a physically challenging game of course, but the mental tests are so much more. Becoming #1 is a physically daunting task. Remaining #1 requires far more mental fortitude. And I find myself doubting whether Djokovic can do this. I am beginning to wonder if he is going to turn out to be another of those players who, having achieved the top ranking, runs the risk of losing the drive and hunger that got him there in the first place.

This is one of the hazards you face when you celebrate your achievements almost too much. Having been feted and celebrated by all of Serbia, indeed by Serbians everywhere, having danced and partied like it was 1999 after he won three Slams in 2011 and became the decisive and indisputable #1 in the world, Djokovic seems to be on the verge of deflation. He just doesn’t seem to have the fight in him anymore.

In tennis, true success demands that you find ways to hold on to the hunger. True achievement requires that you not only compete against others, but that you find ways to compete against yourself, to push yourself to remain at the pinnacle. It is a mentally daunting task. And for the first time I find myself questioning if Djokovic is truly up to it.

Listen to any of his recent interviews after his failure experiences at the Barclay year-end championship. All of a sudden Djokovic is starting to sound like a whiny biyatch. He’s complaining that the season is too long. He’s complaining about the amount of tennis he has had to play. He’s whining that it is unfair, it’s too much.

I wonder if he would be prepared to hand over the millions of dollars he has earned this year just so he could remain ranked at # 3 or 4. I wonder if he would be prepared to give up all of his successes and not bother to break through to the top rank in this sport. Of course not. The problem is that Djokovic seems to want to have his gluten-free cake and eat it too. He wants to be #1 but he seems to be terrified of what he will have to do next year to remain there.

To which I say, if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the damn kitchen. Nobody put a gun to his head and told him to go on a tear from the start of the year. Nobody forced him to accomplish what simply no one else has thus far this year. Nobody told him to earn over 10 million dollars this year alone. It was, we can safely assume, his own motivation, his own hunger. And indeed, it was deeply impressive.

But earth to Novak: In this sport, if you can’t find a way to manage your career and your health with the intelligence of a Roger Federer, then it’s up to you to deal with the consequences. And the consequences are that you have a bucket-load of points to defend next year. Stop being a whiny biyatch and start planning for how you are going to do this.

Because all that the constant whining is doing is sending a signal to your opponents that you are terrified. That looking ahead, you’re already choking at the prospect of what you will have to do. And the more terrified and whiny you become, the more that pain in your back and shoulder is going to hurt. You decided that you wanted tennis success, well here’s what it takes. Now stop whining, suck it up, and figure out how you're going to get the job done.


Erik G. said...

Enjoyed your post. I agree Djokovic hanging on to No.1 feels unlikely but who knows? I've also thought Nole has had the mental fortitude to own No. 1, unlikely Murray for example, but his deflation as you put it is not that surprising considering how many physical woes, some would say borderline hypchondriac, that he went through in the past few years. I predict Nole will fall to No. 2 or maybe 3 but will win one Major at least next year. We'll see.

Doug Messenger said...

2012 will be a tough one for Djokovic. His coach will have his hands full to keep his charge on target. The male bluster may already have done him in - it's a huge waste of energy.
And, dear Chica, I see STILL HAND, WITH CAT.

Anonymous said...

mat4 [although anonymous]:

It is probably your worst post this year. I enjoy reading your blogs very much, I have even posted it, but you didn't grasp what happen with Djokovic nor the previous years, nor this year.

First, he is probably the most complete player in the last ten years. He doesn't have to play specially well, doesn't have to sweep the masters or to win three GS, but just to keep the level he had in 2007, 2008, at the end of 2009 and this year to remain at the top. Will it be 1, 2 or 3? It really depends on little things, a bit of luck. But Djoko is here to stay.

Analysing his game and his evolution in the last three years (the slump in 2010 excepted), we can notice that he has improved his forehаnd (less that most think), improved his backhand (more that most think), his net game, his return, and that he is almost serving the way he did with the Wilson racquet.

(Djokovic is often depicted as a counter puncher, but it is a misapprehension: he is almost a pure attacker, and the fact that he is making more forehand winner than anybody, Federer excepted, is telling.)

So, he is here to stay. He has the will to dominate. And the most obvious proof of that are his matches against Nadal, when they are at the top of their respective games.

Roger Federer is a pure tennisman. But confronted against Nadal, when he can't play his easy game, when he is drained in a fight, a tussle for every ball, he lacks the will to dominate, the hate of losing, of his opponent, required to win. He usually breaks apart in the fourth, sometimes in the fifth, sometimes earlier. But he breaks apart.

Djokovic doesn't break. He just fights to the bitter end, or the apotheosis. But won or lost, after those matches, he has difficulties to recover. In 2008, he had two terrible defeats against Nadal, in Hambourg and then in London, and he needed five months to recover. Then, in 2009, the repeat: Monte Carlo, Rome, finally Madrid. He couldn't recover till the end of the year. This year, it was worse: 6 finals in a row, culminating in a four hours battle in New York. I am not surprised Djokovic was broken in his body and in his mind after such a campaign, I am surprised it took him so long.

A lot of people seem to believe that the expression on Djokovic's face just before that famous return, at the USO, was because of the lack of recognition from the public. Reading his interviews, later, I came to the conclusion that he just didn't want to lose against Roger. He summoned his hate, his ego, and finished the match without losing a game.

Everytime Djokovic is in such mood, when he stops thinking about losing, Roger is no match against him: I don't think he will ever be again when it counts. The match in semi of the US Open was not a proof that Roger can compete against Djoko, quite the contrary, it was a proof that he can't. He just can't sustain the tension. He just doesn't have the adrenaline.

But against Nadal, it is not tennis: it is, in his best - or worst moments - a deadly fight. We can almost see their exacerbation, we can feel them despair to ever make a winner.

Such tension has a price. Their last results just show what they have lost, what they have left in those matches.

tennischick said...

You frighteningly missed the point of my post which may indeed be my worst ever, but at the very least you should understand the point that I am making before slammimg me.

Everything you say about Djoko's accomplishments is true -- especially the ego and rage that he dug deep to find in order to beat Federer. I could not have summarized his feats better.

But having accomplished great deeds in 2011, Djokovic has lately become a whiny bitch, complaining incessantly about the length of the season and why that is unfair. This was the same season that he played to get to the top. Having gotten there, he seems to be reflecting negatively on what it's going to take to stay there. This is not a guy who is putting out positive interviews about looking forward to the challenges he will have to face in 2012. No, instead he has turned into a whiny-assed bitch. The intent of my post was to criticize this. I stand by my opinions.

Anonymous said...


I didn't mean to sound harsh, and I don't know the right words to fully express the consideration I have for your original insights. But I praised your writings a few months ago, so I hope to be excused.

But my English is far from the level needed to express subtle points or ideas. So to put it as clearly as I can, your last post was a bit unworthy of you.

My basic point is that Djokovic himself is missing the point.

His problem is not the length of the season (in 2009, he has played almost a hundred matches, and had a great post USO stretch), but the "Nadal effect". And that effect is devastating. I mentioned what happen in 2008 and in 2009. Both times, Djokovic had difficulties to regain his focus, motivation and sharpness.

But Djokovic came back, after those strings of arduous defeats, and every time he searched for a way to rise his game: he practiced his backhand against high rebounds, he changed his fitness coach, he engaged another coach, he changed his diet, his attitude on the court... Тhe ambition of this boy is without limits.

The second point is that his game is so rounded, complete, that he should stay at the very top of the game.

Maybe he won't be number one next year, but he should be close, and his game should be near the level he had in 2011. The results depend on a lot of factors. Just look at Nadal. He had a great season. Played very well for months, but won just one slam and one MS. If Djokovic wins one slam next year and one master, it will be a great result.

We have to admit that Nadal has introduced something unknown to tennis before him. Roger tried to beat the Spaniard with his sublime technique - but, most of the time, it was insufficient. Djokovic accepted the fight, lost, but came back over and over again. You need a lot of ambition and steadiness for this.

This mental, as well as physical, engagement is what makes their seasons so arduous, and why they are so tired in September already, or, carrier wise, why Nadal is complaining all the time, why he is always injured at 25.

Djokovic was whining before, Nadal does it all the time. But that probably has no effect on their game. In a month, everything will be reset. The mental fatigue, the real weariness at the end of the season, will be forgotten. Until another September.

Anonymous said...

I used to be impressed by your blog But this post reads like it was written by a passing tennis fan that doesn't know that much about the sport.

"Nobody put a gun to his head and told him to go on a tear from the start of the year. Nobody forced him to accomplish what simply no one else has thus far this year. Nobody told him to earn over 10 million dollars this year alone.
It's like you're mad at him for having done all this.

And what? Because he wanted this so much and attained it, he can't express his fear of losing it? He isn't allowed to feel the tour is a grind and the season is too long?

I'm not even a Djokovic fan but your tone just sounds angry and ill informed.

But I get it, you were just looking for another way to state how amazing your precious Roger Federer is. "But earth to Novak: In this sport, if you can’t find a way to manage your career and your health with the intelligence of a Roger Federer, then it’s up to you to deal with the consequences."

Please. Imagine what the tour would be like, and how all the tournaments and fans would get jipped if every top player stuck to Roger Federer's scheduling.

You're also implying that if he stuck to Roger's methods of managing his health he would be just as good or fresh at the end of the season... Because they are the same people with the same bodies and the same issues?

You started with a good thesis which is that he is going to have a hell of a time defending the points and that it is easier to chase #1 than to maintain it. But then you lost me with how you tried to support these claims. Or was your thesis just that he is a whiny biatch? This is not news.

I don't even think he has been complaining any more than normal. EVERYONE has been talking about the season being too long, scheduling and the grind of the tour since the US Open. He shouldn't be allowed to opine?

Just not a good post.

tennischick said...

Damn you Djokovites are a sensitive lot. Now I get why he's such a whiny bitch. Goes with the fandom.

Penny Simpson said...

Anonymous, come out and say who you are. Hiding behind 'Anonymous' is cowardly. Moreover you are a whiny bitch. Worry less about Djokovic and more about yourself. The Tennis Chick is a clean thinker. Objectivity does not consist of giving your opinion of the quality of her posts. Objectivity consists of giving the facts a clean analysis, not in a personal attack and the presumptuous pseudo-superiority of your passing judgment on someone who is merely reporting on a GAME, tennis. You should skip the bashing and just write what you think about Djokovic. You could have cut your crappy posts down by 50% and then you might have convinced someone of your points. Whom do you think that you are, anyway? Lemme see. Some amazing pro? A whiny-bitch wannabe? Take your pick. But be honest.

Penny Simpson said...

Anonymous, you refuse to wrap your mind around the truths and speculations, both written cleanly and ably by The Tennis Chick. There is nothing at all there that could be characterized as untrue. And more, she was clear about everything, so that readers could see easily what was opinion, what was analysis, and what was humor. She marshalled FACTS to support her analysis. You disparaged your English skills quite disingenuosly when you should have owned up to your rude, crude, unrefined invective. After a semi-apology, you took up right where you left off and did it again. Jeez. Grow up.

tennischick said...

What, no comments on Tsonga? Ouch.

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