Just about all the way in which till the final match, Novak Djokovic was set to realize the Calendar Slam, which has not been received since 1988 (when Steffi Graf accomplished a Golden Slam). The murmurs, the drama, the build-up that started publish Wimbledon about him successful the Golden Slam—after which the Calendar Slam after his exit on the Olympics—is one thing tennis has not skilled in so a few years. It’s some of the astonishing issues on the market, as a result of it’s so uncommon, males or girls. Serena Williams was shut and Novak himself has been shut earlier than, however not as shut as this.
Not solely did he have this nice yr the place he was one match away from historical past, however he really misplaced little or no. Simply seven matches until date. Even in that Olympic semi-final towards Alexander Zverev he was up a set and a break, and Novak towards anyone in that place doesn’t usually lose. Return a few months in the past when he was 2-0 down towards Stefanos Tsitsipas within the French Open closing. I used to be a number of tweets, and no person thought he would lose even from there.
Once you watch Novak these days, you count on him to be dialed in, to play as near perfection as it will possibly get. Take a number of the previous champions: Roger Federer was by no means the all-out favorite on clay though he was among the finest. Return additional to the period of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and even these guys had a number of unhealthy matches a yr. Novak doesn’t appear like he’s going to lose a match, and on all surfaces. The sort of aura that he carried in 2021 is, for me, one thing that tennis has by no means seen earlier than. Positive, Roger had it, however another way.
I used to be speaking to some of the present professionals on the Tour, and the factor that makes Novak so good in comparison with a number of the different greats is his capability to harm you from any a part of the courtroom. You may go on the market and hit an awesome first serve, and he can in all probability get it again to a place the place he can both harm you or harm you within the subsequent shot. A few of the different guys had apparent patterns. With Novak, you may’t actually assault sure components of the courtroom due to his agility, flexibility and skill to hit in an open stance sliding on either side and but keep in steadiness. It’s additionally futile to attend and defend, as a result of, effectively, you merely can’t out-rally him and he additionally has the power to assault from either side. After which because the man grows in confidence, the choices open up, like his drop pictures on the backhand aspect the place the texture is wonderful. One among his most underrated weapons is his serve. All these items make it attainable for him to play big-time tennis when it issues most, and constantly.
I performed him as soon as on the Tour in 2013 in Miami. Even again then, he was actually good. I felt like round that point, although, he did have one or two losses that have been very not like what you see at present. The narrative has shifted to a stage now the place if Novak is feeling it, you’re not going to win. That’s some of the devastating emotions as a tennis participant.
Nonetheless, I bear in mind Novak from a bit of bit additional again. That is 2009, a time after I was coaching with Andy Roddick. His head-to-head is 5-4 towards Novak, and he had an excellent report towards him early in his profession. This was a interval Novak had these respiratory points, would retire typically and get drained fairly a bit enjoying five-setters. I bear in mind Andy mentioning these items once we have been coaching collectively. They confronted one another on a extremely, actually sizzling day within the Australian Open quarter-finals. I recollect Andy being comfortable that they have been enjoying through the day, as a result of I knew the sort of coaching periods that we had within the 2009 pre-season. Because the match wore on, it progressively drifted in the direction of being a bodily battle. Andy misplaced the primary set in a tie-breaker, received the subsequent two 6-4, 6-2, after which Novak referred to as a coach. Quickly sufficient, he retired.
At the moment, he was 21. What’s loopy is that at 34, the man is a lot fitter. That tells you in regards to the degree of dedication he has in the direction of his occupation. Folks used to make enjoyable of his gluten-free eating regimen and also you’d learn all types of loopy issues he does together with his sleeping patterns and what he’s attempting to do with oxygen and stuff like that. However as a participant and as a peer—I do know the Serbian guys effectively and I’ve spent a while with Novak as effectively—I do know he leaves no stone unturned in looking for each little edge. If that implies that he feels he’s going to get higher by having this eating regimen, by sleeping right now, by having these individuals round him, by doing these workout routines and drills, he’s going to do it. And the proof lies within the pudding, actually.
All through his profession, he has had a number of features of his sport that folks would have thought of a weak point. What stands out essentially the most about Novak is his capability to show his weak point into power. Rewind a decade, and the three issues that you can say are potential weaknesses of Novak have been his serve, health and his psychological capability to stick with it and never lose focus. For your entire tennis world, it’s straightforward to see now that every of these items is his power. Not simply power; for me, his psychological toughness is without doubt one of the biggest weapons that our sport has ever seen.
Issues just like the Sampras serve, the Agassi return, the Rafa Nadal forehand and combat, the Roger aptitude are very straightforward to note. With Novak, we’ve got seen him evolve over time into a greater participant and an excellent higher participant and nonetheless proceed to enhance. From the surface it might appear like a clean journey, however I’m certain the man has gone from hell and again a number of instances, most lately in 2017 with the elbow harm.
The sort of report that he began off with towards Rafa and Roger—particularly within the large matches—was not the very best. Now, he has dominant numbers over each. Thoughts you, it’s in all probability not straightforward being the least appreciated amongst the most important world stars within the sport. I’m not saying that he’s not appreciated, however amongst Rafa and Roger and Novak, he’s in all probability the least appreciated. However he has accepted it, overcome it, and turned it right into a constructive. To have that capability may be very inspiring. You may examine it in philosophy books and discuss to individuals about it, however all you’ll want to do is see Novak.
Is there any restrict to the Djokovic juggernaut? I don’t need to be silly and say that he’s going to cease any time quickly. When you had requested me 10 years in the past, I wouldn’t have thought that he’s going to be fitter at 34 than at 24. From his interviews and realizing the person a bit of bit myself, I really feel like in his thoughts it appears clear that he’s on the market for the historical past books. Proper now, he’s caught at 20 Grand Slams with Rafa and Roger. I consider when it’s all mentioned and carried out, he can have essentially the most Grand Slams and can in all probability be thought of the best participant to have ever performed the sport. I believe that’s his aim. And he’s effectively on his option to attaining it.
Somdev Devvarman, Novak Djokovic’s up to date, is India’s former No. 1 tennis participant. He spoke with Rutvick Mehta.