Remember when Novak Djokovic was fragile? He always had an ailment, always had an excuse?
He had all of the talent in the world to garner his top 5 ranking, but would never be great because homeboy was softer than yogurt?
He was a sideshow, he was fun for a few rounds, made us laugh at his Maria Sharapova impersonations and of other players, but we were never going to take him seriously.
Andy Roddick clowned him at the U.S. Open and made light of the injuries that always seemed to hamper him. “Isn’t it both of them? And a back and a hip?… And a cramp… Bird flu… Anthrax. SARS. Common cough and cold…” I mean Roddick is the last guy to talk about a player’s shortcomings, but he was right. Even when Djokovic whipped his tail and trashed him after the match I still couldn’t take him seriously.
To me Djokovic was going to be Michael Chang, the one-hit wonder that never matched his potential. Even if he did somehow finally reach his potential he was playing in the Nadal-Federer era with a hard charging Robin Soderling and about 75 other great Spanish players coming up. So Djokovic would eventually become an afterthought… then 2011 happened.
He’s only played in two tournaments this year, but has been absolutely dominant. He’s lost only one set (second round in Dubai) he’s beaten Federer twice, including the Dubai final, and man-handled Andy Murray to win the Australian Open.
All of a sudden we have a third contender in the conversation of the best tennis player in the world and with Rafa out until the French Open Djokovic has a real shot at being the number one player in the world by the time May rolls around.
Shocked?… yeah, me too.
What happened? According to Djokovic it’s all in his serve. He says that “Last year, the serve was not there and I was struggling a lot. I was using a lot of energy. Now I get to have some free points, which is important.” Free points means less time on the court, which may explain the fact that he hasn’t lost in 2011 yet. Less time banging around on the court means less wear and tear, and while Rafa struggles to stay healthy because of that scenario Djokovic is thriving.
Also you have to take into account his performance in Serbia’s Davis Cup title last November as maybe a turning point in his career where he came through in the clutch for his country. That was probably a sign to him that he could play up to his full potential and be dominant and it carried over into this season.
So is he really a threat? Besides dominating the first two tournaments of the year, being 6-0 versus the top 13 players in the world and the number one player is on the shelf the answer is yes. He’s pondering playing in the Davis cup opener next week and will definitely be at Indian Wells when the Masters 1000 opens up. He should certainly be considered a favorite in either event with the way he has played so far and in any even heading towards Roland Garros.
It’s a far cry of what we thought of Djokovic as early as last year. The 23 year-old is playing the best tennis of his career and is becoming a power player in the game just as most analysts expected. No more submissions due to injuries, or play time on the court. Djokovic is a serious contender and one of the game’s most dominant players right now. I don’t think Roddick or anyone will doubt his game anytime soon.