Djokovic’s ongoing supremacy proves that the ‘Golden Era’ of men’s tennis is over

The following is an article provided by Palatinate.

By Alex Fage

Having dismantled Nadal, Murray and Tsonga without having to expand those mad, but hungrily ambitious eyes of his, Novak Djokovic’s achievements in Asia this year have been exceptional. There will be those who say it’s no surprise to see him claim back-to-back titles in Beijing and Shanghai, pointing to the fact that Djokovic always shines in this period of the year. However, this blinkered viewpoint is missing the wider significance of the Serbian’s continued dominance. The reality is that yet another block of tournaments in the tennis calendar has passed us by and no player has demonstrated that they can stifle Djokovic’s game to even come close to beating him. In the final of the Shanghai Masters, Djokovic faced the flamboyant Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who on his day is capable of fulfilling his maverick potential. It was not this day.

Tsonga is renowned for producing performances that have a certain “je ne sais quoi”, but it was Djokovic who confidently crushed any sort of French Revolution. The first set was a formality with Djokovic strolling into a 6-2 lead, creating angles from seemingly impossible areas of the court. Despite the second set being a tighter affair, you never felt as though you were witnessing an inspired comeback from the Frenchman. Perhaps what summed up Djokovic’s irrepressible dominance in recent times was at 4-4 in the second set when Tsonga was break point down on his own serve, and he double faulted to gratuitously offer Djokovic the chance to serve for the title.

This highlights a vital insight into the aura Djokovic has created; Tsonga and other players know that if they simply roll in a second serve at 80mph against him, for example, it will more than likely be punished ruthlessly. A huge factor in explaining why Djokovic has become so dominant is that players know that playing their normal game against him will not be good enough, which leads to them favouring that big forehand down the line over the highest part of the net instead of playing the percentage ball back cross-court. Potentially it is this fear factor that Djokovic now has which is enabling him to enjoy continued success on the court due to its snowball-like effect; once he puts in a couple of exceptional performances, players move away from their own game plan and try alternative strategies when playing against him, leading to more unforced errors.

It is staggering at this time of year, when he has played so much tennis, that he has not dropped a single set in Beijing or Shanghai, where he collected his 25th Masters title (two shy of Nadal who holds the record with 27). Where are the other three of the Big Four? Where are the proclaimed stars of tomorrow?

The answer is that they simply cannot topple Djokovic. He is a class apart in terms of his athleticism, mentality and outright tennis talent. Naturally, people say it is what goes on between his ears that makes him the best, but in basic terms it is his ability to maintain an aggressive trading ball more consistently than anyone. If on the off chance his tennis brain has a slight malfunction and he plays a poorly executed shot, his athleticism is there for him to fall back on. It’s in these moments when he’s arguably at his most breathtaking to watch, hunting down seemingly unreachable balls and returning them with interest.

The last player to enjoy such a prolonged period of dominance at the top of the game was Roger Federer and he became the greatest player of all time. Therefore, there is the very real prospect of Djokovic surpassing the Swiss maestro. In order to do so, he will need to retain the hunger, passion and desire he has displayed over the last couple of years. Bjorn Borg, retiring at the tender age of just 26, is the living example of this: to keep wanting to come back year after year with the same determination is tough. Without that shirt-ripping fire from deep within that we all saw when he won the Australian Open in 2012, Djokovic would not be as indestructible as he is.

However, I don’t believe Djokovic’s motivation for titles will dwindle for the simple reason that he has not yet gained the adulation he deserves from the worldwide tennis public. In the US Open Final last month, it was a partisan crowd that faced Djokovic even when he outplayed Roger Federer for the majority of the match. If he continues his domination in Paris and London in the season finale, he most certainly deserves nothing but the highest form of adulation. We must not let his genius go by without giving him all of the plaudits he deserves. There is a danger that if tennis romanticists remain so focused on wanting to witness a return of a big rivalry at the top of the game, then they will not fully cherish the greatness of Djokovic.

Photograph: Marianne Bevis via Flickr