by Karolina Golabek
As a “Djokovic-Federer” fan, I am not very enthusiastic about the year-end ATP rankings, with Rafael Nadal as No. 1, Novak Djokovic No. 2 and Roger Federer all the way at No. 6.
However, Nole and Fed fans can be hopeful for 2014, as it would appear that Djokovic and Federer found their top forms at the ATP World Tour Finals in London this month.
Djokovic ended his regular season by defending his ATP World Tour Finals title with an impressive and dominant 6-3, 6-4 win over Nadal, becoming the seventh player to win the event at least three times.
After the U.S. Open, the Spaniard Nadal replaced the Serbian Djokovic as the top ranked player. Since Nadal missed half of 2012 with an injury, he had no ranking points to defend from last year, and simply gained points by entering a tournament. It did not help that he won most of the tournaments he entered this year either.
He won 75 matches, lost only seven and won 10 titles, including the French Open, U.S. Open and five Masters 1000 events. Djokovic had to defend a great number of points in order to keep his ranking, which was almost impossible given the incredible level Nadal has been playing at since he returned to the tour in early 2013.
Despite this, it seemed that Djokovic needed the pressure. After losing the top ranking, he was not pursued anymore and became the predator that had to chase yet again.
This mentality allowed him to regroup and gain the momentum he exhibited in 2011, his best year to date, when he won three of the four Grand Slams.
Djokovic told reporters, “After the U.S. Open final, of course, I needed to take things slowly and see and analyze what I did wrong, especially in the matches against him [Nadal], to understand what I need to do in order to win against him. I think the results are showing that we had a great improvement in the last two and a half months.”
And indeed it was a good last couple of months, since Djokovic remained undefeated after the U.S. Open, winning 22 consecutive matches. This was not enough to defend his ranking, but enough to send a clear message to Nadal—he is ready for 2014.
“With this particular confidence, I’m getting into the new season that hopefully can be the one for me where I can challenge Rafa on Roland Garros,” Djokovic said.
I really hope this will happen, but indoor hard courts are Rafa’s worst surface, and one of Novak’s best. Clay courts of Roland Garros are Nadal’s turf. He is the eight-time champion there. But if anyone can do it, it is definitely Djokovic.
Djokovic returned almost perfectly from the beginning of the final match of the season in order to move Nadal around the court and prevent him from dictating points with his mighty forehand.
He hit impressive groundstrokes to keep the Spaniard well behind the baseline. The Serb obtained a quick 3-0 lead in the first set, which was soon erased after Nadal broke back and leveled the set at 3-3.
But Nadal was unable to keep the momentum and double-faulted in his next service game at 30-30. Djokovic broke for a 5-3 lead following a series of volleys at the net.
He finished the set with an ace and continued to put pressure on Nadal by breaking in the third game of the second set. The Spaniard fought valiantly, as he always does, and even saved two match points, but a final forehand gave Djokovic the title.
Nadal missed the chance to join Andre Agassi as the only players to have all four Grand Slams, Olympic Gold, the Davis Cup and the year-end tournament.
According to Nadal, he did not serve as well as he should have. That is a fair point. One has to serve his best against possibly the greatest returner the sport has ever seen.
Djokovic believes that the key to his recent success is net play against the Spaniard. His groundstrokes are good enough to get shorter balls back from Nadal, and allow him to hit an easy approach and winning shot.
Perhaps this is the formula for future success at the French Open against the “Clay Court King.” Only time will tell.
But what about the others? The two Swiss men—Federer and Wawrinka—lost in the semifinals of the tournament, with Wawrinka having his best year ever, and Federer his worst since 2001.
Federer lost to Nadal in the semis for the 22nd time in 32 matches. He finished the season with only one title.
It can’t be the demise of the greatest of all time, can it? Although Roger’s season was not the best one, the last few weeks of the season give hope. He beat two top-10 players after not beating any for almost eight months.
His back is now pain-free, which will give him the confidence physically and mentally. Federer himself wishes to win at least five titles next season, and sets his radar on the Grand Slams and Masters 1000s. This scenario is quite possible for the 32-year-old Swiss.
Apart from the obvious threats of Nadal and Djokovic, Federer is more than capable of defeating the rest of the top 10. The 2013 Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray is absent with a back injury and might miss the 2014 Australian Open.
No. 3 David Ferrer is a fighter, but does not perform well in the deciding phases of the most important tournaments. And No. 5 Juan Martin Del Potro had a disappointing end of the year. He was unable to advance out of the round robin play at the Finals.
Where does that leave him? As a threat in the majors as he was in 2009, or a “Berdych”—who is a superb player, but is never a candidate for a Grand Slam title?
The last couple of weeks of the ATP World Tour are indeed a good indicator of the upcoming season. It will undoubtedly be the year of top men yet again. They are too consistent and too determined.
This “Djoker-Fed” fan would be more than thrilled with a Djokovic and Federer season. Sorry Nadal. But the realistic (or less-biased) scenario would be: Australian Open, U.S. Open – Djokovic, French Open – Nadal and Wimbledon – Federer.