I thought a great deal about writing this season review and explained briefly on Twitter why: a lot started doing their reviews shortly after the World Tour Finals were completed, while I was in full Davis Cup mode myself. Which means that what needed to be written on the various protagonists of this year was written while I was immersed in the final opposing Spain and Argentina, and I feared lacking originality. Moreover, it was a very emotional final, ending a long season, and so when it was over, I decided to take a few days away from writing. My apologies.
However, due to popular demand, a year review is in order. 😉 I cannot, of course, do it all in one huge article and for that reason, I will cut it in parts, but for the first part, I have to give his due to the man who marked this year on the men’s tour. After all, 2011 was, in the most part, the year of the Djoker.
Novak Djokovic, the Djoker who became King
If 2004-07 and 2009 were the years of Roger Federer, and 2008 and 2010, those of Rafael Nadal, 2011 marked a new beginning on the men’s tour, that of a new number 1, a player of immense talent but who, in the past, lacked a little something in order to really take the top spot he had claimed to want a few years ago.
This man is Novak Djokovic. And what a year he had! If, at the same time last year, someone would have told me that Nole would know such a year, defeat Rafael Nadal six times, including twice on clay and on the Wimbledon grass, I would likely have said that this someone was delusional.
However, that’s exactly what Djokovic did.
Transported by Serbia’s Davis Cup win, in which he played an important role in forcing the vital fifth rubber (won by Viktor Troicki), full of confidence and a new gluten-free diet (the only time I mention it, I promise!!), Djokovic started the year at the Hopman Cup, then went to win the Australian Open (d. Andy Murray in the finals), losing only a set on his way to his second Grand Slam title (he won the Australian Open in 2008). There started his dream season.
Then again, wary of his past, many were we who thought that Nole would not back it up at other events. And again, how wrong were we! Not content to have defeated Roger Federer in the semis of Melbourne, he defeated him in the Dubaï finals, and again in the Indian Wells semis, before defeating Rafael Nadal for the first time of the year in the finals, after losing the first set, which he repeated a fortnight later in Miami’s finals.
The question was then in everyone’s mind: who will stop Novak Djokovic? In fact, at that moment, it was more “what” than “who”, as he was forced to skip Monte Carlo due to a knee injury, but not before taking “his” tournament in Belgrade (d. Feliciano López in the finals). This break only made him come back stronger, as he then went to end Rafa Nadal’s clay domination (he had won all clay-court events last year, and Monte Carlo and Barcelona, before falling twice to the Serbian), defeating him in both Madrid and Rome finals.
With 38 straight wins coming into the French Open, all wondered if he would beat the record of 42 consecutive wins at the start of a season held by John McEnroe. He actually did beat that streak, but that was including the two Davis Cup singles wins of 2010. However, his own streak was ended in the semi-finals of the French Open, when an inspired Roger Federer inflicted him his first loss of the season, after 41 straight wins (43 total with 2010), in one of the best matches we would see this season, although both had another great match to offer us a few months later, at the same stage of the US Open. The end of the 43-win streak of Djokovic also meant that the Open Era record of consecutive wins, held by Guillermo Vilas (46), remains intact.
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It is with the no 1 ranking well in view that Djokovic came into Wimbledon. All he needed was to reach the finals and the top of the ATP was his, regardless of Rafael Nadal’s performance. Most of us remembered how Djokovic would, in the past, crumble under such pressure. Not this time. By defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who, in the quarters, became the first player ever to defeat Roger Federer when the Swiss was up two sets to none in a best-of-five match), Djokovic ensured himself of finally becoming World no 1, which he backed up by winning his second Grand Slam title of the year, this time over Rafael Nadal.
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Skipping the Davis Cup quarters, Djokovic made a winning return in Montreal (d. Mardy Fish in the finals), before retiring in the Cincinnati final, when Andy Murray was up a set and 3-0, because of a shoulder injury, an injury that would end up being the downfall of his dream season. However, the Djoker-become-King hadn’t said his last word yet, as he went and saved match points in a highly entertaining semi-final against Federer, before taking his third Grand Slam title of the year in New York, when he defeated Rafael Nadal for the sixth time in as many meetings this season.
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With his injured shoulder, the question was whole as the Davis Cup semi-finals were played: would Djokovic play against Argentina? With Argentina up 2-1 at the end of the Saturday’s doubles, the decision was made that he would play, which ended up being a huge mistake. Facing an inspired Juan Martín del Potro in the Belgrade arena, Nole was forced to retire in the second set, clearly in pain, an injury that would force him to miss the whole Asian Swing and would not leave him until the end of an excruciating season, which would see him winning only six matches until its conclusion.
Nevertheless, his 70-6 record for this year makes it one of the best seasons of the Open Era, regardless of its sad ending. Novak Djokovic fully deserves all the credit he’s been receiving for all of this year’s accomplishments. Of course, it will be a lot for him to defend in 2012, but something tells me that he will come to Melbourne with his renewed killer instinct intact. It will be very interesting to see what Nole will do next season.
Coming up tomorrow
2011 – The year of the revelations