Making of Djokovic

Print edition : July 29, 2011

Novak Djokovic (left) and Rafael Nadal with their winner and runner-up trophies after the men's singles final. - KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

For the hard-hitting Serb, his first Wimbledon title, won by defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain, is a childhood dream come true.

THE 125th Wimbledon Championships saw Novak Djokovic of Serbia win his second Grand Slam in 2011. The victory put him firmly on the throne of the tennis world. His forty-eight victories in a row with one loss to the great Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open was like a lone jet stream in a clear summer sky, an incredible achievement at a time when men's tennis is at its highest-ever standard.

From being just a step below the immortals Federer and Nadal, the tall and wiry Serb vaulted and took the game to a higher level. More power, precision and mercurial speed smothered Nadal's spin, pushing him back and preventing him from dominating the rallies. A frustrated Nadal went for more on his ground shots, resulting in a higher percentage of unforced errors, which proved to be fatal. With five victories in a row against Nadal, Djokovic seems to have firmly established his superiority over Nadal. It will be interesting to see if Nadal's think tank, led by his shrewd uncle, Tony, can come up with answers to Djokovic's invincible game. In my view, the answer lies in Nadal attacking the net more frequently and volleying beyond Djokovic's reach. Nadal approached the net only nine times against Djokovic's 26 sorties, in the four-set final.

It was sad to see a dejected Federer slumped in his chair after his five-set loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals. A gentleman to the core, Federer waited for the Frenchman to finish his dance of joy before leaving the court. Normally losers grab their bags and stomp out of the arena. The Federer era is over. A seventh Wimbledon title for him to draw level with Pete Sampras will remain a dream. His game is still smooth as silk but his mental strength has depleted with age, making it difficult for him to produce aces or winners in crunch situations. After winning the first two sets against Tsonga, he was not strong enough to resist a spirited fightback by the Frenchman. The Centre Court loved the free hitting, exuberant style of Tsonga. Blessed with abundant talent and great athleticism, Tsonga could pick up a Grand Slam title if he can sustain his brilliance for a fortnight.

Andy Murray was in sparkling form as he ploughed his way through to the semi-finals. There was no visible weakness in his game and he seemed to be poised for the breakthrough to the Wimbledon title. The whole nation surfed with him breathlessly riding the highest wave in his career, before he was swamped by Nadal in four sets. A sublime first set, which Murray won, saw the fiery Scot at his peak, serving explosively and hitting winners.

Sadly, Murray's purple patch faded. Low first-serve percentages and unforced errors crept in and opened the flood gates for Nadal who raised his game. To make the breakthrough, Murray needs to work even harder and bolster his mental strength. To start with, he should stop masquerading as a goody-goody boy and get back to his core personality, whatever that is.

Hot on the heels of the top four is Del Potro of Argentina. Out of the game with injuries and wrist surgery, he is slowly climbing up the ladder once again. If he can stay fit and get a few more good tournaments under his belt he could easily upset the apple cart. In full flow, Del Potro's speed of shot is unparalleled in the history of the game.

Petra Kvitova (left), the winner of the ladies singles final, and Maria Sharapova, the runner-up.-

Another powerhouse lurking in the shadows is the 6' 5 Canadian Milos Raonic, who had belted 429 aces before Wimbledon. He serves at 150 mph (240 kmph) and is still getting stronger. Raonic stated: I'm able to hit all the spots from the same toss. Maybe, I can get to 160 mph the record is held by Ivo Karlovic at 156 mph. Unfortunately, Raonic was injured in his second round match against Gilles Muller and had to retire.

Two qualifiers trespassed deep into the main draw. Eighteen-year-old Bernard Tomic of Australia got as far as the quarter-finals and pushed Djokovic in a well-contested match to 7-5 in the fourth set. Of Croatian descent, Tomic has an unconventional style, which is unsettling and effective. He is a rough diamond, and properly coached has the potential to be in top 10.

The other qualifier was Lukasz Kubot of Poland, a tennis journeyman. With serve and volley, weapons of the last century Kubot surprised the base liners who dominate the game today. He defeated the 9th seed Gael Monfils of France, a retriever par excellence who had seldom, if ever, faced such a blitz at the net. Kubot fell short of the quarters by just a couple of missed volleys against Fleciano Lopez of Spain.

HEWITT, THE FIGHTER

The Wimbledon prize for courage and fighting spirit must go to the Australian Lleyton Hewitt, champion in 2002. Hewitt comes back every year with renewed resolve and enthusiasm. Now a battle-scarred veteran with two hip replacements and many scars, he is still diving for volleys, falling and rolling over on the grass and fighting for each point.

In 21st century folk lore, Hewitt could be nominated as the equivalent of Robert Bruce. There is so much more to write about, such as the tragedy of Andy Roddick, a top five player who unfortunately bloomed at the same time as the two greatest players of all time, Federer and Nadal. But space dictates that I should now write about the ladies.

LACKLUSTRE LADIES

The Ladies Championships was a lacklustre event. The early exit of the ghetto cinderellas, Venus (30) and Serena (29), two of the greatest ladies players of all time, scuttled the event. Between them the sisters share nine Wimbledon singles titles, Venus with five and Serena with four, and have dominated the game for a decade. Besides their unmatched athleticism, courage and close-to-masculine power, they were not afraid to speak their minds. Their bizarre self-designed clothes and irreverent statements spice up the bland but highly respected traditions. They lost on the same day, in the fourth round, and left Wimbledon in a huff within an hour with their entourage. Considering that they had not played for many months, and had only one tournament under their belts, their performance was unbelievable. The clock has not struck 12 for the ghetto cinderellas. They will come back and continue to dominate the game.

The only bright spark among the ladies was the Champion, 21-year-old left-handed Czech Petra Kvitova. Her powerful all-court game and unflappable temperament indicate that she will be a worthy successor to the former Czech greats such as Martina Navratilova, Jana Novotna and Martina Hingis. A small-town girl, her simple charm and modesty are captivating. It is a welcome relief from the motor mouths who repeat stale cliches ad nauseum in their interviews. A bright future awaits her. The lone megastar who featured in the later stages of the tournament was Maria Sharapova.

The highest paid woman athlete of all time; she earned a whopping $24 million last year. Winner of three Grand Slams before she was 21 years of age, Sharapova has come back after shoulder surgery, which forced her to cut short her service action. Now at 24 years of age, Sharapova seems to be on her way back to the top of the game. With her good looks, streamlined figure and blonde hair flying in the air, she looks like a Ferrari among stodgy stock cars.

But the winds of change are blowing across women's tennis. The last eight ladies in the singles were all Europeans. Nobody from Australia or the United States. Among the Asians, Li Na lost to Sabine Lisicki of Germany 8/6 in the final set in the second round. She seemed exhausted and physically spent in the final stages of the match but Chinese women will surely make an impact on world tennis in the future.

From India, Sania Mirza fought her way to the semi-finals in the ladies doubles with her Russian partner Elena Vesnina and did well to reach the quarter-finals of the mixed with Rohan Bopanna. But her singles foray was a disaster she lost to 96 ranked Virginie Razzano in the first round. Compared with the Chinese and Japanese girls, all of whom were strong, sleek and athletic, Sania looked matronly and nowhere near top-level fitness. She makes an impact in the doubles because of her very powerful ground shots. Alas, women's tennis in India does not seem to have any future in international competitions.

With Mahesh Bhupathi losing in the mixed doubles final on the last day of the fortnight on Centre Court, the Indian impact at Wimbledon continues. Back home, tennis is in a total vacuum.

Naresh Kumar is a former Davis Cup player.

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