Monday, August 13, 2012
Novak Djokovic gets some redemption
Count me among those who almost wish Novak Djokovic, the No. 2 player, hadn't won the Toronto Masters on Sunday, because it only appeared to underscore his dismal fate in London at the recent Olympic Games.
And if you want to jump in and exclaim, "How dare you!" while pointing out how tough it is to win a Masters 1000, save your breath. We hold great players like Djokovic or Roger Federer to a different standard. Call it grading on a curve.
The triumph in Toronto was made a little sweeter and more resonant by the fact that it was a successful defense by the champ, as well as his 12th Masters title. To give you a sense of how good that is, the man he beat (Richard Gasquet of France) was dubbed "Baby Federer" early in his career. He has yet to win a Masters title. (He's reached three finals, though.)
But let's face it: Gasquet is no Federer, who bagged the silver in London. Nor is Gasquet an Andy Murray (the Olympic Games gold medalist who has yet to win his first Grand Slam event but has lost to Djokovic in finals). He isn't even a Juan Martin del Potro, who stunned Djokovic by snatching up the bronze medal despite having lost to Federer in a 19-17 in-the-third semifinal heartbreaker.
When asked what Djokovic was really thinking when he won, you could easily venture, "Well, it beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." But the reality is that Djokovic showed not a trace of bitterness, and he handled the situation like a champ. He said, with touching honesty, "I truly did not expect myself to win this tournament after the emotional losses at the Olympic Games. I really took it hard. I tried to bounce back and recover; I've done great, I have to say."
You have to admire his honesty. He refrained from self-pity, and he refused to rationalize his failures in London. (Djokovic and his partner, Victor Troicki, were seeded No. 8 but lost in the first round to a relatively unknown Swedish team that never made it further.) And Djokovic made no effort to disguise that it pained him to leave London empty-handed. The fact that he was the flag-bearer for Serbia, his fiercely patriotic nation, only made Djokovic's troubles that much more touching.
So where, you have to wonder, does all this leave Djokovic? Early this year, he had declared, somewhat too willingly and volubly, that on the heels of his spectacular 2011, his main objectives for this year were triumphs at the French Open (the only major he has yet to win) and at the Olympics.
Djokovic's most ardent supporters took that to the bank and did not fret at all after his fine start. (He won the Australian Open and Miami Masters.) Critics sensed in his declaration that he was softening everyone up for a decline in form -- and interest -- from 2011.
As it turned out, the Miami Masters would be Djokovic's last championship until Sunday in Toronto. Apparently, he was not quite as capable of picking and choosing his highlights as he had hoped, and he gave up a lot of the psychological ground he'd gained in 2011 by taking losses to his rivals.
Djokovic now has one Grand Slam (the U.S. Open) and the afterthought-like fall season in which to re-invent himself. The process has already started, on the tried and true trail of hard work on execution. He said of his Toronto win, "I always try to focus on the second shot after the serve. I've been working on the efficiency of my first and second serve but also trying to be aggressive in the first ball. It's been working exceptionally well throughout the whole week."
Where some see pathos, others might be inclined to see a Plan B emerging, now that Djokovic's Plan A for 2012 has sputtered out like a candle with the year barely half over.