Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau.
They’re born a week apart, but that’s just about all they have in common these days.
The younger Novak Djokovic beat the older Andy Murray to take home the title at the 2015 Miami Open, presented by Itau. The 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 win is the Serb’s seventh over the Brit, with already three coming in 2015 after the Australian Open final and the BNP Paribas Open semifinal. Djokovic has an 18-8 head-to-head record against Murray and, most importantly, has already three important titles in this young 2015 season.
He’s playing as well as he can and he knows it too. After his win, Djokovic said that, “I’m trying to enjoy the moment and also utilize this time of my career where I’m probably playing the tennis of my life.”
This “tennis of my life” is probably between his current level in 2015 and when he excelled during the 2011 season, but I suppose that he would know best—at worst, this is the recency effect and who can blame him? Any which way you see it, Djokovic is playing excellent tennis right now, but just how excellent has he been?
There have been three tournaments of note thus far this season in the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open, and the Serb has been crowned champion at each. He’s laboured a little bit each time, notably against Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne, or Roger Federer at Indian Wells, or Alexandr Dolgopolov earlier in Miami, but Djokovic has won each time.
Just how much has he excelled? The Serb has become the first man in history to pull off the Indian Wells/Miami combo in three different seasons. This week will be the Djoker’s 141st week on top the Emirates ATP Rankings, tying him with Rafael Nadal for the sixth-most in history. And with over 4,000 points more than Federer, the year-end No. 1 ranking could be his for the fourth time in the past five years.
“I’m feeling confident and physically fit,” Djokovic said after the final in Miami. “I am aware that this cannot go forever.”
Maybe not, but there’s no doubt that he’ll take it for now.
And wait, there is more. This win in Miami gives Djokovic a 22nd Masters 1000 title, one short of Federer and five away from Nadal.
We’ve often harped here, in part because we are such big Djokovic fans we know, that the man will go down in history as underappreciated because he will be remembered as the third banana to Federer and Nadal. But it seems increasingly likely that the Serb will both 1) reach 10 Grand Slam titles for his career and 2) complete the career Grand Slam. With a little luck, Djokovic could capture another three majors and move into a tie with Rod Laver and Björn Borg for fifth in history.
Should he reach those lofty heights, then suddenly he’s much better than just the best returner in history. Consider that 43 of Djokovic’s 142 career losses have come against Nadal and Federer, possibly the two greatest champions of the sport. We’ll remember him as one of the 10 best in history, but maybe it should be more considering that he’ll have played his entire career with the Fed and Rafa.
But of course, Djokovic will not win those tournaments all at once, or today. For now, this fifth Miami Open title suffices.
Murray, meanwhile, makes a return at No. 3 this week. Seven days older than Djokovic, he still lags behind on the tennis courts however. In fact, he continues his work as the de facto rich man’s David Ferrer, winning often and beating just about everyone but the top, top three players. There is no shame in that.
Murray was seven total points away from Djokovic on Sunday in Miami and his arrow is pointing upward, like Djokovic’s I guess, but that’s about where the comparisons end.
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We have to admit that the alleged “Big 4” is now down to a “top 2”, formed by Djokovic and (hard to believe, but yes) Federer. With Nadal recurrent health problems and Murray unable to win against the three others, it seems that only our old friend Roger will be able to challenge Novak in bigger events, like he should do at Wimbledon and US Open. At Rolland-Garros, we should never bet against Rafael Nadal, but we would be sure at the end of this starting clay court season.
Murray doesn’t have to be ashamed; David Ferrer was number 5 for several years behind those guys and made a well-living career.
For the rest of the field, Nishikori had good results during 2014 clay season 2014: he won in Barcelona (ATP500) and lost in final in Madrid (Masters1000) to Nadal. Raonic did well also in Masters1000 tournaments: QF in Monte Carlo, SF in Rome and R16 in Madrid. It will be fun to see if Wawrinka is able to repeat his win in Monte Carlo, which is doubtful at the moment.
Djokovic missed Madrid last year, made SF in Monte Carlo and won in Rome. We could assume he will defend his rankings until Rolland-Garros, and for the rest of the year also. I predict Novak will won two more GS this year, and three again in 2016. At the moment, he reminds me the dominance showed by Federer from 2004-2007, on every surfaces apart clay.
Alain, thank your for reading and for your comment. Against all odds it is, yes, Federer who looms as the biggest threat to Djokovic. Of the other up and comers, I believe Nishikori has the best odds to challenge, though it may not happen until Djokovic has retired.
Your predictions of GS titles for Novak is music to my ears really, as I don’t believe he can expect a 2nd prime like the one Federer is currently enjoying. Give the Djoker another 3-4 years and then, it’s up to someone else. (God, we’ll miss the Golden Era so, so much!)
Charles, Alain and company. Please stop making predictions on matches. They are usually so off. Please don’t jinx Novak. Let him continue to quietly make history. Please don’t be offended.