Thursday, February 02, 2012

A salivating prospect

Sunday 1:30 AM..Rafa was up a break, but I couldn't keep my eyes open..In what turned out to be an inspired move,I turned the alarm clock on in pursuit of the one hour power nap. Blessing it was!
2:30 AM, Rafa had wrapped up the first set and Djoker was up a break in the second..I was feeling fresh again. Vamos, I said to myself. I had predicted a Nadal win in 4.
7:30 AM, I almost forgot I had slept just for an hour the entire night..Rafa had lost from a seemingly impregnable position, but the twists and turns in the game were enormous and I felt privileged to have watched it live. The satisfaction that I had watched sport at its best was comforting and rejuvenating. Well done Djoker. He is someone who has re-defined "peak of your powers" in modern sport.

When I reached out to buddies for reactions, many of the live-sport-must-watch-at-any-cost folks believed this was one of the best matches across sport they had seen. Have to agree, considering this was a Grand Slam Final and the stakes were real high.
What is even more exciting is that this year will potentially bring many such matches. An article on Wall Street Journal said men's tennis is probably the best sport in the world right now. Not hyperbole, certainly.

Casting my mind back to 2004-07, an era Roger Federer dominated and one that helped him stake claim toward becoming the GOAT (Greatest of all time) that he is widely considered today, was an age devoid of competition. Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt were Federer's chief adversaries along with an aging Agassi and none of them hold a candle to Federer, Djokovic, Nadal or even Andy Murray for that matter.

Just when our generation was whining about lack of supreme quality post Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi at their peaks, riches were bestowed upon us. Careful introspection suggests that even today, the gap between this quartet and the rest of the field is yawning. Yes, a Del Potro shows off his blizzard forehand in New York City and a Verdasco or Tsonga roar for a day in Paris, but it is pretty amazing how the same group can make the semifinals of every Grand Slam, day in and day out. Got to give it to them. You don't choose your opponents someone famously said. True, that.

To stick my neck out and actually start calling this a great quartet, Murray has to start winning something shortly. Henman Hill has transformed into Murray Mountain at the All England Club, but the Scot doesn't still look close to winning his maiden title. He needn't look any further than his good mate Djoker for inspiration.

A comparison between the pre-December 2010 version of Novak Djokovic and the 2011 September (post US open) Novak Djokovic is glaring. Egg chamber? Serbia's Davis Cup win? Strict diet regimen? Yeah, possibly. But how can you explain the improvement between the ears? The belief that he could beat and possibly toy around with Federer and Nadal in Grand Slam finals. This was the same guy of whom Andy Roddick said "He has SARS, Anthrax, flu" , after yet another of his excuse offering losses and we found it funny at the time. Djoker was known for bailing out when under the pump. Now, none of that. The talent was always there, but the will power to succeed is finally there. What a relief for sports fans. He should be distraught if he doesn't hang up his boots as a legend of the game.

Nadal and Federer are hovering pretty close to Djokovic. Nadal more so than Federer. Roger has to keep believing he has another slam in him somewhere. The increasing consistency of Rafa and Djoker and the heavy physical demands on players today will make his life even tougher at 31. End of the year might be a good time to re-evaluate. Reaching semifinals every day is fine, but if "the GOAT" cannot conquer that last one percent, there is no point sticking around. He has raised the bar and must be measured by that yardstick and by that alone.

Nadal, strangely, will be happy with the Australian open final. As he aptly said, he took Djokovic to a place where Djoker hadn't been all of 2011. Till he actually beats the world no.1 on a surface other than clay and in a Grand Slam final, the soothsayers will not believe he has put the shenanigans to sleep. Being an ardent Rafan, have to admit he gives you everything you want in your sporting hero. Puts in 100% each time. Every time. He will acknowledge 7 losses in 7 versus Djoker in finals is not a coincidence. Djoker is slowly making a scar somewhere in his mind. Got to get him out of there and soon.

As long as this quartet keeps making the business end of Grand Slam events and the Masters series, the sport will be alive and kicking. Question is can the rest of the field wake up and make their life harder. Makes for a salivating prospect. Keep your eyes glued to the tennis in 2012!