So, the first masters event leading up to the French Open concluded with Novak Djokovic triumphant in reclaiming the Monte Carlo crown that he lost last year to Stanislas Wawrinka after what was a near perfect week for the world number one. In doing so, Djokovic became the first ever to win the first three masters events of the year, having triumphed in Miami and Indian Wells earlier in the year to go with his Australian Open crown in the beginning of February.
What makes Djokovic’s Monte Carlo open pretty special is that the French tax heaven has been Nadal’s most trusted territory after Roland Garros. Between 2005 and 2013, Rafael Nadal had a 46 match winning streak in the clay of Monte Carlo and no prizes for guessing who broke the winning streak – that man Novak Djokovic. While the narrative of Nadal being a thorn in Federer’s flesh is very popular, the one of Djokovic putting a halt to the Nadal juggernaut has been somewhat quite an unexpected one. Djokovic has gone to the very roots of Nadal’s identity – one of being a strong, resilient fighter – and proved to the world that he is perhaps the stronger and more resilient of the two. Nadal looked to have conquered the Djokovic problem when he beat the Serb to win the US Open in 2013 however Djokovic has simply refused to go away. He seems to have grasped the concept that even good players fail but only the very best can bounce back from that failure.
His dismantling of Nadal in the semi final was quite a clinical one. This will go a long way in setting the pattern for their possible encounter in another classic at the French Open as Djokovic grabbed the big moments in this tie. Several times in the past, especially on clay, it has been Nadal dictating the big points but here, serving at 3-3, down a break point, Djokovic held his nerve in some amazing rallies and held serve. In typical Djokovic fashion, he made Nadal regret the missed opportunity almost quite immediately as he broke the Spainard in the very next game and clinically served out to take the first set 6-3. The second set was no cakewalk but Djokovic made it seem so and the victory with a scoreline of 6-3, 6-3 was not really a comfortable one as it seemed. Perhaps, this even pleases Djokovic more as even after a hard fought game, Nadal barely got close to him. This was followed by a swift dismissal of Tomas Berdych to continue to tease us with the prospect of a perfect year (all 9 masters and 4 Grandslams).
Quantitatively, Djokovic has had one of his best years. While he might not have hit the heights of 2011 where he had a 43 match winning streak to start the year of with, it is hard to not get the feeling that he is perhaps even better now with the additional experience of not winning the coveted French Open title. His season reads an incredible 30 wins and 2 losses (winning percentage of 93.75). What is more scary is that there seems to be no competitor close to him at the moment. In 2011, Federer, Nadal and to an extent Andy Murray were arguably on the same level as him and could overcome him on any given day (as was the case with Federer beating him in the French Open that year). However, now, age has accounted for Federer while Nadal’s knees and back have become highly creaky. Andy Murray seems to be in a rut against the world number one having lost all his last seven encounters against the Serb. Incredibly, Djokovic has bagled (winning a set 6-0) Murray in both their last two encounters. There just doesn’t seem to be any David for slaying this Goliath.
Nadal and the rest of the tennis world might be excused for feeling ominous that 2015 will be the year when Novak Djokovic transcends the boundaries of tennis greatness and etches his name, perhaps even above Federer and Nadal by doing a calendar Grandslam.