He has won four of his six career titles this year. He reached the semifinals of two Grand Slams (Roland Garros and Wimbledon). He reached the finals at the US Open. He beat the top three players back to back. He has earned $3,057,150 of the career earnings $3,948,00, this year. He reached the No. 3 rank in the world. All these are career highs.
That’s a lot of work for one year. It will not be easy just duplicating this, next season. Talk about pressure. He will have to win at least one Grand Slam, next year, to convince the world that he has made ground.
If his recent comments are any indication, he seems to have moved his target down a notch, by going after Nadal’s No. 2 ranking. What do they say ‘Always shoot higher. Most often you will end up a little short’?
If he is really serious about improving on this season, he has to go after Roger and the throne. Although Nadal will have a lot to say about that, considering how fierce a competitor he is, Djokovic is better positioned, talent-wise, to challenge Federer all year, on all surfaces.
Of course, his fitness and conditioning woes have been thoroughly exposed this year. It appears, that will be the key, to how many titles he wins next season. If he makes the right adjustments, and takes professional help and advice, he may end up with at least one major.
But as with any 20 year-old, there is always the likelihood of the player turning into another Safin or more like Baghdatis. Like Baghdatis, he is coming from a relatively unknown country. The attention and the accolades you get from such a country, is vastly different from what you can expect, if you are from the big three of tennis.
That is a perfect recipe to entice a 20 year-old to lose track of the bigger goal and prize. Fast cars, money and girls are all perks, not easy to turn away from, at this age. Specially when you are from a small country like Serbia.
He has got Federer’s attention for sure. That may not be all good. Federer is known to relish destroying the latest challenge on the horizon. He enjoys the opportunity. Nalbandian, Hewitt, Roddick, Safin etc. can all testify to that. Except Nadal, no one has even come close.
Although the US Open final was close in the first two sets, it was still a straight set win. That could have been the ‘puzzle solve’ match for Federer, as he has shown with his previous adversaries. Once, he figures out the equation, you are history.
Djokovic’s camp has to be banking on, to some degree, on Federer slowing down next season. Without that, they have nowhere to go. All they can do is improve Djokovic’s game. But they know, even the best from Djokovic, cannot match the best from Federer.
But there is no doubt, Djokovic performance next season will be under very close scrutiny. Federer now sees him as the next clear threat on surfaces not called clay. What Djokovic is hoping, is that No. 26 may take away some sting from Federer’s arsenal, so he may not be able to dish out the punishment, he normally reserves for the upcoming threat to his throne.
From what has happened so far, there is no inkling of that happening any time soon. He appears to be like that battery bunny, with no end in sight. With history replete with players who extended their careers into the mid thirties and beyond, at 26 years, he may be just starting his second run. Not a good sign for Djokovic.
But Djokovic still has a lot to be proud about. To achieve what he has, when the landscape has been thoroughly dominated by two monsters for the past three to four years, is creditable. Like they say, it is relatively easy to get up there, the difficult part is staying there and sustaining it.
Will he crank it up a notch, or will the ghost of Safin revisit the tour next year?