Yes, Federer, the debate is heating up and gaining momentum. Guess who is helping it along, lately?
More often than not, whenever there is that looming change at the top, there is one clear candidate most worthy of that position. When Borg walked out of that Center court of Wimbledon and eventually tennis, McEnroe was billed to be the successor. He lived up to the hype.
When Sampras’s reign was drawing down, Hewitt was making the most noise. But when Sampras was asked, he named Safin as the new force in tennis after him. Very few denied it.
Safin was and is a huge tennis talent. But he is also proof that just talent alone is not going to cut it at this level. Work ethic, focus and all the other fun stuff has to complement your skill in order to reach and more importantly, stay at the pinnacle of the tennis world.
It turns out, someone from the shadows, stepped up and has had a virtual lock on the top spot for about three years now.
Safin was content with partying and the opposite sex. How many times have we seen that over the years? Agassi could testify to that.
So here we are again. Logically, a strong No. 2 would be an automatic choice for the position. Nadal fits that bill. He has a size-able margin and is clearly the next guy up. Not so fast.
Lets ask Federer. Federer has said that Djokovic will be the next force in tennis after him. Lets see how that looks on paper.
Nadal’s dominance on clay is indisputable. Problem is there is no precedent of, just a clay court specialist, holding the top spot for any notable length of time. There is a reason that all four Grand Slams are not played on the same surface. Borg is the only player with mastery over the red surface to be the No. 1 for that long. But he had to translate it on grass to reach and sustain that coveted spot.
Nadal’ best year so far was 2005 with 11 titles. How many of them were on clay? 8. Out of those eight, except Roland Garros, Monte Carlo and Rome, all other events were insignificant for point accumulation. The three on hard court included Montreal and Madrid with the most point potential. That combination is not a recipe for the top spot.
Consider this: Of those 8 clay court titles, how many times did he have to beat Federer to win those. None. What about the 3 hard court ones? None.
Or how about this, how many times did Federer stop him from winning a title that year? A whopping one at Miami.
The point is this: Federer is not the one standing in his way to the top spot. If Federer was suddenly removed from the tour, Nadal’s history says it will be difficult, if not impossible, for him to reach the top spot, leave alone holding on to it for any notable length of time.
Unless that skill set is tweaked to deliver on other surfaces, Nadal will remain a strong second fiddle or side kick to whoever is reigning on the top. He may nickle and dime himself to the year-end No. 1 here and there, at times. But that won’t get him the respect of the history books.
Djokovic, the unanimous candidate for the job, has established a track record which aligns with history and the record books for the No. 1 spot. More importantly, he has defeated Nadal at Miami in straight sets – a feat Federer has achieved only once in his three wins over Nadal.
He also humiliated his closest rival for the next generation, Andy Murray, both times they have met this year – 6-1, 6-0 at Miami and 6-2, 6-3 at Indian Wells.
Only feat he has yet to achieve is defeat Federer. He is 0-4 against him. Although his last two encounters against Federer have been close, Federer puts in extra ‘mustard’ in his effort against Djokovic, to deny any opening.
It is difficult to imagine anyone other than Federer providing any resistance to Djokovic in his hunt for the top job. But the wave has been set in motion and eventually Federer will have to bow to the power of nature and relinquish his crown.
Question is when? Djokovic wants to ride this momentum he has generated this year and finish the job. But he would be more wise to build a solid base this year and just attempt getting within striking distance by year end. Biting more than he can chew this year may set him back.
Other than all this good stuff, there is always the possibility of producing another Safin. Remember he is still a teenager and money, girls, cars etc that come with the territory, are equally deadly, as the opponents on the court, to thwart his progress. He needs a ’Tony’ uncle to be a stabilizing influence in his journey up the elite ladder.
Is he going to live up to the expectations, or is there another black sheep waiting to pounce and prove everyone wrong?