x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Reputation of Novak Djokovic and Tiger Woods comes with a price

The top-ranked tennis player and former world No 1 golfer could not match the high expectations of UAE fans but there is a price for success.

Novak Djokovic concedes he has to balance the pleasures of life since becoming world No 1.
Novak Djokovic concedes he has to balance the pleasures of life since becoming world No 1.

The annual winter parade of sport through the UAE afforded a view of hundreds, including two world-famous victims of themselves.

Tiger Woods came to an excellent golf tournament in Abu Dhabi and did not win even after Sunday contention; Novak Djokovic came to an excellent tennis tournament in Dubai and did not win even after a brief Friday evening comeback.

Some wondered what might be wrong with them, but that is partly their fault.

If they had not insisted upon beating so many people so consistently in past swatches of life, if only they had just let up and forged an egalitarian view of trophy-hoarding, they would not have had to cope with unreasonable expectations.

The nerve of them.

When Robert Rock held off a Woods who never really charged, you could get a sense of how many semi-anonymous men have been perfecting their golf toward excellence.

How baffling that Woods so often dominated fields with 155 other talented people in them.

If five of the last nine major titles could go to Lucas Glover, YE Yang, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley, you know the quality has bloated wide.

When Andy Murray spent a semi-final win showing his unmistakable sense of belonging in Djokovic's realm.

And when you factor in the normality of subpar days for anyone, it bewilders that somebody could spend 2011 going 64-2 from January to the US Open, winning 10 tournaments and three grand slams, as did Djokovic.

The thing is, while the Djokovic loss probably means little (except to Murray), the Woods loss might just hint at everything.

Djokovic already holds the lone grand slam decided in 2012, but a blunt rerun of 2011 would be outlandish, with its sweep through Dubai and Indian Wells and Miami and Madrid and Rome and Wimbledon and New York.

Sure, Roger Federer set such bars and upheld them in the mid-2000s, winning three slams in three different years, but Federer, like all things ingenious, supersedes rationale.

With Djokovic, seven months into his No 1 tenancy, it would be fair to ask only how he has handled the added cargo of No 1 responsibilities, not whether it has hampered his performance given he has just won the Australian Open.

His loss to Murray seems not like something that shouldn't have happened in the global tennis grind, but something that should have happened more in 2011 in the global tennis grind.

"I thought I've been doing well since Wimbledon" where he became No 1, he said.

"You know, I have been having a lot of off-court activities since I became number one, but I have a team of people that controls it well.

"Obviously there is a lot of temptations and a lot of things that you can enjoy. But it's normal. You know, you can't on one hand just be 100 per cent of your life in the tennis. You are young. You have to enjoy life … In my case, I like to balance the things. This is something that brought me a lot of success in the past."

His form remains way up in the zone of its peak.

With Woods, however, the talk in the United States since he returned has centred heavily on his putting, experts weighing in here and there on the mind-numbing things they spot in his motion, Woods himself mentioning the "release point" and somehow refraining from snoring in the process.

When you think of him on the greens in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere, it's not somebody rummaging around for that something extra. It's like some unrecognisable person.

So while we have listened and listened as he reports his swing-change progress across years, the putting discussion has lent a new sense of concrete barriers.

Theories abound, and appear in a thorough ESPN column from the renowned writer and golf maven Rick Reilly. What we saw in Abu Dhabi - the tantalising, the fading, the lack of big-roar putts - might just be the hard, congealed, golf-scientific truth.

Of course, then he goes and shoots 62 on Sunday in Florida, pulling up two shots shy of Rory McIlroy as the latter reached No 1.

And Woods said: "And it was just a matter of keep building, keep sticking with it, the process is coming, I'm hitting more solid shots, I'm making more putts, my speed is getting better. It's just everything is coming, and I just need to keep progressing, just keep sticking with it, and it's going to turn."

We heard that on the last two winter parades through the UAE, but what makes it stay compelling is that it's not necessarily untrue.