Diluting Novak Djokovic’s success over not facing a peak Nadal or Federer is unfair and unfounded
Believe it or not, but there is an organisation by the name of “The Flat Earth Society” in our midst today, with membership in excess of 500.
The society has close to 20,000 likes on their Facebook page, but why should that be a surprise in this age of implausible theories?
We have a few of them in tennis as well.
Toni Nadal, the uncle and coach of Rafael Nadal, started one ahead of the Madrid Open this week by insinuating that world No 1 Novak Djokovic’s current success has been helped by misfortunes and loss of form for his main rivals.
Djokovic has won four of the past five majors and his ranking points total of 15,550 is almost double that of Andy Murray.
But Toni Nadal has issues with Djokovic’s success and how it is being perceived.
“I like to analyse things deeply,” Toni was quoted as saying by the TennisWorldUSA website last month.
“Djokovic is an extraordinary player, not only now but he has always been. Since the first time I saw him playing, I knew he was going to be one of the best, but I also think something has happened that has been great for him.
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“I am not trying to make it seem like he doesn’t deserve to be where he is, but the truth is he has not competed against the best version of (Roger] Federer in this year-and-a-half where he has won a lot, because Federer is obviously not the same as he was in 2006 or in 2008 or in 2009.
“And he has also not competed against the best version of Nadal, against the level Rafa was in 2006 or 2008 or 2009 or even in 2013, though he didn’t win as much.
“Rafael Nadal in 2014 and 2015 has not been the same and that’s when he started winning. With these two not at their best, he has been unstoppable, but if they had been better, we might see them winning more and not only Djokovic winning everything.”
Yes, there is a good chance Djokovic would not be winning “everything” if his peak had coincided with Nadal and Federer’s peaks, but the problem with such theories is, they rarely stand up to scrutiny. At best, they are double-edged.
If you look to online forums you can find Djokovic fans arguing that Federer had it easy in his early days, with 11 of his 17 major triumphs coming before the end of 2007 when Nadal was still yet to establish himself as a force on anywhere other than clay, and Djokovic was yet to become a grand slam winner.
Using Toni’s argument, we could even knock Nadal’s incredible clay court record and his record nine French Open titles – he has dominated only because this is a weak clay court era, it could potentially be argued.
Nadal has been struggling for form over the past 15 months, while Federer is playing some great tennis as he approaches his 35th birthday but has not won a major since Wimbledon in 2012.
Murray, as the 22-9 head-to-head record (14-2 post 2012 US Open) confirms, is not really Djokovic’s equal, while no one else has yet to consistently step up either. Can these facts be used to knock Djokovic’s achievements? Never.
Coming back to Toni’s claims, Djokovic played Federer 14 times between 2006-2009 and still had a decent 5-9 head-to-head record, while the Serb played Nadal 20 times in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2013 – Nadal’s peak years according to Toni – and had an 8-12 record, not bad considering eight of those Nadal wins came on clay.
Turn the prism around and you will find Nadal and Federer struggling to cope with Djokovic’s peak in 2011 – he was 6-0 against a fully-fit Nadal, who reached 10 finals that season including three grand slams, and 4-1 against Federer.
All three players will go down as legends of the game when they eventually retire, and it is rather churlish trying to play down their achievements.
Rather than focusing on looking back, we should be looking forward at the intriguing prospect we have to look forward to in Madrid this week as the trio try to finesse their respective games ahead of the start of the French Open later this month.
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Updated: May 2, 2016 04:00 AM