At the ATP World Tour finals, several players have an opportunity to finish their season off in the best possible style. Roger Federer can cap his record-breaking year by retaining the title he last won in 2007, while Rafael Nadal has a chance to snatch back the number one ranking from the Swiss maestro.
Andy Murray has the opportunity to put his Grand Slam disappointments behind him, and Juan Martin Del Potro could prove that he is every bit as good as his US Open victory suggested. Yet the man who goes into the Tour Finals in the best shape is someone who seemed to be going backwards earlier in the year, the defending champion Novak Djokovic 3.95.
It’s been something of a strange season for the Serbian, who kicked 2009 off by switching racket brands. That move reeked of being blinded by money, and at the time it seemed like a foolhardy career move. Immediately he looked uncomfortable with his new weapon, and several former professionals, including our very own Tim Henman, suggested it could be professional suicide. Djokovic looked erratic off the ground, particularly on his forehand wing, and his serve became increasingly unreliable.
At the Australian Open the previously ebullient Serb looked morose and introspective, and he was criticised once more for pulling out of his quarter final clash with Andy Roddick, citing exhaustion. Here was a player struggling mentally and physically.
Furthermore, he was being affected by his own uncertainty about his popularity with his peers and the fans, which had reached its nadir at the US Open in 2008 when he criticised Roddick in front of his New York faithful, not a wise move. For Djokovic this was unfamiliar territory, as he had been seen as a breath of fresh air when he broke through on the tour full of smiles, charm and impressions of his fellow professionals.
The Serb was given a chance at redemption during this year’s US Open, when he took to the court with John McEnroe for an ‘impromptu’ knock about that allowed him to salvage his relationship with that crowd, and succeeded in putting a smile back on his face.
It was also around this time that Djokovic finally seemed to be becoming more at ease with his racket, leaking fewer errors off the ground. A semi-final appearance at the US Open was his best result at a Grand Slam in 2009, giving him some much needed confidence on the biggest stage.
It was around this time that Djokovic decided to enlist the help of former pro Todd Martin, bringing in an experienced pair of hands to help with the tactical and mental side of the game to sit alongside his long-time coach and ‘second father’ Marian Vajda. It certainly had the desired effect; Djokovic looking increasingly confident and indeed happy on court.
Since the US Open, Djokovic has lost only once in four tournaments, and that was in a final set tie-break. He’s beaten Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, with his performance against the Spaniard receiving plaudits for being his more impressive performance for at least a year.
So Djokovic is back, and with a point to prove. He lost his number three ranking to Andy Murray earlier this year, and faced criticism for his decision making, his physical conditioning and his mental attitude. He will be desperate to prove that he’s no one-Slam wonder, and that he still has every chance of being the next world number one, despite the emergence of the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro.
Interestingly, he has proven pedigree at the ATP Tour finals, as well as the next Grand Slam on the calendar, the Australian Open.
Over the last couple of months, the Serb has looked the best player in the world. He is fleet of foot, and taking the ball extremely early off the ground, drilling the ball hard and flat to take any time away from his opponents. His decision to switch racket brands at the start of the season is beginning to look like a shrewd move, and with Martin in the corner he looks to have matured.
Djokovic is going to be extremely dangerous both next week, and during the first few months of the new year.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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BIOGRAPHY: Marcus Rashford