Tennis is all about confidence. Everything can change with millimeters. A ball lands in, a ball lands out. Game point or break point. Feeling good or smashing your racket.
One guy who seems to be in no lack of confidence right now is Novak Djokovic. He is on a tear, having won 24 straight matches since November. If he keeps this up he will bag the difficult triple of Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Miami. A feat only three players have done before, one of them being Federer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls it off.
But what has changed things around for Djokovic? A year ago he was being a contender, often reaching the semi-finals of slams, but rarely the finals, winning some titles here and there, but nothing major (the Australian Open victory in 2008 is not really related to the current boost in confidence). Then all of a sudden he is the player on tour – a guy who can’t put a foot wrong. What happened?
Only Djokovic can really know this, or at least hint at it, but tennis fans are free to speculate. The personal life of the player of course has big impact on the results, but since I don’t know much about Novak’s personal life, I am going to look at what has been happening on court.
I think the change in confidence came in last year’s US Open semi-finals where Djokovic beat Federer in a grueling five set match. He always used to lose these matches against Federer, but this time he played fantastically well, worked hard, and it was obvious he had a stronger belief that he could do it. Djokovic looked re-energized. The Djokovic we saw in that match was not the one who was always complaining about breathing problems and quitting matches due to fatigue, injuries and whatnot. This was a more mature Djokovic, ready to put in the extra hour on the training court and ready to stop being the Djokster and elevating himself to a player of Nadal and Federer standard.
I believe there was a mental switch there and although he lost the final against Nadal, everybody was mightily impressed with how he beat Federer and I think Djokovic himself realized for the first time in a long time that he really can be the best player in the world.
The confidence changed there – it became a strong positive force and results followed. When he subsequently managed to carry Serbia to the Davis Cup title, the positive energy within Djokovic was really ready to take the world by storm in 2011.
And he has. The way Djokovic has performed in the beginning of 2011 is nothing short of breathtaking and you are starting to wonder if he really can take over the number one spot in the rankings from Rafa. The problem might be that Djokovic likes it best on hard courts, but if he can carry the momentum into the clay season – Nadal has something very real to worry about.
Will Djokovic become number one? Yes, I think he can. It might not be for long and I don’t think he will win the number of slams of Nadal or Federer, but I do think he has everything make himself into a legend of the game.
Let’s see how long the run continues.
Don’t miss the quarterfinals today with Federer and Nadal in action. They are hopefully preparing to meet in the semifinals and that would be a rare treat for tennis fans all over the world.