Novak Djokovic’s 2014 US Open Series was a letdown, no two ways about it. After his second early ATP 1000 defeat in Cincinnati, Djokovic spoke about how he was ‘ not comfortable on court’ and that he was disappointed with his losses. Ominously for his rivals, he also said he would ‘analyze..what I have done wrong with these couple of weeks’ with his team.
Perhaps though it was not that he had done something wrong, but more he had done too much. The Serb had spent the best part of a year fighting to get back the ATP Ranking No.1 spot. He had changed his coach to Boris Becker, a huge statement of intent that was never going to go under the radar and seemed to overwhelm him as he lost the Australian Open title. He underwent a pressure filled Clay court season surrounded by talk of the career slam. Then, the feat that got him back his ATP No.1 spot, he won the 2014 Wimbledon title, beating Roger Federer in the final, ending his run of losing 5 of his last 6 finals. And, to top it off, he got married, too.
So, his 2-6, 2-6 loss to Jo Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto, one of the worst defeats of his career on hard courts, and his straight sets loss to Tommy Robredo in Cincinnati are somewhat understandable.
Those previously mentioned weeks of analysis are over now, and the US Open starts tomorrow. Djokovic will start his role as defacto defending champion in Nadal’s absence, his last year’s runner-up status making him the last man in the draw to play the U.S Open final, tomorrow night against U.S Open debutant Diego Schwartzmann, the world’s 79th ranked player.
Djokovic should be able to shake off some rust in that encounter, and in the second round he will have a chance to show the intensity, which he said in his US Open conference this weekend was lacking in the warm up events, against Gilles Muller, the 2008 quarter-finalist, or veteran Paul-Henri Matthieu.
Djokovic will have to bring out that intensity in his potential fourth round clash with 13th seed John Isner. The home-crowd will be behind their man, most likely on Arthur Ashe, during the day when Isner’s serves can really fly through the court, as they will have to against the game’s best returner. Isner has two victories over Djokovic on American hard courts- at Indian Wells ’12 and Cincinnati ’13. If the matches get as close as those two did, then Djokovic may find his disappointment increases.
But his intensity should carry him through. Especially since a potential meeting with either eighth seed Andy Murray or ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga awaits him, and Djokovic has a point to prove against both men. Against Murray, he has to make some amends for the defeat in the U.S Open final, and against Tsonga, Toronto is still a little too close in time for comfort. In the semi-finals, Stan Wawrinka is his projected opponent in the last four, and Djokovic has some unfinished business with him, too, regarding a certain 7-9 loss in the fifth set of their Australian Open quarter-final this season.
All those defeats, and his loss in the 2013 U.S Open final last year to Nadal, will make Djokovic even more hungry for the title. And with the field being so open, and with Roger Federer his anticipated final opponent, a man who he has beaten in epic five setters in their last US Open encounters in ’10 and ’11, this could be another big opportunity for him to fill his appetite.
Federer has already seen what it is like to face a hungry Djokovic in the Wimbledon final this year, and with Djokovic’s recent defeats still so fresh in his belly, the Swiss will have a hard task keeping him from feasting on another slam trophy, what would be his eighth, in two weeks time.
Commentary by Christian Deverille
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