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Novak Djokovic and the Battle for Number 2

Posted on February 10, 2010 by JA Allen
Novak Djokovic will need to harness his emotions if he hopes to rise to number two in the world.

Novak Djokovic will need to harness his emotions if he hopes to stay at number two in the world.

It is a new high for Serbian Novak Djokovic who finds himself ranked No. 2 in the world as well as being the No. 1 seed at Rotterdam this week. Finally after years of chasing that No. 2 spot, it seemed to fall into his lap as former No. 2 ranked Rafael Nadal’s knees folded once again during the quarterfinals of the 2010 Australian Open.

For all but a few weeks starting in August of 2009 when Rafael Nadal gave up his No. 2 ranking to Andy Murray just before the U.S. Open, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have held steadfast to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the ATP rankings since 2005.

Nadal is absent from the Netherlands this week because of his recent knee injury.  It is difficult to imagine Nadal a factor in the rankings race until the clay season gets underway.  Frankly the Mallorcan would be well advised to skip the hard courts altogether because it is not worth further injury.  His best chance at regaining one of the two top spots is by exerting his usual clay dominance and winning again at Stade Roland Garros.

This week, however, the new number two ranked player in the world, Novak Djokovic is playing tennis at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, sitting 510 points ahead of No. 3 ranked Andy Murray and 640 points ahead of No. 4 ranked Rafael Nadal with Roger Federer safely over 3,000 points ahead of the pack.

Andy Murray was the champion in Rotterdam in 2009, but he is not on hand to defend his title, opting instead to play next week in Marseille.  That means 500 points less for Murray with a possible additional 500 for Djokovic if he wins in Rotterdam.

In 2009 Djokovic lost in the semifinals in Marseille to eventual winner Jo Wilfried Tsonga.  Djokovic will lose 90 points by not participating there this year but will more than compensate for it by winning in Rotterdam while Murray can only add 250 points by winning next week in France.

Djokovic would lend credence to his new ranking by winning the tournament in Rotterdam.  At this point, not many feel he has earned his No. 2 spot and not many feel he will retain it.

Djokovic will look to get back to his form of 2007-2008 when he lost to Federer in the US Open final and then won his only Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Djokovic will look to get back to his form of 2007-2008 when he lost to Federer in the US Open final and then won his only Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

They point to his second consecutive quarterfinal exit at the 2010 Australian Open –– which to be perfectly fair –– was not Djokovic’s fault.  He suffered a bout of indigestion as he faced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, losing in 5 sets 6-7, 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 1-6.  Except for 2008, the year he won it, Djokovic has not fared well recently at the Australian Open often because of excessive heat issues during the tournament or illness.

The Serb’s inability to stay the course during the tournament down under has brought criticism, reminding us all of Andy Roddick’s press conference in New York when he made fun of Djokovic by providing the assembled journalists with a long list of possible ailments which might befall Djokovic at any moment.

These comments were the direct result of the Serb’s habit of retiring during matches when he appeared to be losing.

Djokovic who turns 23 in May continues to reign in the top 3 of men’s tennis; but he has not made another break through at the majors since 2008 and many fear he may not win another without a strong start in 2010.

Djokovic has changed rackets, coaches, shoes, girlfriends and his training regimen.  Nothing seems to enhance his mindset, however.  No one doubts the validity of his game.

He has one of the purest ground strokes in tennis.  His movement, his serve, his return game and his court savvy all point to his prowess as an all court player; but he cannot seem to retain his dominance for an entire two week major tournament –– at least not since 2008.

His chances of retaining his current ranking depend in large measure on his resolve and his fitness.  A win in Rotterdam would provide the Serb with a minimal cushion. To do that he must get by Tommy Robredo and Gael Monfils, should the seedings hold and conceivably either Nikolay Davydenko, seeded No. 2  or Robin Soderling in the finals.

After Rotterdam, Djokovic goes into Dubai as the defending champion where he faces all the top players in the world with the exception of Nadal who has withdrawn from play there.  It will be Roger Federer’s first tournament since the Australian Open.  Coming through to win in Dubai will be a real test for the Serb.

Djokovic has amazing potential.  His major battle like so many other potentially great players is mental.  This is the reality facing all the young players knocking on the door Federer and Nadal have locked tight against them for the past five years.  Few have advanced inside except Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2008 and Juan Martin del Potro at the U.S. Open in 2009.

Djokovic's toughest competition this year could be Australian Open finalist Andy Murray.

Djokovic's toughest competition this year could be Australian Open finalist Andy Murray.

The tennis campaign of 2010 will launch a struggle among Djokovic, Murray and Nadal battling for the No. 2 spot.  Although Nadal and his camp profess they could care less about the ranking, preferring to concentrate on winning majors, the two objectives are not mutually exclusive.  Winning majors for Nadal will bring him back to the top of the game.

Winning majors for Murray and Djokovic will also bring about an equal result.   Right now they are within a thousand points of each other with Juan Martin del Potro not far behind.

If you look at last year at this time Rafael Nadal was the No. 1 player with 14,000 points, followed by Roger Federer with 11,000, Djokovic with 9,010 and Andy Murray 7360.  This year Nadal is down 6,330 points from last year when he lost all three major titles – the French, Wimbledon and now the 2010 Australian Open.

The other top contenders have remained basically static within a few hundred points of where they were a year ago.

It is anybody’s race to win, as 2009 proves.  The question is will anyone other than Federer or Nadal go after the slams with the resolve and the physical and mental edge to win?  Is this the year Djokovic finally fits all the pieces of his tennis promise together and takes the crown from Federer?  It all starts in Rotterdam…

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