November 28, 2008

I'm a Djok-er...

I realized this week that, since I didn't start this blog until September, I really haven't had the opportunity to talk about the success of Novak Djokovic, who was largely quiet this year until he took the ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai last month.

Now I know that isn't exactly fair. He did, after all, win the Australian Open, his first Grand Slam -- not to mention Indian Wells, Rome and Olympic Bronze.

But the summer season was dominated by talk of Roger Federer losing Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal taking the #1 ranking and Andy Murray hitting his stride. As a consequence, poor Novak was pushed out of the limelight and quietly chugged away at the tour.

Though he'd been ranked third in the field for all but one week since July of last year, Djokovic had made a name for himself more as a comedian than as a threat on the court. At 2007's U.S. Open he made fans (and maybe some enemies) with his now-famous imitations of Nadal and Maria Sharapova.

But even after he won in Melbourne I'm not sure anyone took him seriously as a champion. He may have beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals, but in their next three meetings he couldn't repeat, demonstrating that his only major win might have been a fluke. Despite six semi or final appearances since May, Novak wasn't able to pull out another title. And with some early losses in Madrid and Paris, it seemed possible that he might lose his grip on his ranking.

Then came Shanghai.

Novak arguably had the easier draw at the ATP Master Cup, teamed with Nikolay Davydenko, Juan Martin Del Potro and Tsonga for the round-robins. But in a series of surprises, the two finalists both came from the Gold Group and Novak took no prisoners on his way to the title. With his victory he proved he wasn't just about getting giggles -- he was going to bring home the trophies as well.

Sure he'll be tested early next year as he tries to defend his title, and his critics will be watching. But so will his fans -- and they'll be laughing right along with him, all the way to the bank.

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