July 4, 2011

The Dawn of a New Era

As I wake up this Fourth of July Monday, things look very different than they did just a few short weeks ago.

Sure Novak Djokovic became the twenty-fifth man in Open Era history to secure the #1 ranking several days ago. But it wasn't until Sunday that he proved the distinction was more than just mathematics. And this morning, everything is official.

Playing his first Wimbledon final yesterday against the defending champion and the man from whom he'd usurped the top spot, Djokovic showed no sign of the nerves that so often grip players new to the biggest stages -- but why should he? He'd already beaten Rafael Nadal in the previous four finals they'd played this year, and though his record had been made slightly imperfect at Roland Garros, he resumed his win streak with aplomb when he returned to the All England Club this year. And now in full possession of the confidence that he can beat the best, Djokovic took control of his fifth Grand Slam final from the get-go.

The championship match itself was less exciting than I'd hoped. After trading solid service games with Nadal to start, the Serb finally earned a break opportunity in the tenth game and converted for the set lead. He broke again early in the second and ran off with a two-set lead in just over an hour. The ten-time Major winner is not one to take defeat lightly, though, and served up a mirror image drubbing in the third, but it was too late. Nole was able to hold onto a lead in the fourth and capped off a somewhat incredulous run to his third Major crown.

It is a bit vindicating to get the win after clinching the #1 ranking -- I'm sure it would have left a bad taste in many mouths had Djokovic lost on Sunday, even after the stellar run he had to start the year. But more significantly it marks a new age in men's tennis, one which is no longer dominated by two big forces -- at least not the same big forces that ruled the last decade -- and it further sets apart the new elite from the rest of the crowd. It's going to be a long wall to climb for someone else to take over, but clearly it's not impossible -- I doubt anyone would have predicted this turnabout a year ago.

And it will be interesting to see what this new age of tennis brings for the sport -- something tells me it's gonna last a while.

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