Rome ATP Review Novak Djokovic Wins Fourth ATP 1000 Title in 2015

Djokovic

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Novak Djokovic won the Rome ATP 1000 tournament and became the first player to win Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome in the same season.

Before the tournament began, The Tennis Review asked five questions about the event. Now it is over, we look at the answers to those questions.

Is Djokovic starting to feel the pressure of being, for the first time, the real favorite at Roland Garros?

It certainly looked like it in his first few matches. Djokovic dropped sets to Nicolas Amalgro, Tomaz Bellucci and Kei Nishikori. Djokovic had not played though since Monte Carlo, and that experienced trio on Clay is a tough one to come up against in your first three matches on the slow red stuff after a break.

On the bright side for Djokovic and his fans, he recovered well from losing those sets and won the deciding sets with some conviction, especially against Nishikori.

In fact. Djokovic got better as the week went on, dismissing David Ferrer in two sets in the semis, and then defeating Roger Federer 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

In that championship match, the Serbian saved break points at 4-4 in the first set, ripped a return winner at 5-4 for break point, and then converted to take the set as he got the better of Federer in a long rally, forcing an error to end the point.

Djokovic may be feeling the pressure, but he is wearing it well in 2015. So far, he has been making history with every tournament win, becoming the first man in the Open era to win five Australian Opens, and the first man to win Indian Wells, Miami and Rome in the same season.

In his trophy acceptance speech Djokovic said he did not know what would happen in Paris, but he was enjoying life now. That seems the healthiest approach. No one knows whether Djokovic will be up to the pressure of being the favorite in Paris and completing the Career slam, but one thing we do know is that it will be enjoyable to see  him, if he can produce the tennis he has been showing so far this year, do it.

Does Federer have a serious shot at winning in Paris?

Federer’s appearance in the final was his best showing this Clay season. He may have won the ATP 250 Istanbul event, but went out early in the big ones in Monte Carlo and Madrid. His runner up finish in Rome went some way to compensating for those upsets and tells us the 2009 champion has a serious shot in Paris, but he will need, as all players do, various factors to go his way.

Federer, up to the final, was playing to his strengths, and scored impressive wins over Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka, players he matches up well to when his all out aggression is clicking. He should certainly be able to repeat those wins in Paris, and the draw could deliver them in his quarter and semi in Paris.

The big obstacle is going to be Novak Djokovic. The Serbian had too much depth of shot, too good a strategy, too effective a serve, and is too tough mentally for Federer to do much about on slow surfaces, a familiar story for Federer in big finals against Djokovic- the Serbian has beaten him in their biggest finals since 2014.

Federer would need Djokovic to get knocked out early to have a serious shot in Paris. Or play the match of his life. Both are certainly possible.

Just how much has Andy Murray really improved on Clay?

After defeating Jeremy Chardy, Murray withdrew from the tournament, leaving us none the wiser if he had really improved on the clay that counts- the slow red clay of Rome also found in Paris.

Certainly he has improved on ‘clay’ this year- he won his first titles on the stuff. But  Munich is a 250 event, with a higher altitude than Paris, and it is a puzzle he has not won one of those smaller clay events, even a 500 one, up until now. As for Madrid, the high altitude makes the conditions more favorable for Murray.

We already know Murray is good on slow clay- he has two Roland Garros semis to prove it and has contested two epic semis in Rome with Nadal and Djokovic. A trip to the final in Rome, however, would have told us for sure he was a better player on the slow dirt than before.

Right now, all we know is he is playing well on the stuff, nothing more, nothing less, and that is exactly how the world No.3 might want it, too.

Is Nadal really done?

After losing to Wawrinka 7-6, 6-2, in a match in which he held four set points in the first set, Nadal said the combination of the night time slot and Wawrinka had done him in. However, once upon a time, Nadal would have found a way round that, would have found a way to win.

This season, for the first time, Nadal goes into the French Open without a European Clay court title to his name, and the four defeats he suffered to Djokovic, Fognini, Murray and Wawrinka all have one thing in common- they were all over in straight sets.

That is a worrying fact, By the time Nadal was ready to go home, he was ready to go quickly. His opponents were able to impose their game, and he was unable to impose his, even when he had big chances.

Just as worryingly, as was the case against Murray in Madrid, his opponents were able to take advantage of Nadal being very much off his game, and Nadal was not able to win ugly, one of the many factors that have made him such a great champion.

We won’t really know if Nadal is done until we see what happens in Paris. This lead up could fuel him to pull of one more, and it would be a record tenth, Roland Garros title, or it could be the final dying splutters of an engine which has, after one of the game’s greatest runs, finally had enough miles on its clock.

Who else is a threat to the Roland Garros title?

No one really put in a last minute bid as a contender. There were a couple of attempts, but they were shut down not long after they started.

Wawrinka looked like a threat as he brushed aside Rafael Nadal in their quarter-final. He is rarely likely to play a better set on clay than he did in the second against the 9 times French Open champion. He is also, hopefully, rarely likely to play as badly as he did in his dismal showing against Federer , a match that perfectly reflected what a streaky player he is.

Wawrinka could go on one of those streaks in Paris, and the disappointment of that Federer loss might push him to do so, but it is hard to see it happening.

Kei Nishikori also looked good as he took a set off Djokovic, but went away tamely in the third,  a microcosm of much of his career.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Rome ATP Final Preview Novak Djokovic Vs Roger Federer

Djokovic

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at Flickr

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will compete for the 39th time in the 2015 ATP 1000 Rome final. The Tennis Review previews the contest and predicts the winner.

Head to head:

Roger Federer leads the head to head 20-18.

Federer leads the clay head to head 4-3.

Recent history:

Since Federer’s resurgence in 2014, the rivals are tied at 4-4 with Federer leading their head to head 1-0 on Clay (Monte Carlo ’14).

However, Djokovic leads 4-1 in finals and has won their biggest matches (Indian Wells ’14, ’15, Wimbledon ’14).

History in Rome:

Djokovic has won the title three times (2008, 2011, 2014), and has beaten Rafael Nadal in two finals. He has also been runner up twice, both times to Nadal (2009, 2012). Djokovic is 29-5 at the event, and has never lost before the quarter-finals.

Federer, meanwhile, has been to three finals (2003 L. Mantilla, 2006 L. Nadal, 2013 L. Nadal). He is 27-14 at the event and in his 14 visits has only made it to the quarter-finals and beyond six times.

Djokovic won their two encounters in Rome (2009, 2012)

2015 form:

Djokovic won the Australian Open, the first man to take the title five times in the Open era, and became the first man to ever win Indian Wells, Miami, and Monte Carlo in the same season.

He has suffered two losses- to Karlovic in Doha, and to Federer in Dubai.

Federer’s year has been a little bit patchy. He won in Brisbane but was upset by Seppi in Melbourne. He beat Djokovic to take the Dubai title, made the Indian Wells final,and then lost to Monfils in the last sixteen in Rome. He then won the title in Istanbul only to suffer an opening round defeat to Kyrgios in Madrid.

Form coming into the final:

Djokovic struggled in his first three matches against Amalgro, Bellucci and Nishikori, dropping the second set in all three matches, but took the third sets pretty comfortably. However, he had not played an ATP match on slow clay since Monte Carlo, and those three are also a pretty tough and experienced clay court group.

Djokovic’s semi-final win over Ferrer was more impressive- a 6-4, 6-4 win.

Federer has improved as the week has gone on.  He has beaten Cuevas, Anderson, Berdych and Wawrinka in straight sets. He dropped just six games to Berdych, and came back from 0-3 in the first set to beat Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2, winning 20 points in a row at one stage.

Prediction:

Federer has not looked so good on slow clay for a while, seems to have a good balance between attack and defence, and goes into the final with confidence and good rhythm.

Djokovic, on the other hand, has possibly played his worst tennis of the season this week. However, he did look more focused in the semi-finals, and he will go into the final as the favorite.

Djokovic is the better slow court player of the two, and he and Federer have been splitting the faster surfaces matches and the slow court ones between them, with the exception of last year’s Monte Carlo, which Djokovic was injured in, and Wimbledon, which Federer very nearly won.

Djokovic also has been the better player in finals, and is almost unstoppable in ATP 1000 finals, winning the last ten he has competed in. Federer was the last man to beat him in one, at Cincinnati 2012.

Djokovic seems to have the edge in too many categories- history at the event, recent form, form in ATP finals, recent head to head over Federer on slower surfaces and in finals- to look beyond the world No.1 as the winner.

Djokovic to win in three sets.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Rome ATP 1000 Will Answer Five Questions About ATP Tour

Rome ATP 1000

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The Rome ATP 1000 tournament is the last significant warm up to the French Open. The slow clay conditions will give a good indication of who will do well in Paris and the tournament, featuring the ‘Big Four’, will answer five important questions about the ATP Tour. 

Does Federer have a serious shot at winning in Paris?

Federer has only made the finals at two Majors since winning the Australian Open in 2010- Wimbledon (2012, 2014) and Paris (2011). Since his 2011 run to the Paris final, Federer has gone SF, QF, 4R at the event.

If the pattern plays out, Federer could be going out in the last 32 in Paris in 2015. Considering he is 5-2 on Clay this year, is 1-2 at the ATP 1000 Clay events, and has only played one top twenty player on the surface so far (Gael Monfils, 18), a strong run in Paris is vital to Federer’s chances of winning Roland Garros.

The Rome draw has been kind. The first serious threat would be Tomas Berdych in the last eight, and Federer is 3-0 against him on Clay. Then, if the Spaniard gets that far, a struggling Nadal awaits. A win over Nadal on Clay before the French Open could be just the boost Federer needs.

Federer would be unlikely to beat Djokovic in the final, but a runner up finish in Rome would mean he would have a serious shot a making the Roland Garros final, and anything, with all the pressure Djokovic is under and in front of the Pro-Federer crowd, could happen in three Sundays time on Court Chatrier.

Just how much has Andy Murray really improved on Clay?

Winning back to back titles in Munich and Madrid was an impressive feat for Murray- he had never made a clay final before, let alone an ATP 1000.

Things in clay tennis also don’t get much better than beating Nadal, whatever his form, before his home crowd for your first Clay ATP 1000 title.

However, Murray’s Munich draw did not pit him against any serious threats until Kohlschrieber in the final, and Murray led him 3-1 before that match. Then, in Madrid, Murray may have put in his best ever clay display against Nishikori, but he did not have to produce anything special in his other matches, not even against Nadal who hit 26 errors in 17 games.

One  or two impressive performances in a nine match run, for a man who has arguably played better in clay matches in Rome versus Nadal last year and at the same venue versus Djokovic in 2011, does not mean Murray is a better clay court player than before. Instead, it is more a testament to Murray’s experience, big match mentality, and overall consistency.

In Rome, though, Rome will be challenged from the get go. If the Scot has actually improved on the surface, then Rome will be the place we will really find out.

Up first is Jeremy Chardy, who upset Federer in last year’s Rome Opening round, and then could come either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or David Goffin, both of whom have had some of their career best results on Clay.

Murray would then likely have to get past Ferrer, Federer and Djokovic to take the title. If he can achieve that feat, then we can not only say he has really improved on Clay, but also that he is, for the first time in his career, a genuine contender at Roland Garros.

Is Djokovic starting to feel the pressure of being, for the first time, the real favorite at Roland Garros?

Djokovic has gone into Roland Garros before as a favorite, but never as The favorite like he will this year. Nadal’s crushing loss to Murray in the Madrid final has cemented Djokovic’s status even further, and Rome will be his last event before he tries, for the fourth consecutive year, to complete the Career Grand Slam with a win in Paris.

Djokovic has played some of his best clay tennis in Rome and has three titles there (2008, 2011, 2014). This season he enters the event in some of his strongest ever form- he has gone undefeated in ATP 1000 events in 2015, leads Roger Federer in the rankings by 5,200 points.

His great form has also coincided with the decline of his biggest threat in Paris, Rafael Nadal, slipping out of the ATP Rankings top five, to No.7, for the first time in a decade.

If ever Djokovic has been in the right place at the right time, it is now. Unfortunately, Roland Garros brings out the nerves in him greater than any other stop on the ATP Tour. If he is feeling them in the run up, we will see signs of it in Rome.

Signs his rivals will be on the lookout for.

Is Nadal really done?

In Monte Carlo, Nadal came up against a dominant Djokovic, in Barcelona he was undone by an opportunistic and inspired Fognini, and in Madrid a consistent Murray and 26 unforced errors from his own racket were his downfall.

That is three big defeats on clay in a row, and all in straight sets. The words ‘Nadal is Done‘ seem set to be graffitied all over Roland Garros, but no one should even think about buying a canister until Rome is over.

Nadal has suffered a lot these past few months, and openly, too. He has learned a lot of lessons, and if he is going to put them to use, he has to, and will, do it now- a defeat before the Rome final could see him fall out of the top eight, which would mean a meeting with a top four seed in Paris.

The slow clay courts of Rome, where Nadal has won the title seven times, could be the place where, if it ever going to happen, the Nadal comeback finally gathers steam.

Nadal could be tested as soon as the fourth round by the in-form John Isner, who pushed him to five sets at Roland Garros ’12. Stan Wawrinka is his scheduled last eight opponent, but the Swiss has under-performed this clay season. In the last four Nadal could face Roger Federer. The Spaniard has a huge mental edge over the Swiss on Clay, and that could be the match that makes or breaks him.

In the final, Nadal would likely face Djokovic, and likely lose. But he has lost to Djokovic twice in Rome (2011, 2014) and gone on to win in Paris, and a third defeat would be another valuable lesson in the most difficult course of Nadal’s career.

A course he can still come out on top of if he can make up some lost ground in Rome.

Who else is a threat to the Roland Garros title?

The ‘Big Four’ really are the big four when it comes to threats for the Roland Garros 2015 title. Nishikori is the only other player to have shown his credentials somewhat, though he disappointed in Madrid. No one else has really made an impression other than Berdych who had a great run in Monte Carlo, but who could not build in against Nadal in Madrid.

Wawrinka, Ferrer, and Dimitrov have underwhelmed, and Monfils started with a spark in Monte Carlo only to get sidelined by injury once more. Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios, who showed what a great match player he was in Madrid against Federer, is already out in Rome, losing to Lopez.

Can Goffin, Thiem or Dolgopolov, three of the biggest talents in the Rome draw, show off their clay court skills in the final big warm up to Roland Garros?

Now is the time to showcase their skills and get some confidence on a big stage against the biggest names. In an underwhelming clay season, notable mainly for Nadal’s lack of wins, it is not too late for one of the lower ranked players to make a name for themselves as a Roland Garros dark horse and add a bit of excitement in the run up to the French Open.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Murray Madrid Win Impressive But Reveals Little About French Open

Murray

Screenshot from twitter

Andy Murray’s 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Rafael Nadal in the Madrid ATP 1000 final was an impressive surprise. The Scot had never made an ATP 1000 Clay final, had only won his first career clay title this very same week, on Monday in Munich, and inflicted on Nadal arguably the heaviest clay final defeat of his career.

The win is Murray’s ninth in a row on clay and comes on the back of a convincing performance against Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals. Murray never had to scale those same heights in his win over Nadal- the Spaniard hit 26 errors in the 17 game contest– but did what he does best- just enough to get the job done, and what a fine job he did.

But while the win may be impressive and will look good on Murray’s resume (it is his tenth ATP 1000 win, his 33rd career title), the fact is it tells us very little about what will happen in two weeks time at the French Open.

Madrid’s high altitude and the surface’s faster pace means it does not serve well as a reliable indicator of what will go down in Paris. Nadal has won the title just four times since its inception in 2009, and has suffered heavy defeats to Roger Federer (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2011) in the final, and was upset by Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round in 2012.

The Spaniard was also a set and a break down to Nishikori in last year’s final before the Japanese got injured and had to retire in the final set.

Nishikori likes a faster court, as does three time winner Roger Federer, 2009 finalist Tomas Berdych, and 2013 runner up Stan Wawrinka. Murray is also a fan of faster surfaces- his two grand slam wins have come in London and New York and have been the scenes of his finest displays of aggression and touch, elements he showcased in his run to the Madrid title.

Murray, who earns 1000 ranking points for his efforts, will not mind Madrid serves as little more than a side show on the road to Paris. The tournament, the baby of Romanian Ion Tiriac, who so infamously made the surface blue in 2012, was once played in Hamburg where the altitude and court speed was similar to Paris. Murray went 3-3 in Hamburg from 2006-2008, but made the quarters in his first trip to Madrid in 2009, two more quarter finals and two fourth rounds before becoming only the fourth man to defeat Nadal in a Clay court final after Djokovic (x4), Federer (x2) and Zeballos.

That fact alone should boost Murray’s confidence as he enters Rome and then Paris. The Scot has done well in France, his athleticism and defensive skills serving him well, reaching the semi-finals twice and compiling a 23-7 record there. But as Nadal’s other Madrid conquerors have found, Nadal at Roland Garros over five sets is incomparable to the one beaten in Madrid over three. Nadal bounced back from Madrid defeats in 2011 and 2012 to take the Roland Garros title, comprehensively beating Federer and Djokovic in the finals.

In 2009, though, Roger Federer defeated Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the final, and went on to win Roland Garros. However, the Swiss did not have to face Nadal, Robin Soderling taking care of that so sensationally in the fourth round. Should someone else do a Soderling in 2015, Murray could find himself in the final, and with the kind of clay court tennis he has been showing these past two weeks, and considering how Roland Garros brings out Djokovic’s nerves like nowhere else, the once unthinkable words ‘Andy Murray Roland Garros Champion’ could become a very impressive reality.

A very big ‘could’ it may be, but before today, it did not seem even a possibility.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Novak Djokovic Right to Miss ATP 1000 Madrid Open

Djokovic

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at Flickr

 

Novak Djokovic’s decision to skip the ATP 1000 Madrid Open was the right one to make. The Tennis Review looks at why the season’s fourth ATP 1000 event will not be a stop on the world No 1’s schedule.

The conditions.

Madrid is 667 m above sea level compared to Paris which is 28 to 130 m. That means the balls fly faster through the air, the serve is as much, if not more, a weapon as the return, and aggressive tennis is better rewarded than in Paris, Rome or Monte Carlo.

Those conditions have helped Roger Federer win three times, Rafael Nadal three times and Djokovic only once. It is also the ATP clay event where Nadal has struggled the most – he has suffered two straight sets defeats in finals there and an exit in 2012 in the last sixteen. Djokovic has also been upset there early, too, losing to Tipsarevic  in 2012 and Dimitrov in 2013.

Timing

The Madrid final, which Dokovic would very likely contest, takes place the day before Rome starts. Djokovic would have to play ten matches in fourteen days if he were to reach both finals and then have a rest week before the big one in Paris.

In 2011, the only year Djokovic has made the finals of both Madrid and Rome, and won them both, the Serbian suffered a surprise defeat to Roger Federer in the Roland Garros semi-finals.

While Djokovic may be the fittest player on tour, back to back ATP 1000 tournaments finishing a week before the French Open might be too much even for him with another six matches to go before attempting one of tennis’ most elusive feats – beating Rafael Nadal in best of five in Paris.

Djokovic is also a five time Australian Open champion, the Slam with the shortest lead-up, and knows how to compensate for minimal match play with training.

Confidence.

2011 is the only season Djokovic has made the Madrid final. Since 2009, he has made a  semi-final (2009), a quarter-final (2012), lost his opening match (2013)  and not played twice (2010, 2014).

While Djokovic would likely make the final, he could be vulnerable, particularly to Roger Federer who has sprung two straight sets defeats on him on faster surfaces in the last seven months (Shanghai, Dubai) and could likely repeat that feat on a faster than usual clay court.

That defeat, or any defeat, would put a dent into the confidence Djokovic has built up winning The Australian Open, Indian Well, Miami and Monte Carlo this season, becoming the first man in history to do so.

Those surfaces, all medium- slow to  slow, suit  the Djokovic game, much like Rome and Roland Garros, and if he can enter The French Open with Rome on his resume too, his chances of his first French Open will be high.

However if he goes in with a defeat in Madrid, an inspired opponent on a sunny day in Paris might fancy their chances, take them, and with it Djokovic’s hopes of a Career Grand Slam for another year.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Novak Djokovic Seven Factors for ATP Success

Djokovic

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at flickr.com

Novak Djokovic celebrated his 142nd week on top of the ATP Rankings (beating Rafael Nadal’s 141 weeks) on Sunday April 19th 2015 by becoming the first man in ATP history to win Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo in the same season. The Tennis Review looks at seven factors contributing to the eight time Grand Slam champions history-making success. 

1. Fitness

Djokovic is the fittest player on the ATP tour-fact. That was not always the case, however. In his early career he was infamous for retiring from matches due to sickness. But in 2010, he worked hard in the gym, got fit, became gluten free and became the player most capable of dealing with the trying playing conditions of the ATP tour.

Djokovic’s fitness allows him to compete on an eleven month tennis circuit, take part in 18 tournaments a year (and reach the later stages of 80-90% of them), and gives him the stamina to compete for hours in some brutally hot conditions. See his six hour 2012 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal to appreciate the extent of his fitness.

Watch the Video of Novak Djokovic’s 2012 Australian Open defeat of Rafael Nadal below

Impressively, Djokovic is as fit at the start of the tennis season as he is at the end of it- winning the Australian Open in January five times and the WTF in November four times.

 2, Court surfaces and game style

Djokovic’s feat of winning both the Australian Open and the  WTF multiple times is helped by the fact that both the Australian Open and the season ending event in London are played on similar surfaces- slow, high bouncing ones. He also benefits from the general homogenization of the ATP surfaces, mostly medium slow- slow courts, which have helped him win the Indian Wells- Miami double three times (2011, 2014, 2015) and compile impressive winning streaks from Beijing in September to the WTF in November.

The slow high bouncing surfaces complement Djokovic’s aggressive baseline game which can switch to defense when needed, and he is the best player on the tour at turning offence into defense. He does that through his biggest weapon, his backhand, which he can hit cross-court at a variety of lengths and angles, pulling his rival wide, and opening up the court, and he is a master at changing direction of the ball and going down the line. Those slow surfaces give him plenty of time to get to the ball and set up his favorite shot.

He has also added variety to the game, coming to the net more, which gives him the edge against other baseline players such as Murray and Nadal, and added an element of surprise to his predominantly baseline style.

3. Open-mindedness

Djokovic’s increased play at the net was courtesy of Boris Becker’s influence. Djokovic hired the five time Slam champion as his coach at the end of 2013, and his risky decision paid off.

However much success Djokovic had had with his team – he had won six slams with them before hiring Becker- change was needed. In 2013, Djokovic lost his No.1 ranking, and the Wimbledon and U.S Open finals, and that U.S Open final loss to Nadal was his fifth loss in his last six Slam finals.

The results did not come immediately with Becker. Djokovic lost the Australian Open final, losing on a missed volley on serve match point down to Wawrinka in the last eight. But things took a turn for the better when he won Indian Wells and Miami back to back and beat Nadal in the Rome final. However his slam final record took another blow when he lost the Roland Garros final to Nadal.

At Wimbledon, though, everything clicked. Djokovic finally won another slam, and against his biggest rival at the time, Roger Federer.

4.  Mental toughness

That much longed for Slam win was down to Djokovic’s improved mental toughness. In that final, Djokovic served for the Championship in the fourth set only to be broken and taken to a fifth set. He did not break down, though, under the pressure. Instead he held serve to 5-4 returning and then broke for the title.

Djokovic displayed great mental toughness in that match, the quality which has been a key aspect of his game when he won three slams in 2011. That toughness had diminished in 2012, when he lost the French Open final, double faulting match point down, and the U.S Open final that same season to Murray.

But most worrying was his 2013 Wimbledon final loss to Andy Murray in which he appeared tired and at times defeated before the final ball, a shadow of the player who in 2011 was almost unbeatable in big matches.

Djokovic certainly tried at Wimbledon 2015 though, and managed to stave off a resurgent Federer. Holding his serve with greater ease than the Swiss was a key factor. There were to be no double faults on key moments in this final thanks to a much improved second serve.

5. The Second serve

It is an old cliche, but in tennis, you are only as good as your second serve. Djokovic can tell you about that. He lost the French Open final 2012 on a double fault. Becker cleaned up the action, though, and gave Djokovic arguably the best second serve in men’s tennis. That serve held up in the Wimbledon 2014 final- Djokovic won 65 percent of his second serves in that match, compared to Federer’s 44, and his second serve has been the deciding factor in many a close match.

Add that to the best return in the game, and you have an eight time slam champion No.1.

6. Timing

Djokovic’s rise has also timed with his rival’s demise. Nadal is slumping, Murray has not been the same player since surgery, and while Federer is able to beat him on faster surfaces in best of three, the Swiss, now aged 33, has not been able to impress in best of five at slams, going to the finals once since winning Wimbeldon 2012.

The next generation have also failed to impress at the highest levels of the game due to the slower surfaces not rewarding their youthful speed and the lack of mental toughness early breakthroughs provide.

But while all around him have either been failing to progress or have been losing their games, Djokovic has been maintaining  his, improving it even, and reaping the rewards.

Djokovic

7. Heart

Heart is something Djokovic is not short of, and it has helped him fight through tough matches and motivated him to improve. Who can forget his saving match points against Tsonga at the French Open 2012, his five set win over Murray at the Australian Open that same year, or when he edged Roger Federer in a final set tiebreak at Indian Wells 2014.

That heart comes from his love of the game- he loves what tennis has done for him and his family, and he loves the fans his game has earned him. Few player show their love as much as he does either or receive it from the fans with such passion. Check out the Nole family to see one of the tour’s biggest  and most vocal fan clubs.

Djokovic even gives his heart to the fans who do not support him, and there are many when he plays other greats, most notably Federer. But whatever the crowd do, from booing his challenges or shouting out between his serves at crucial moments, the world No. 1 finds it inside himself to dig deep and win, as he did at Indian Wells this year, and  he always thanks the crowds and tells them he loves them.

One day, when Federer and Nadal are gone, and Djokovic is still giving it his all at the top of the game, challenged by a new generation, he will get that love back, too.

Not that that is why he gives his love, though.

Djokovic gives love to the game and its fans for one reason only- his heart. And quite a heart it is ,too- the heart of an eight time Grand Slam champion with the sixth longest reign on the top of the ATP rankings.

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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Monte Carlo ATP Final Review Novak Djokovic Defeats Tomas Berdych

Djokovic

Photo courtesy of www.themalaysianinsider.com

Novak Djokovic (1) beat Tomas Berdych (4) 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to win the 2015 ATP 1000 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters title. The win was the world No.1’s second Monte Carlo title, his 23 rd ATP 1000 trophy, and a fitting way to mark his 142nd week at No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

First set

Djokovic led Berdych 18-2 before the final, but the last time Berdych beat the Serbian was on the clay courts of Rome in 2013.

The Czech started the match playing like he believed he could repeat that win, earning break point with a backhand down the line winner. He then broke Djokovic with a barrage of forehands to force an error in the first game and consolidating for 2-0.

This was the tennis Berdych needed to produce if he was going to get his third win over Djokovic in 21 tries- clean hitting, controlled aggression.

Berdych though, who won his sole ATP 1000 title a decade ago in Madrid, has not been able to execute that kind of tennis for long stretches of time against the more consistent defensive minded top-ranked opponents and he could not keep the break advantage as he was broken back for 3-3.

Djokovic broke again and served for the set at 5-3, but could not serve it out as Berdych once more found another good pacth of form and got himself back into the set for 4-5.

The match continued with serve, but Berdych was at a disadvantage serving second to the game’s best returner on a clay court and trailing 5-6 and serving, he faced set points.

Some big serving, attacking tennis and a fine angled forehand kept Berdych in the set, but Djokovic earned set point no. 3 getting Berdych on the run and forcing an error and then converted set point when he pulled Berdych out wide and forced an error.

Second Set

In the second set, Berdych stayed positive, stayed with Djokovic and had three  break points at 2-2, however Djokovic saved them before rain forced the players off the court for an hour.

Berdych came back from the break a player determined not to let similar chances slip away, and broke at 3-3 to lead 4-3.

The Czech, playing with much-needed aggression and consistency, then held serve twice more to take the second set 6-4 and level the match.

Third Set

Djokovic broke at the start of the third set, his superior match play coming into effect, and sped off into a 4-0 lead as he frustrated Berdych into error and put pressure on the return.

The Czech got himself back into the match, breaking back for 1-4, and holding another break point at 2-4, but he could not convert, and Djokovic held for 5-2.

Berdych saved a match point as he served to stay in the set, and won the game to keep his chances alive.

Djokovic did not offer Berdych any more opportunities though as he served for the match at 5-3. The world No.1 converted match point at 40-15 when a Berdych forehand went long, the Czech’s 51st error.

The championship win makes Djokovic the first man to win the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo in one season.

The Serb was far from his best- he hit 38 errors to 23 winners- yet still managed to beat an at times inspired opponent.

Djokovic’s consistency and smarter play were what made the difference against an opponent who hit 51 errors to 30 winners and too often blew his chances by over-hitting or going for broke too soon.

Djokovic will now rest for two weeks before the Madrid Open where he will try and become the first player to win the first four ATP 1000 titles of the season. In his current relentless mood, and with the opposition unable to beat him in ATP 1000 final matches- he has not lost one since 2012- it is hard not to see him achieving another piece of ATP 1000 history.

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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ATP Monte Carlo Semi-Final Review Novak Djokovic Defeats Rafael Nadal

Djokovic

Photo courtesy of www.themalaysianinsider.com

Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the ATP 1000 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters semi-finals. The Serbian claimed his fourth straight sets win over Nadal on Clay (Madrid ’11, Rome ’11, Monte Carlo ’13), and his fifth win overall with a clinical, hard fought and aggressive win.

Nadal started off the stronger of the two when he earned break point in the first game of the match, hitting a forehand winner mid-court. His forehand helped him convert the break point as he belted that shot to approach the net and then put away a backhand volley winner for 1-0.

Nadal held serve, but he could not consolidate for long, and at 2-1, Djokovic earned break point, drawing in Nadal with a drop shot, and then intercepting the sliced backhand return with a winning lob. Nadal then gifted the break point as he followed his service inside the court, took the short ball on with the forehand, and hit it into the net.

At 3-3, 15-30, Djokovic looked to still be in some danger of an upset (Nadal was the underdog in a clay court match for the first time in ten years) as Nadal pulled him around the court and hit a drop shot off a short ball, but Djokovic charged in, and sliced the ball past Nadal with an unretrievable angle to level the game at 30-30.

Djokovic was not in the clear though as Nadal earned break point with a forehand winner. Djokovic saved it with some fine forehands of his own, including a forehand lob from the service box, finally ending the point with a smash.

The two contested more thrilling points, one of them showcasing Djokovic’s athleticism and touch at its best as once more he  hit another sliced angled winner off a Nadal drop shot.

Djokovic finally held, ending the eleven minute game as he pulled Nadal out wide on the forehand side, and then came in on the short ball, putting away a backhand winner to the same corner as Nadal ran to the other side.

At 4-3, Djokovic earned two break points as he forced an error from the Nadal backhand, forcing him to go down the line too early. The world No.1 took the second break point as Nadal hit an unforced error, a forehand into the net.

Djokovic served for the set and took it 6-3 with a service winner.

In the second set, Nadal stayed with Djokovic, until at 3-3, in the crucial seventh game, the set reached its peak as it did in the first.

Nadal, serving, was 40-15 up, but Djokovic took the game to deuce and then broke for 4-3.

Djokovic then held serve and broke Nadal in the final game, earning match point with a forehand winner off a second serve. The world no.1 sealed the win with a mid-court backhand winner for a 6-3, 6-3 victory and a place in his fourth Monte Carlo Open final where he will face Tomas Berdych who defeated Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-4.

Djokovic hit 23 winners to 19 errors in the match to Nadal’s ratio of 20-23. Those impressive stats tell what a quality contest the semi-final was, and how both men played aggressive tennis. Djokovic, though, was too efficient, too calm, and too on his game for the Spaniard, but with three more tournaments left for Nadal to play before Roland Garros, there is plenty to take from this week in Monte Carlo to restore some confidence as he tries to win a record tenth French Open.

Confidence is something Djokovic should have plenty of. The Serbian goes into the final with a chance to win the first four big events of the year (he has already won the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami) and is having a perfect start to the Clay season as he embarks, for the fourth time in his career, on a campaign to  win the French Open and complete the Career Grand Slam.

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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ATP Monte Carlo Semi-Final Preview Novak Djokovic Vs Rafael Nadal

Djokovic

Photo courtesy of www.abc.net.au

Novak Djokovic (1) takes on Rafael Nadal (3) in the ATP 1000 Monte Carlo Open semi-finals tomorrow. Nadal leads the head to head, spanning eight years, 23-19, and leads the clay head to head 14-4. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Rafael Nadal will go into his match against Novak Djokovic as an underdog on clay for the first time in ten years.

That it should be Novak Djokovic who is the favorite against him comes as no surprise. The world No.1 has won the three biggest titles of the year so far (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami), and is cruising through his section of the draw, dropping just three games to Marin Cilic in their quarter-final.

Djokovic also has history against Nadal in Monte Carlo- he was the first man to beat Rafael Nadal there for nine years when he defeated the Spaniard in the 2013 final. He has also had wins over him on Clay in Rome (2011, 2014), and Madrid (2011).

Nadal. meanwhile, has been losing early, bar his ATP 250 Buenos Aires Open win this year, at every event, and has been speaking openly about his lack of confidence.

In his quarter-final in Monte Carlo, Nadal was pushed to three sets by his 2014 Monte Carlo conqueror David Ferrer, notching, arguably, considering Ferrer’s strong 2015 form, his best win of the season.

That should restore some confidence for him, but it will not be enough. The world no. 5 has not played anyone of Djokovic’s strength since the last time he played the Serbian in the Roland Garros 2014 final.

Nadal may have the upper-hand over Djokovic in five set matches in Paris, but at Clay Masters, Djokovic has won 4 of their last 6 matches, three of them in straight sets.

Djokovic has the game and strategy to beat Nadal in best of three at Clay when Nadal has been near his best- it is hard to see him not executing that game when the Spaniard is at, perhaps, his weakest point for a decade.

Prediction: Novak Djokovic to win in straight sets.

Watch Novak Djokovic defeating Rafael Nadal in the 2013 Monte Carlo final below.

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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ATP Monte Carlo Preview Round 3 Roger Federer Vs Gael Monfils

Federer

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at flickr.com

Roger Federer takes on Frenchman Gael Monfils in the third round of the ATP 1000 Monte Carlo Open. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Roger Federer may lead Gael Monfils 8-3 in their head to head, but he is tied 3-3 with him in their last six meetings, including a straight sets defeat to the Frenchman on clay in Lyon in last year’s Davis Cup Final.

Going into their third round match, both men are in good form. Federer was dominant in his straight sets defeat of Jeremy Chardy in the second round, dropping just three games, but the world no. 35 failed to push him.

Monfils, meanwhile, came through a tough match with Alexandr Dolgopolov, and was feeling good in the process. At one stage, Monfils hit a drop shot, then pretended to have given up on the point, faking out Dolgopolov then running down a cross-court forehand which he sent back for a winner.

Watch Gael Monfils at his cheeky best in the video below.

A confident Monfils at home will be quite the handful for Federer. The Frenchman has been a struggle for him on all surfaces, his athleticism, shot-making and supreme defensive skills negating his attacking style of play.

But the Swiss leads Monfils 4-1 on the Clay and has only dropped one set in his 4 wins.

Federer was also exhausted in their Davis Cup match, and with Monfils being a difficult match up for him- the Frenchman led him two sets to love in their U.S Open quarter-final match before losing in five- that defeat was not that unexpected.

Federer is certainly not tired right now. The Swiss has not played since Indian Wells, has been holidaying in the Alps, and has talked of taking more time to rest this season. He also wasted no time in his dismissal of Chardy.

Federer also wants to win the Monte Carlo for the first time after four runner up finishes, his last one coming last year when he lost to Wawrinka in three sets. It is hard to see Monfils, despite all his tricks and shot-making, being the man to stop him.

Prediction: Federer to win in three sets.

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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