Novak Djokovic Seven Factors for ATP Success

Djokovic

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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ATP Monte Carlo Open Round 2 Preview Roger Federer Vs Jeremy Chardy

Federer

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Roger Federer takes on his 2014 Italian Open conqueror Jeremy Chardy in the second round of the ATP 1000 Monte Carlo tournament tomorrow. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner. 

Jeremy Chardy inflicted a rare early defeat on Roger Federer when he beat the Swiss 7-6 in the third set tiebreaker in the second round of the Italian Open 2014. Federer had his chances, too, holding match point in the tiebreaker, but Chardy saved it with a spectacular forehand passing shot on the run.

Federer had only arrived in Rome the day before the match, having just become the proud father of a second set of twins.

This year, though, Federer’s pre-match preparation is very different. For one thing, Federer has not been distracted by becoming a father for the third and fourth time.

He is also well rested, having not played since Indian Wells where he was runner up.

As well as being rested, the 2009 Roland Garros Champion is prepared. He has spoken of how he is much readier for the clay this season, and he has been in Monte Carlo for a week, practicing on the courts at the tournament venue with Dominic Thiem.

Also, with Nadal lacking confidence, and Djokovic coming off an exhausting Indian Wells-Miami double, the four time runner-up must also feel motivated and fancy his chances of winning Monte Carlo for the first time in his career.

Rested, motivated, well-practiced, and with a 16-2 record this year, in-form, it is hard to see Federer being upset by Chardy at an ATP Red Clay 1000 event for the second year running.

Federer knows it will be tough, but he also knows he can beat the Frenchman – he has two wins over the world no. 35, both last year, and both in three sets, at Paris-Bercy and Brisbane.

Prediction: This match, considering it is Federer’s first on Clay of 2015 and Chardy has a stylish, consistent game he finds difficult to play against, could also go to three sets, but expect Federer to win and extend his lead over the Frenchman to 3-1.

Watch Chardy’s spectacular winner to save match point against Federer at last year’s Italian Open below.

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Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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Monte Carlo Will Answer Five Questions About the ATP Tour

Djokovic

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The Season’s first Clay ATP 1000 tournament kicks off in Monte Carlo on Monday. The event will answer five questions about ATP players and the state of their games.

Is Novak Djokovic going to be burned out, once more, by his Indian Wells-Miami Double?

In 2013, Djokovic became only the second player to beat Rafael Nadal, the then recently crowned Indian Wells champion, at the Monte Carlo Open. That same season, Djokovic had gone out in the semi-finals of Indian Wells and the last sixteen of Miami, but those early defeats may have contributed to his one and only Monte Carlo title.

In 2011, when Djokovic won the Indian Wells- Miami double, he skipped Monte-Carlo with a knee injury. Having won the first 24 matches of the year on hard courts, it is not difficult to see why his knees may have been in need of rest.

When Djokovic did the double in 2014, he had to withdraw with injury in his semi-final, the weeks ‘rest’ between winning 12 consecutive matches in the brutal conditions of the Californian Desert and the Miami sub-tropics not being quite enough.

How will his health and fitness stand up in 2015 after another successful but no-doubt exhausting run? We will find out in Monte Carlo. Djokovic has a fairly comfortable draw until his projected semi-final with Rafael Nadal, who while may be slumping, could come alive again on the red clay.

That match, if it happens, will answer questions about both Djokovic and the Spaniard.

Is Nadal’s slump something more serious?

Nadal came back from injury in 2014 at arguably his worst period of the season- the autumn indoor hard court run. The Australian Open and Spring North American Swing have never been his strongest periods either, winning only 1 Australian Open title, and while he has 3 Indian Wells titles, he has never won in Miami.

So, while his results since coming back- he is 19-8 since Beijing 2014 and has lost to 3 players ranked out of the top 50-are not stellar, he still has a title, a grand slam quarter final and an ATP 1000 semi on his record in arguable his worst stretch of the season.

Now, we enter his strongest part- the red clay, and a tournament where he has won eight titles. Nadal has already won a clay title this year- the ATP 250 Buenos Aires Open- and though Monte Carlo has a far stronger field, he is still, as the reigning French Open and Madrid Champion, the man to beat.

The world no. 5 has talked of how low his confidence is right now, but such talk should not be paid much attention to. Nadal is a master of spin of the court as much as he is on it, and talk of low confidence could be as much a part of his 2015 French Open strategy as sending loopy ground-strokes the way of Federer’s backhand. The Spaniard was also suffering confidence wise when he lost to Ferrer and Amalgro last season on clay only to win his ninth French Open title.

We will find out just how low on confidence he is in Monte Carlo if he gets to a semi-final meeting with Djokovic. First he may have to get past Dominic Thiem who has a great game for clay, the dangerous John Isner, and his 2014 conqueror David Ferrer at the same stage he lost to him last year, the quarters.

If he can win that match, and then beat Djokovic, the man most likely to beat him in Paris, that will put doubts into Djokovic’s mind that he can really complete the career grand slam. Monte Carlo is the tournament most like the French surface wise, and a title there would put some wind back into the Nadal sails as he attempts to claim a historic 10th French Open title

Can David Goffin Get His 2015 Going Again on Clay?

Goffin was the King of Challengers and ATP 250s in the second half of 2014. Post Wimbledon,  ranked 106 at the Poznan Challenger, he started a run which included four challenger titles, two ATP 250 titles in Kitzbuhel and Metz, a quarter final as a qualifier in Winston Salem and a last 32 finish at the U.S Open.

When he entered the ATP 500 Swiss Indoors Open and made the final, he moved up to 22 in the rankings and had shown he had what it takes to compete in the upper tiers of the ATP Tour.

Since then, in 2015, he has stagnated a little. He started the year well, making the semis of Chennai, but was knocked out in the second round of the Australian Open and had to retire with injury in the last 32 of Marseilles. That injury forced him out of Indian Wells, and though he made the last 16 of Miami, he was soundly beaten by Nishikori.

Red Clay may be just what Goffin needs to kick start his 2015. The 24 year old broke through at the 2012 French Open when he took a set off Roger Federer in the last sixteen as a lucky loser.

The Belgian has a nice draw. He has a qualifier in round one, a second round with a just-coming-back Tsonga or Querrey, and eighth seed and rusty Marin Cilic is seeded for the last sixteen in his section of the draw.

Is Stan Wawrinka really over his post maiden Slam slump?

Last year Stan Wawrinka finally stepped stepped of his compatriot Roger Federer’s shadow when he won the Australian Open and then went on to beat Federer in the Monte Carlo Open final.

That first clay court ATP 1000 title was Wawrinka’s last great moment of 2014 as the Swiss went 16-12 until he made the semi-finals at the WTF.

He started 2015 well, winning in Chennai, but put in an error prone performance defending his Australian Open title, losing the fifth set of his semi-final to Djokovic 0-6. And while he won in Rotterdam, he suffered upsets in Marseilles (Stakhovsky), Indian Wells (Hasse) and Miami (Mannarino).

Wawrinka has always been a streaky player, but he is, as his Monte Carlo title, 2008 Italian Open runner-up finish, and 20-10 record at Roland Garros show, a very capable Clay courter, and if he fails to string together some good results this Clay season, what looked like  a career recovery but just have been a temporary resurrection.

Does Federer believe he can win at Roland Garros?

Federer recently stated he wanted another slam, and he wanted it at Wimbledon. But what about the French?

Federer is arguably the second best Clay courter of the last decade, and while he clearly believes he has another slam in him, does he believe it could come at the French?

If he does, Monte Carlo is going to be a great place to show it. Federer has a tough draw in Monte Carlo, where he is defending runner up points. He could possibly face his 2014 Italian Open conqueror Jeremy Chardy in round two, the man who led him two sets to love in the U.S Open last eight, Gael Monfils, in round four, and Wawrinka in the last eight. That is about as hard as the first three rounds can get at an ATP 1000.

If Federer wants to make a successful campaign for Roland Garros, with an out of sorts Nadal, and a possibly tired Djokovic in the draw, this is a great place to start.

The question is does he believe he has a second Roland Garros title in him? If he can fight past this tough draw and take the title, the answer will be ‘Yes’.

Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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ATP Miami Open Final Review Novak Djokovic Defeats Andy Murray

Djokovic

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Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray 7-6, 4-6, 6-0  for the ATP 1000 Miami Open title, his fifth in total. In winning, he also created history, becoming the first man to win the Indian Wells-Miami double back to back.

There is a good reason no one has managed to do the Indian Wells-Miami double back to back- to do it even once is enough of an effort, and the fact Djokovic has now done it three times (2011, 2014-2015) is both revealing, character-wise, and, to anyone who has been following his career, unsurprising.

Few work harder than Djokovic, and to win the Indian Wells-Miami double, you have to work very hard. You have to win twelve matches over three and a half weeks, fourteen if you are unseeded, in brutally hot conditions, in the heat of the desert or the humid heat of the coast. The heat is not your only enemy, either- the wind puts up quite a fight, too.

As if that were not enough to contend with, you then have the world’s top competition in the draw. Djokovic had already battled past Federer in the three set Indian Wells final, and then conquered Klizan, Darcis, Dolgopolov, Ferrer and Isner on his way to make the Miami final versus Murray.

Murray had already been one of Djokovic’s vanquished rivals on his way to the Indian Wells-Miami double. The Serbian had torn him apart in the semi-finals in the Californian desert two weeks ago.

Djokovic was in no condition to be tearing anyone apart in the final today though. The world no.1 had been struggling all week, dropping sets to Klizan and Dolgopolov, and though he had played brilliantly at times against Isner in the semi-finals, the effort of the last three weeks looked to have taken its toll on him as he and Murray faced off for a title they have won six times between them.

Murray looked, from the get-go, like a third Miami title, a nice gift to himself before his wedding, was within his grasp. The Scot was in arguably some of his best form of the year as he tried to end a run of six defeats to the Serb, starting the match aggressively and breaking an out of rhythm Djokovic at 1-1 with a forehand winner.

Djokovic, though tired, was still ready for the fight, as he always is, and broke back immediately, courtesy of a Murray forehand error.

At 3-3, Murray broke again, taking control of points early, and putting together inspired patches of play, but once again he could not consolidate, his second serve still a liability against one of the game’s best returns of serve, a status not lost even when out of form, and was broken back.

The first set went into a tiebreak, and Murray’s forehand broke down early, an error handing Djokovic a mini-break to go 2-0 up. Another Murray error and Djokovic had two mini-breaks and a 3-0 lead. Djokovic double-faulted to hand back one of the mini-breaks for 4-1, but he held onto his lead and had three set points at 6-3. The Serbian sealed the set as Murray made yet another error, this time on his backhand.

In the second set, Murray hung with Djokovic through the early stages, surviving four break points at 1-1 to hold for 2-1. That resistance was crucial and bolstered the Scot’s confidence. He hung with Djokovic all the way to the business end of the set, to 5-4 returning, and earned himself three set points with a forehand passing shot off a Djokovic smash, the Scot’s feel earning him the point as he just got his racket onto the ball and sent it past the Serb for a winner.

The Scot then converted set point, stepping in on the Djokovic second serve, and flying into a backhand cross-court winner.

On the changeover, the world no.1 argued with the umpire about a shouting incident as the players took to their seats. The umpire had given him a warning for shouting at his box, claiming it had scared a ball-boy and that ‘it did not look very good.’

Neither was the tired looking Djokovic game. But the Serbian, fired up by the warning, found new life, and as he did to Murray in the Australian Open final, he found a second wind while Murray, exhausted by the effort of winning his first set in a best of three match against Djokovic since the 2012 WTF, was left bent over huffing and puffing watching the Serbian pull away into the distance.

Djokovic broke him in the opening game of the third set, then twice more before serving for the match at 5-0. The world No.1 fought off a final push from his long-term rival, saving break point as he forced a Murray error (one of 48 from Murray in the match) with an aggressive forehand. He then beat Murray at his own game, earning championship point with a winning lob.

Djokovic won the match with a game rarely seen on the ATP tour in 2015- he served out wide and then volleyed,sealing the historic win with a winning backhand volley on the stretch.

Djokovic had created history with a performance in which he had repeated history, too. Time and time again he has seemingly been the more tired player on the court, only to wear down his opponent, bringing them down and beyond his own levels of exhaustion, and then finding an extra gear, and tearing away for the win. He inflicted that perfect pacing against Murray, and will do it, no doubt, again.

Whatever other historic feats he pulls off in the process remains to be seen, but going into the clay season, with his Roland Garros nemesis out of form, and no one else in sight looking to be a contender, the greatest piece of history, the career Grand Slam, could be there for the taking, if he can just find that extra gear in a history making year come the first weekend of June.

Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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Miami Open Final Preview Novak Djokovic Vs Andy Murray

Djokovic

Photo courtesy of miamiherald.com

The Miami Open final will be contested between top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic and two time champion and fourth seed Andy Murray. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Andy Murray has been doing a lot of things right in 2015- reaching slam finals, climbing the rankings (he started the year ranked no.6 and will be ranked no.3 next week), making another Miami final (his fourth).

There is one thing, though, that he has not been able to do right, and that is beat Novak Djokovic. It was the world No.1 who stopped him in the Australian Open final, and in the Indian Wells semi-finals, too. With not too much difficulty either.

True, Murray did push the 8 time slam champion in the first two sets of the Australian Open, but he went away in sets three and four, and at Indian Wells, the Scot had no say in matters at all, and was blasted off the court by the Serb.

It has not just been this year that Djokovic has dominated Murray, either. The world no. 1 beat him four times in 2014, dropping just one set. That makes six consecutive wins, and Djokovic now leads the head to head 17-8, a head to head that was, back in September 2012, after Murray beat Djokovic for the U.S Open title, much closer, with the Serb leading 8-7.

Murray’s chances of cutting the deficit tomorrow in Miami are slim. Djokovic has struggled in Miami, dropping sets to Klizan and Dologopolov, and coming from a break down in the first set against Ferrer, but he pulled his game together brilliantly against an in-form John Isner, edging the American in a first set tiebreak and then taking control of the match and running away with the second set 6-2.

Murray cruised past Donald Young in the second round but, like Djokovic has struggled, dropping sets to Thiem and Anderson. He did, though, break down Berdych’s game in the semi-finals, but he has the upper hand over Berdych in big matches, and the slow courts played into his hands, too.

Murray, unlike Djokovic, has not really faced an opponent who actually had a strong chance to beat him. Isner had knocked out Dimitrov, Raonic and Nishikori, and is always a handful for Djokovic, but the Serbian was mentally tough and put in one of his most dominant displays against the 22nd seed.

The Serbian is likely to do the same against Murray in the Miami final. The two may be separated by only two spots in the rankings,but they are, right now anyway, a gulf apart when it comes to confidence and mental toughness.

Murray may be no. 3 next week, but he has not won higher than an ATP 500 title the past year and has only managed top ten wins against Berdych (twice), Raonic, Tsonga, Cilic and Ferrer. Djokovic, meanwhile has two slams, the WTF and four ATP 1000 titles on his past year’s resume, and has 23 wins over top ten players, losing only 4 times, to Nadal once and Federer three times.

That gulf between them is likely to be played out on the court tomorrow. While the two are similar in that they can both play great defense, attack and defend with their backhands, have great return games, and are two of the fittest players on the ATP, Djokovic has the better game of turning defense into offense and has no weaknesses, while Murray tends to play passively when things get tough against Djokovic and his second service can be a liability against the game’s best returner.

Murray may be doing a lot right in 2015, but he still has some things to put right before he is going to notch up another win against Djokovic. He has to sort out that second serve, and sort out his mental game, too. Until he does that, and there has been nothing to show us this week in Miami that he has done so, then Djokovic is going to keep on extending that head to head lead, and, more importantly for the world No. 1, extend his lead at the top of the rankings, and expand his ever-growing collection of ATP 1000 titles.

Prediction: Djokovic to win in straight sets.

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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Miami Open Semi-Finals ATP Player of the Day Novak Djokovic

BNP Paribas Open

CC courtesy of Marianne Bevis at Flickr.

Novak Djokovic’s semi-final win over John Isner was a masterclass in making the most of what few opportunities come your way on the tennis court when facing one of the game’s biggest servers.  The 7-6, 6-2 win earns the world No.1 player of the day.

Novak Djokovic looked to be in some danger before his Miami Open semi-final against 22nd seed John Isner. Isner had beaten Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori on his way to the last four, and was playing some of his best tennis. Isner’s best tennis had troubled Djokovic in the past, too- the American had two wins over Djokovic on American Hard courts in Indian Wells 2012 and Cincinnati 2013.

Djokovic was also not at his best coming into the last four. He had dropped sets to Klizan and Dolgopolov, and gone a break down in the first set to Ferrer.

However, against his toughest opponent, and before that opponent’s home crowd, Djokovic came up with his best tennis, like you would expect of a man on the brink of winning the Indian Wells-Miami double for the third time (2011, 2014).

The first set was close, going to a tiebreak. Djokovic got an early mini-break at 1-1 when he struck a backhand return off a second serve at Isner’s feet and the Amercian netted an awkward sliced backhand.

Djokovic got his second mini-break at 4-1. Isner was attacking him, coming in and hitting a huge forehand down the line, but Djokovic’s defense came to his rescue as he got the ball back in play and forced the American to go for too much on a short forehand down the line to the forehand side, missing the tram-line by some way.

Defense and return- those were the weapons Djokovic had in his favor against Isner, and they were what had given him a 5-1 lead in the breaker.

Djokovic earned three set points with  an ace, a sliced served out wide to the advantage court.

At 6-3, returning, Djokovic blocked a forehand into play, and then unleashed on his ground strokes, a forehand heavy on top spin pulling Isner out wide. All the American could do was get his racket on to the ball and send it right into the hitting zone of the Djokovic backhand. The Serbian, in his element, took his time, took a long back-swing and then rotated himself into the shot, hitting the ball cross-court for a winner.

Smart serving, touch on the return and depth and spin on his ground strokes had completed the hard work of edging Isner in a tiebreaker, and the Serb was now a set up.

Djokovic then ran away with the match, taking the second set 6-2. 25 winners to 8 errors, fifty percent of break points won, 76 % of second serves won, it was a formidable display of tennis from a player performing at his best against one of his most dangerous opponents.

Watch highlights of Djokovic’s win over Isner below

Commentary by Christian Deverille @thetennisreview

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