Australian Open: Dominant theme not Dominic but Djokovic

    Australian Open was really AO- absolutely outstanding for Djokovic and specially Kenin. Both displayed this requisite combination of ‘A’ and ‘O’ characteristics rather well.

    Shushil Kumar

    Novak Djokovic (Photo: Australian Open Facebook Page)

    The Logo “AO” of Australian Open symbolizes twin formula that sums up the secret of scaling the summit of crowning success: A player has to have his ‘A’ class game in place, as well as hit ‘Outstanding’ shots at critical turns to turn the testing tide; ‘A’ also stands for Aptitude but not alone, but with ample ability for out of box thinking (displayed by indomitable Djokovic in switching to serve and volley strategy in last two sets against Dominic Thiem in the final); ‘A’ can signify Attitude and O for Oodles of confidence oozing all over (amply displayed by Sofia Kenin against Garbine Muguruza in women’s final). Basically, to get into the exclusive O (circle) of champions, one has to have a combination of all aforementioned As and Os in somewhat equal measure.

    Both Kenin and Novak Djokovic displayed this requisite combination of ‘A’ and ‘O’ characteristics rather well. Federer displayed these in his-come from dead- wins in five sets against Millman and Tennys Sandgren; Thiem also displayed these traits till the fourth set in the final when his ‘Outstanding shots, at 3-4 scoreline, started skipping the lines by centimetres, collapsing his confidence completely ( much like Muguruza).In contrast, Djokovic’s decision to deploy serve and volley tactics improved his A and O combination, helping him to claim the cup and a part of history.

    Actually, Australian Open’s earlier logo of a flaming ball, streaking across against a blue backdrop, would have ideally reflected the raging bushfires ravaging Australia currently; it would have symbolized a dictum to a player- of having fire in the belly and firepower to hit red hot shots to succeed, scorching the blue surface and records.

    With three losses in Grand Slams finals now, Thiem is increasingly becoming a sentimental favourite, like Andy Murray and Goran Ivanisevic were after losing several finals, before finally winning.

    So dominant was the form of Dominic Thiem till the fourth set in the final in the tournament, that I had already written the headline – Dominant Theme is Dominic Thiem at AO. Alas, this time too, Thiem couldn’t do a Carpe Diem – seize the opportunity and the day. From Dominant Thiem the dominant theme developed into Dominant Djokovic Demolishes Dominic.

    Seems by tennis and teenage association, Nadal’s steely determination and iron will have now fully rubbed on to Djokovic – his friend through junior years. Initially hailed as the trailing third, behind gifted Federer and workman’s work-ethic endowed Nadal, Djokovic’s unwavering self-belief and unceasing work ethic have buttressed his inner belief, to go the distance; he now openly acknowledges and believes that he has it in him to overhaul Federer’s record of most Grand Slam wins (20) and maximum weeks (310) as world number one.

    Djokovic has built his body like a reed, with flexibility and fluid body mechanics and motion mimicking Federer; and has combined that with Nadal like steely will to reach, retrieve and return every ball- chasing every ball to chase the championships and the Holy Grail of records. In fact, his experiments with yoga, meditation, diets ranging from gluten-free (adopted after losing series of long matches in finals), vegan-vegetarian, plant-based and combining that with motivation mantra from a spiritual guru, is ensuring that his consistency is getting better than of either Federer or Nadal.Djokovic’s fitness approximates that of legendary fitness freak ( known as Mr. Fitness), golfer Gary Player, whose longevity enabled him to play a senior tour and run a golf design company even at the age of 84(just finished redesigning Delhi Golf Club). His contemporaries Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were no match to his fitness. Seeing Djokovic’sperformance over last year, convinces one that this year itself can take him to pinnacle of glory and dizzying heights of max Grand Slam wins.

    One notices, more often than not, an uncanny pattern that champion stake medical time outs while facing testing opponents; possibly they do to slow down the pace and restrict reflexive play; to reflect a little and re-calibrate strategy to slip in a sudden surprise and shock the rampaging opponent; one sees that they step up, slow down, shift gears successively to rattle opponent and his rhythm. Federer did this in his five-setters against Millman and Tennys and Djokovic did this in this final (shifting to serve and volley tactic); his shifting to shifting gears totally threw Thiem’s game out of gear.

    Not only in tennis, but all sports champions show having that uncanny ability to find last remnants of reserves and resources in their skill, energy and mind matrix mix. Just see how Federer came off from the threshold of virtual vanquishing while facing several match points against Millman and Tennys. Djokovic was also staring down the barrel after the third set in the final, yet during cool moments of the timeout, calmly recalculated and recalibrated to surprise Thiem with serve and volley- completely contrary to his style. He won crucial point in the fourth set and then put his game in final and fifth gear and simply sped off with the momentum to win.

    In these two decades of domination by big four and Serena sisters, it is better to be a total novice so as not to get overawed and intimidated by these greats. Naomi Osaka displayed this was when she won her first Grand Slam title against Serena in 2018; Kenin repeated this while facing Muguruza and Barty during this Australian Open. Boris Becker was similarly not in awe of champions when he won his maiden Wimbledon title in 1985

    Thiem like Djokovic who was repeatedly defeated by Federer and Nadal, in initial years, till he dug in with determination to try again and again, till he found a way to win and developed a winning habit like them. Once Thiem wins, he is surely likely to follow the pattern knowing his skills and attitude. Djokovic carries the weight of expectations but has shed weight to have reed-like characteristics of complete flexibility and flow with the winds and he can stretch his body and turn and twist like no other. He can even split and would surely be benefitted in mastering golf when he hangs his boots.

    Djokovic’s dominant is showing how these fab four have compressed the time frame of establishing all-time records. It took Pete Sampras some decades to break 12 Grand Slam record of Roy Emerson and thought by winning 14, he could rest easy for some decades. But the Fab three (referred to four till Murray suffered career-threatening back injury) upset all the patterns. Till last year, the most win record was a toss-up between Federer, Nadal and Djokovic but now it would be between Nadal and Djokovic with latter holding an advantage. See golf, where Tiger Woods has equaled most Tour victories (82 of Sam Snead) after several decades and is still to break Jack Niclaus of 18 majors despite trying for two decades. Thiem rightly stated these three have redefined the levels of tennis and winning a Grand Slam during their times would be an achievement worth remembering.After all, these Big 3 have won 13 Grand Slam consecutively and they have also claimed 56 out of 67 Grand Slam titles in these years.

    Kenin’s spunky, gutsy spirit truly reflected high octane energy of the youth specially in the way she straddled the court despite her 5’7 feet frame. Muguruza was good but Kenin’s kinetic youthful energy and spirits added spring in her steps.

    Like Federer, Thiem has a strong single-handed backhand that single-handedly has the potential to win him majors. Grigor Dimitrov also has a single-handed strong backhand and was called Baby Federer for this reason.

    Raonic seems totally dependent on his strong serving, clearly forgetting that alone can’t win Slam titles (ask Roscoe Tanner and Goran Ivanisevic). He didn’t develop grinding groundstrokes a la Djokovic and Nadal; he should take lessons from these two as how they adapted and developed strong service to match only later on their careers. Raonic needed to do the reverse and add groundstrokes in his skill set.Sascha Zverev like him is also too dependent on strong serve. Daniil Medvedev was stunned by Stan Wawrinka and that came as no surprise knowing Stan has stunned big guns earlier too. Nadal and Barty were ambushed by fiery spirit and groundstrokes of Thiem and Henin respectively.

    Australian Open was really AO- absolutely outstanding for Djokovic and specially Kenin.

    (The Author is from Indian Administrative Services and presently serves as Additional Secretary with the Government of India)

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