Djokovic Blots Out the Sun
What a journey. Really grateful for everything. I'll keep working hard. Love is the key! pic.twitter.com/CrT7TYRL3O— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 31, 2016
Make no mistake about it, the unchallenged world #1 currently blankets the men's tour like not even Serena Williams has covered the WTA landscape in recent and past seasons. Djokovic's command of the moment is more akin to the dominant runs put together by Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf, only without even one in-their-prime future star reliably capable of rising up and truly challenging him for the tour lead. As 2016 stands just one month old, there are no men in position to play the same role of "eventual power usurper" as Graf did vs. Navratilova, or as Monica Seles later did vs. Graf. Milos Raonic seems to be methodically getting closer, but he's still only a mushy "maybe." Only maybe Stan Wawrinka, in something of a Chris Evert/Hana Mandlikova hybrid sort of role, seems capable or rising up under the right circumstances and truly making a push vs. Djokovic, but not on a weekly basis over the course of a long season.
As for fellow Australian Open finalist Andy Murray, well, the Scot continues to fill the "professional final opponent" slot in Melbourne. So much so that he should maybe consider donning a Washington Generals uniform-inspired outfit next year. Playing in his fifth AO final in seven years, there was little doubt on Sunday that he'd sport a mark of 0-5 in the those matches once Djokovic was through with him.
The Scot had just one brief glimpse of daylight offered up to him by Djokovic in this final, but it was quickly snuffed out.
Djokovic jumped out of the starting gate with great force, taking a 5-0 1st set lead before Murray got on the board. He won the set 6-1, as Murray won just 20% of his second serve points. In the 2nd, the two men exchanged breaks in games #7 and #8, setting the stage for the key eleventh game of the set.
Serving at 5-5, Murray led 40/love. But he was wrong on a replay challenge on a forehand called out on his first game point, meaning Djokovic had indeed lived to play another point in the game. Little did the Scot know that the millimeters by which he'd missed the shot had essentially taken away his only chance to make a match of things. Or maybe he did know. No player in men's tennis can carve out a comeback from less than Djokovic. A small hint of life, however short the breath, be it one game or a single point, is often the spark that lifts him from a seemingly "dead" position. That missed shot from Murray would prove to be just the latest example.
At 40/15, Djokovic's crosscourt shot was his first forehand winner of the 2nd set. At 40/30, a 36-shot rally highlighted by tremendous defense from the Serb ended with an extracted Murray error. At deuce, Djokovic reached BP with a backhand passing shot when Murray moved toward the net just a little too early and became a sitting duck/Scot. At break point, Murray clipped the net cord twice in the rally, while Djokovic was steady until his opponent fired a shot long to hand the Serb the break for 6-5.
A game later, Djokovic's back-to-back double-faults gave Murray a BP and a shot to crack open a small window, but when he didn't challenge a Djokovic first serve (it was out, replay showed) and then lost the point he didn't force the Serb to hit a second serve and try to avoid a third straight DF. After Murray pulled a backhand wide, Djokovic reached set point and when the Scot netted a forehand up the line he won the 2nd 7-5.
From there, it was essentially over. Everyone knew it. But the two still had to play the 3rd set to make it official. Djokovic got an early break, only to see Murray get things back on serve at 3-3, converting his second BP of the match after previously being 1-for-5. The set concluded with a tie-break dominated by Djokovic. He grabbed a mini-break lead at 1-0, then ran away to a 6-1 bulge. Finally, on his third MP he fired an ace to close Murray out 6-1/7-5/7-6(3).
Djokovic's sixth Australian Open title ties American Roy Emerson for the all-time AO lead, while career slam crown #11 brings him even with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, who was in attendance for the final in the stands of the stadium named in his honor.
Eight years after he burst onto the scene as a 20-year old slam winner in Melbourne in 2008, Djokovic is now an Australian Open living legend. But that's only a small pleat in the cape he currently sports as he surveys the landscape of the sport from her perch high above the rest of the field.
From the start, Djokovic was a quick riser. He reached his first slam quarterfinal in the sixth major draw of his career (it took Federer, for example, eight), the semifinals in his tenth (Federer-17), and the final in his twelfth (17). At his thirteenth major, he won slam title #1. It took Djokovic three years to win #2 in 2011, the second longest stretch (12 slams) between any male slam champ's first two titles, behind only Marat Safin's 14-slam gap. But the big Russian never won another major title, while the occasion of HIS second crown shot Djokovic down the runway at great speed.
He's been busy hitting his stride every since. Now, he's sprinting.
At this AO, Djokovic ran his mark in Melbourne since 2011 to 39-1. He's 34-1 in his last thirty-five slam matches. He just played in his fifth straight slam final, his seventh in eight majors, and 17th of 22. He's reached 27 consecutive slam quarterfinals, and 22 of 23 semifinals. 94-6 overall since the start of the 2015 season, Djokovic has played in seventeen straight tour finals, is 39-2 in Masters events, has won four slam crowns and thirteen titles over the thirteen-month span. He's 36-5 vs. the Top 10 during the stretch, and has pushed his career head-to-head over the others in the "Big 4" of the era in his favor -- 23-22 vs. Federer, 24-23 vs. Nadal, and 22-9 vs. Murray. Djokovic was one match (the RG final vs. Wawrinka) from a Grand Slam last year when, frankly, he had a better season than even Serena Williams, and one of the best seasons the sport has EVER seen.
In a year in which a Grand Slam is once again in play, as is a "Golden Slam" -- the only major singles honor he may be yet to claim, much like Federer, is individual Olympic Gold... assuming he wins in Paris this spring -- there seems to be no quick end in sight to the Serbian eclipse.
At 28, an age which no longer has the same the-end-is-near connotation it once did in the sport, Djokovic is in his physical prime at the moment. His enhanced training techniques and diet, along with coach Boris Becker's guidance in playing/practicing in such a way early in slams that Djokovic doesn't sap his energy (something which likely cost him a few slam titles earlier in his career during that three-year drought), allowing himself to be mentally fresh in the latter stages of a major. It's put the Serb in the position of being THE favorite to win in every event he plays. And he almost always lives up to the expectation, or close to it. It's a "burden" he seems to have no problem shouldering.
With eleven major titles, Djokovic stands one from Emerson on the all-time list, and just three behind Nadal and Sampras (a gap which could be closed within the next year). At the moment, Federer stands six away, but that number is sure to shrink before the end of 2015. It's why it is essential for Federer to find a way to somehow chip out one more major title from the growing Djokovic numbers edifice if he wishes to have a chance to stay atop the all-time title list that, surely, a few years ago, he thought he'd be looking down from for the rest of his days, or most of them. Well, either that, or one of the NextGen challengers must truly emerge to take away a few of Djokovic's seemingly endless major trophy opportunities. If not Raonic or Grigor Dimitrov, then Nick Kyrgios or Dominic Thiem or another "mystery" candidate. Truthfully, though, none of those scenarios seem likely. Djokovic is going to catch, and surpass, Federer. It's just a matter of time.
And, somewhere, that Numbers Guy is rubbing his hands together with an evil grin on his face. He knew it all along.
=DAY 14 NOTES=
...in the mixed doubles final, #5-seeds Elena Vesnina & Bruno Soares defeated unseeded CoCo Vandeweghe & Horia Tecau 6-4/4-6 [10-5] as the Hordette picks up her first career mixed title to go along with her two in women's doubles with Ekaterina Makarova. Soares also won this year's AO men's doubles title, becoming the first man to sweep the titles at the event since Mark Woodforde in 1992. The last man to do it at any other slam was Bob Bryan at the 2010 U.S. Open.
The active women who have won both slam WD and MX in their careers:
Martina Hingis (12/4)*
Andrea Hlavackova (2/1)
Lucie Hradecka (2/1)
Ekaterina Makarova (2/1)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (2/2)
Sania Mirza (3/3)
Katarina Srebotnik (1/5)
Samantha Stosur (2/3)*
Elena Vesnina (2/1)
Serena Williams (13/2)*
Venus Williams (13/2)*
Vera Zvonareva (2/2)
ALSO: Cara Black (5/5) & Liezel Huber (5/2)
* - won women's singles slam
...in ITF action, Sorana Cirstea's comeback continued this weekend in Bertioga as the Swarmette reached her second straight challenger final in Brazil. This time, though, she won the title, defeating Argentine Catalina Pella in the final to pick up her first singles title of any kind since 2011.
In Maui, 17-year old Bannerette Raveena Kingsley has reached her first pro singles final, where she'll face countrywoman Christina McHale, looking for her first singles title in four and a half years (she played in a tour-level final in Acapulco two years ago). Kingsley pulled off a big upset over Samantha Crawford during the week, while McHale knocked off Nicole Vaidisova, Paula Kania (in Hawaii for the USA/POL tie) and Naomi Broady.
In Andrezieux-Boutheon, France, Swiss Stefanie Voegele defeated An-Sophie Mestch to take the $50K challenger crown. The 25-year old's last singles title came in November 2012.
...as always, the Top 10 looks a little different after a slam:
The @wta Top 10 on Monday:— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) January 30, 2016
Also, Belinda Bencic is up to #11, while Venus Williams falls to #12. Madison Keys slips from #17 to #24, while Daria Gavrilova is up to #33.
Daniela Hantuchova? Well, she'll be down to #100. Ouch. I don't believe she's been that low since around 2000. You have to wonder, considering the 32-year old does have a Career Mixed Doubles Slam (completed ELEVEN years ago) to her name, when or if she might want to shift to being a doubles specialist if she wants to extend her career. Although, in truth, she really doesn't play doubles on a regular basis, nor with any sort of regular partner when she does. In the last six years, she's only finished a season higher than #49 in doubles once despite having success early in her career (five Top 20 doubles years from 2002-11), and has won just one doubles title (five years ago) since the end of the 2006 season. Meanwhile, she's seen her singles ranking slide every season since 2011. Hantuchova was actually the player who coaxed Martina Hingis out of her most recent retirement in 2013, but while the Swiss Miss has gone about gilding her Hall of Fame legacy the Slovak (even with her first singles title in two years last season) has simultaneously slipped into WTA irrelevancy. Odd.
...and, finally, the first monthly BSA's of 2016 will arrive in a few days, but here's a quick rundown of the Elite 8 of the season's opening weeks:
1. Angelique Kerber - her '15 slam issues have been solved just four weeks into '16, to say the very least
2. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza - the '15 co-"Ms.Backspin" winners are on a 36-match, 8-event win streak and have already locked away three titles in 2016
3. Victoria Azarenka - Brisbane's champion was the stepping stone Kerber utilized to boost herself into slam contention in Melbourne, but she's still well positioned to become a Top 5 factor again this season
4. Aga Radwanska - her great 2015-16 run in Asia/Pacific continued with a Week 1 title and semifinal result in Melbourne, but she'd be wise to pay attention to what increased aggression did for Kerber's slam chances
5. Serena Williams - she proved she's still the best player on tour, even if she wasn't on one particular night in Melbourne
6. Daria Gavrilova - in her first month of play as an Aussie, Backspin's Official Unicorn won the Hopman Cup, lit up the Melbourne night and reached the AO Round of 16. A star is born.
7. Johanna Konta - the Aussie-born Brit's AO semifinal was the best slam result by a woman from the U.K. in over thirty years
8. Zhang Shuai - on the way to possible retirement, Zhang's frustration-ending detour included barely escaping qualifying then going on a slam QF run for the ages after previously having been 0-14 in main draw matches in her slam career. Umm, she's changed her mind about the retirement thing.
Also, this week...
...LIKE FROM DAY 14: A champion's work is never done...
...LIKE FROM DAY 14: Tell me about it, sister
Just calculated: slept 26 out of the last 33 hours #whatislife— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) January 31, 2016
Slam's over! Time to sleep!
...DAY 14 TRIO, in descending order: Legend, future Hall of Famer, USTA President
...LIKE FROM DAY 14: Serena has company in the "Six Club"
...LIKE FROM DAY 14: Going "au naturel"
*WOMEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#7 Angelique Kerber/GER def. #1 Serena Williams/USA 6-4/3-6/6-4
*MEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #2 Andy Murray/GBR 6-1/7-5/7-6(3)
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#1 Hingis/Mirza (SUI/IND) def. #7 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) 7-6(1)/6-3
*MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#7 J.Murray/Soares (GBR/BRA) def. Nestor/Stepanek (CAN/CZE) 2-6/6-4/7-5
*MIXED DOUBLES FINAL*
#5 Vesnina/Soares (RUS/BRA) def. Vandeweghe/Tecau (USA/ROU) 6-4/4-6 [10-5]
*GIRLS SINGLES FINAL*
#5 Vera Lapko/BLR def. #2 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK 6-3/6-4
*BOYS SINGLES FINAL*
Oliver Anderson/AUS def. #7 Jurabek Karimov/UZB 6-2/1-6/6-1
*GIRLS DOUBLES FINAL*
#2 Kalinskaya/Mihalikova (RUS/SVK) def. #6 Yastremska/Zarytska (UKR/UKR) 6-1/6-1
*BOYS DOUBLES FINAL*
De Minaur/Ellis (AUS/AUS) def. #8 Klein/Rikl (SVK/CZE) 3-6/7-5 [12-10]
*WOMEN'S WC SINGLES FINAL*
#1 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Aniek Van Koot/NED 6-3/7-5
*MEN'S WC SINGLES FINAL*
Gordon Reid/GBR def. Joachim Gerard/BEL 7-6(6)/6-4
*WOMEN'S WC DOUBLES FINAL*
#2 Buis/Kamiji (NED/JPN) def. #1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) 6-2/6-2
*MEN'S WC DOUBLES FINAL*
#1 Houdet/Peifer (FRA/FRA) def. #2 Reid/Kunieda (GBR/JPN) 6-3/3-6/7-5
**AO MIXED DOUBLES CHAMPIONS - since 2002**
2002 Daniela Hantuchova & Kevin Ullyett
2003 Martina Navratilova & Leander Paes
2004 Elena Bovina & Nenad Zimonjic
2005 Samantha Stosur & Scott Draper
2006 Martina Hingis & Mahesh Bhupathi
2007 Elena Likhovtseva & Daniel Nestor
2008 Sun Tiantian & Nenad Zimonjic
2009 Sania Mirza & Mahesh Bhupathi
2010 Cara Black & Mahesh Bhupathi
2011 Katarina Srebotnik & Daniel Nestor
2012 Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Horia Tecau
2013 Jarmila Gajdosova & Matthew Ebden
2014 Kristina Mladenovic & Daniel Nestor
2015 Martina Hingis & Leander Paes
2016 Elena Vesnina & Bruno Soares
**AO "DOUBLES STAR" WINNERS**
2006 Yan Zi & Zheng Jie, CHN/CHN
2007 Liezel Huber, USA
2008 Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR/UKR
2009 Sania Mirza, IND
2010 Cara Black, ZIM
2011 Gisela Dulko & Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
2012 Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
2013 Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS
2014 Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2015 Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
2016 Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
**ALL-TIME ATP SLAM TITLES**
17 - Roger Federer, SUI
14 - Rafael Nadal, ESP
14 - Pete Sampras, USA
12 - Roy Emerson, USA
11 - NOVAK DJOKOVIC, SRB
11 - Bjorn Borg, SWE
11 - Rod Laver, AUS
10 - Bill Tilden, USA
17...Roger Federer, SUI
14...Rafael Nadal, ESP
11...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, SRB
2...Andy Murray, GBR
2...Stan Wawrinka, SUI
1...Marin Cilic, CRO
1...Juan Martin del Potro, ARG
**AO MEN'S SINGLES TITLES*
**SLAM FINALS - ACTIVE MEN**
27...Roger Federer, SUI (17-10)
20...Rafael Nadal, ESP (14-6)
19...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, SRB (11-8)
9...ANDY MURRAY, GBR (2-7)
2...Stan Wawrinka, SUI (2-0)
27 - Roger Federer (17-10)
20 - Rafael Nadal (14-6)
19 - NOVAK DJOKOVIC (11-8)
19 - Ivan Lendl (8-11)
18 - Pete Sampras (14-4)
17 - Rod Laver (11-6)
16 - Bjorn Borg (11-5)
16 - Ken Rosewall (8-8)
**MOST MEETINGS IN SLAM FINALS**
8 - Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal
7 - Rafael Nadal/Novak Djokovic
6 - NOVAK DJOKOVIC/ANDY MURRAY
5 - Andre Agassi/Pete Sampras
5 - Ivan Lendl/Mats Wilander
**DJOKOVIC IN AO FINALS**
2008 def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-6,6-4,6-3,7-6
2011 def. Andy Murray 6-4,6-2,6-3
2012 def. Rafael Nadal 5-7,6-4,6-2,6-7,7-5
2013 def. Andy Murray 6-7,7-6,6-3,6-2
2015 def. Andy Murray 7-6,6-7,6-3,6-0
2016 def. Andy Murray 6-1,7-5,7-6
**MURRAY IN AO FINALS**
2010 lost to Roger Federer 6-3,6-4,7-6
2011 lost to Novak Djokovic 6-4,6-2,6-3
2013 lost to Novak Djokovic 7-6,6-7,3-6,2-6
2015 lost to Novak Djokovic 6-7,7-6,3-6,0-6
2016 lost to Novak Djokovic 1-6,5-7,6-7
**DJOKOVIC vs. MURRAY IN GRAND SLAM FINALS**
2011 Australian Open - Djokovic 6-4,6-2,6-3
2012 U.S. Open - Murray 7-6,7-5,2-6,3-6,6-2
2013 Australian Open - Djokovic 6-7,7-6,6-3,6-2
2013 Wimbledon - Murray 6-4,7-5,6-4
2015 Australian Open - Djokovic 7-6,6-7,6-3,6-0
2016 Australian Open - Djokovic 6-1,7-5,7-6
TOP QUALIFIER: Naomi Osaka/JPN
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #14 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): #7 Angelique Kerber/GER
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2 - Virginie Razzano/FRA d. #6 Francesca Schiavone/ITA 6-1/4-6/6-1 (ends streak of 61 con. slam MD)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): #7 Angelique Kerber/GER d. Misaki Doi/JPN 6-7(4)/7-6(6)/6-3 (saved MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova/AUS d. #28 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 6-4/4-6/11-9
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): Final - #7 Angelique Kerber/GER def. #1 Serena Williams/USA 6-4/3-6/6-4
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: 3rd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova/AUS d. #28 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 6-4/4-6/11-9
FIRST VICTORY: #6 Petra Kvitova/CZE (def. Q/Kumkhum, THA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #17 Sara Errani/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Gasparyan/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: Russia
REVELATION LADIES: China
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd Rd. is a Brit)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Zhang Shuai/CHN (QF)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Han Xinyun/CHN (2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Daria Gavrilova/AUS (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Johanna Konta/GBR
IT (NextGen Belarusian): Vera Lapko/BLR
COMEBACK PLAYERS: Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
CRASH & BURN: #2 Simona Halep/ROU (lost 1st Round to Q/Zhang Shuai, CHN - first Top 2 AO seed out in 1st since Ruzici/ROU in '79)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Monica Puig/PUR (2nd Rd. - saved 5 MP vs. Kr.Pliskova/CZE, who set WTA record w/ 31 aces in match)
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): Angelique Kerber/GER
LADY OF THE EVENING: "The Dasha Show"
DOUBLES STARS: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Sara Tomic/AUS
All for now.