Tuesday 16 August 2011

The Mental Edge in Montreal

The Rogers Cup tournaments this week - both in Montreal (ATP) and Toronto (WTA) - had their share of surprising results, seeds losing early, and general craziness. Amid the mayhem, only one result remained as consistent as ever this year  - "Game, set and match, Djokovic".

The level of tennis Novak showed this week was, for the most part of it, unremarkable. With the exception of the quarterfinal against Gael Monfils, his game was shaky, he committed a lot of unforced errors and was visibly upset with himself at times.

But the one thing that caught my eye during his matches was the way the all the first sets ended. Davydenko got broken when serving to stay in the match, 5-6 down and so did Cilic. Tsonga couldn't hold when serving to stay in it, 4-5 down. Each time, no matter how close the match has been up to that point, the lower ranked player would stumble, mishit, or take the wrong shot, giving the newly crowned No. 1 a break point that he would promptly use to win the set. The second set was just a formality every time after that, as Novak's confidence would rise, and his opponent's would decline quickly.

The pattern quickly became predictable, as the final against Mardy Fish had a similar moment, though not in the same situation. After failing to convert 5 break points, Fish was serving at 2-2 in the first set. I said to my mother, who was watching the match with me, "Wait and see, he'll get broken now". At 0-30, I commented "Now Fish will serve better, it'll get to 30-30, and then Novak will get a break point and use it". That was exactly how it happened.

Djokovic said after the final - "It was a mental fight as well as physical". So, if there's one thing that comes out of winning all but one match all year - you're winning the mental fight before it even started.

Stats corner: 9th title this year; 53-1 win/loss record; first player ever to win 5 Masters 1000 titles in one year; only active player to win first tournament as No. 1, and the first to do so since Pete Sampras in 1993.

(Photo: Getty Images, via Novak Djokovic Fan Club on Facebook)

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