The puzzling question is; how was he able to usurp the dominate play of both Federer and the only man to have carved a niche in Federer’s head, Rafael Nadal?
There is more than a physical struggle taking place when the top male players meet to contest a singles match.
There are ups and downs, ins and outs, pros and cons, plots and subplots. There’s also a pervasive theme. These are the more palpable factors, those discernible even by casual fans.
Of a more insidious nature is the psychological battle being waged by each player against the other, and within the confines of his own mind, each against himself.
The more desperate of the two struggles is the one raging within self. If that inner turmoil can be harnessed, the mental battle with an opponent becomes far more manageable.
This is the area in which Djokovic has excelled. He has conquered his “demons of doubt.”
Before Djokovic began making serious inroads into the top tier of tennis, he already had a mastery of the physical (minus the breathing issues) and technical side of it.
My initial impressions after seeing him play for the first time was that he returned serve better than anyone I had seen since Andre Agassi. Additionally, he possessed an uncanny ability to change direction of the ball from any position on the court regardless of it’s velocity and trajectory. He does that better than any player I’ve ever seen.
In my opinion, his overall physical and technical abilities are no different than they were prior to his first slam win. And, neither his purported and grossly over-hyped use of a hyperbaric chamber nor the gluten free diet are responsible for the accelerated success. It is simply that he now believes he can win regardless of whom he is playing.
One of the most interesting observations for me concerning the “rise of Nadal” versus the “rise of Djokovic” is that from day one, Nadal was resplendent with confidence, but by his own admission, needed to improve certain areas of his game in order to be successful at slams other than the French Open.
He worked diligently at improving his serve, volley and ability to hit through the ball a bit more. His recognition of the need to modify his game along with practice and persistence reaped huge dividends.
He became only the seventh man in history to complete the career grand slam by winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He’s also the youngest man to have achieved the feat.
Conversely, Djokovic, who prior to his breakthrough was ranked third in the world, needed only to modify his mindset, the belief that he could beat the two players ranked above him. He did that emphatically.
There is one additional almost peculiar edge that Djokovic seems to have. At times in a match, most often when he is behind in the score, he seems to go into a “f**k it” mode. He abandons all caution.
When this happens, he basically begins to just “swing away” almost uncaring and he hits winner after winner regardless of the opponent who generally appears helpless to do anything about it. Not surprisingly, suddenly he is right back into the match. It’s an uncommon ability attributable to a mindset that is now seemingly as flexible as is his body.
That’s saying a lot when you consider that he is the most lithe male tennis player I’ve ever seen.
Well, that’s how he did it. He became a believer in his competitive abilities. He’s now supremely confident and unfailingly tenacious. He’s also just slightly weird enough, in an oddly positive way, to defy logic and go for implausible outright winners with almost reckless abandon when others would opt to play it safe.
Novak Djkovic underwent a personal epiphany that transformed him from doubter to winner.
And there is no doubt that he is a consummate winner.