Tennis

As Novak Djokovic Faces History, He Tries to Block It Out

Djokovic was not always a rock. Early in his career, he had a reputation for taking frequent injury timeouts and retiring from matches. In 2008 at the U.S. Open, the American star Andy Roddick mocked Djokovic at a news conference by reciting a mostly fictional laundry list of his ailments, including both ankles, “a back and a hip, cramp, bird flu, anthrax, SARS, common cough and cold.”

Was Djokovic bluffing during matches?

Roddick demurred. “If it’s there, it’s there,” he said. “There’s just a lot. He’s either quick to call a trainer, or he’s the most courageous guy of all time. I think it’s up for you guys to decide.”

That exchange seems like ancient history. Djokovic addressed his endurance issues and breathing difficulties with two surgeries for a deviated septum and a shift in 2010 to a gluten-free, largely plant-based diet.

He became an ironman, and more than a decade later, the younger set still cannot keep up. After he defeated Zverev, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, Djokovic’s record in five-set matches was a phenomenal 36-10.

The last man who can stop the Grand Slam is Medvedev, 25, a lean and trilingual Russian who is ranked No. 2 and is at his best on hardcourts.

He lost the 2019 U.S. Open final in five sets to Nadal, and Medvedev’s sparkling form at the start of this season had many expecting another classic match when he faced Djokovic in the Australian Open final.

Instead, Djokovic won, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, breaking Medvedev’s game and spirit after a close first set. But Medvedev, who has won 14 of his last 15 matches, has had a more restful journey to the final in New York than Djokovic, dropping just one set to Djokovic’s six.

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