The Basel post-tournament Pizza tradition
10 months. Believe it or not- that’s how long it had been, before his home tournament last week in Basel, since he had last won a trophy. Any trophy. Yes, great players have endured bigger draughts, but this is Roger Federer. To have to look back and actually jog your memory to be able to remember when he won last, is an unusual phenomenon.
Many players returned in this last week of action, with the active players duly retiring or pulling out of tournaments after a hectic North-American hard court month. Rafael Nadal has finally decided to use his brain over brawn, and has pulled out of 2 consecutive tournaments in succession (including the Paris Masters, this week) in order to concentrate on ‘the one that got away’. O2, the venue of the season-ending World Tour Championships, will be an important place to be at- with Nadal and Murray apparently recharging themselves for that one elusive trophy which has been rumoured to mean more to top players than mere Grand Slam titles. After all, which other tournament sees ONLY the top 8 players in action on an ‘invitation only’ basis? Every single match resembles a final, and the quality of tennis reaches orbit from the first game itself.
Murray pulled out of the Basel Open, making things considerably simpler for the returning duo (after 1.5 months) of Djokovic and Federer. Murray, too, has been learning good things from Roger- pacing his body and concentrating on the main draws in a jampacked year, only after he secured the number 3 ranking though. He played like an animal for 3 consecutive weeks to secure that ranking, and one may suspect he will go off the boil for a bit now.
The Killing Djoke?
The World Number One and Roger Federer (sounds good together, no?) were in action at Basel. Djokovic looked rusty, but that is expected after a long injury break. The difference between the Djoker and Federer, though, is the way they pull off matches when they are rusty. Federer loses the odd set, but makes sure that there are no upsets of gigantic proportions. If he loses, expect him to go down to a top-10 player. But Djokovic is at the other end of the spectrum, yet to mature it seems, because one can expect injury timeouts and groans and winces once he realizes that he is going down in a match. Nishikori, the up and coming Japanese superstar, made sure that Novak didn’t have a say in the third set- even bagelling the Serb, and becoming only the second player to beat the World Number One in a ‘full match’. That is hardly a stat actually, as Djokovic was handed his fourth loss of the year. As soon as that happened, one could almost sense the glittering eyes of former Champion Roger Federer, as he lay in waiting after beating usual suspects Wawrinka and Roddick in the Semis and Quarters respectively. As he progressed through his home tournament, he proceeded to break a sweat even lesser- only struggling against Jarko Neimenen in his first match. Smooth sailing afterwards, as you’d expect from ‘been there, done that’ guys, and he adds one more ATP-500 trophy to his kitty this year. No Masters wins, and no Grand slams. But Roger Federer is still playing well enough to win matches, and the Paris Masters should be more like an open field to him- with Nadal and Murray not playing, and Djokovic on the verge of pulling out.
Maybe, just maybe, this could be the beginning of his final trek back up the rankings. One final time. His last Hurrah, maybe? Wishful thinking, it could be- for his final performance at O2 this year could pretty much sum things up. He is defending Champion there, and will take great pride in beating the best after a tough year.
Meanwhile, Juan Martin Del Potro’s return to the top level continues to be sprinkled with half-successes and disappointments alike. Losing to a charged up serve-and-volleying Granoullers at Valencia has not helped his cause, but JMDP will feel a lot better reaching the last 4 lately, and will target 2012 as his official comeback year. He shows considerably more mental strength than Murray, and Djokovic will need to be careful next season- whenever he sees the lanky Argentine waiting for him in the draw.
Not to say that Nadal and Federer are out of it, and that’s the beauty of the game- with every win of theirs spurring on fans and supporters, to a proclamation of a final showdown between two generations: One that includes Federer and Nadal (thanks to Nadal’s body showing signs of wear and tear) and the second that includes Djokovic, Murray, JMDP and the others.
In the process, Monfils may have lost out on an appearance at O2 this year, and Tsonga needs to win Paris and nothing less to remain in consideration.
It will be interesting to see who will join Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Federer and Ferrer in the top 8- because this tournament remains the only draw where Rankings cease to matter, and body endurance and mental strength comes into play far more often- with skillsets and styles overlapping almost every second match.