Defending Champions Serbia, led by current World Number One Novak Djokovic, have crashed out in spectacular style while playing at home against ex-champions Argentina. The Djoker, fresh from a record breaking third grand slam in 2011, was reduced to tears against the soon-to-be-back-in-top-10-again Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina in the must-win rubber of Serbia’s semi-final at Belgrade. This was probably the same match at this time last year that spurred him onto inhuman feats of humanoid proportions this year, but this time, his calendar year has abruptly decided to adhere to the law of averages and come full circle.

Cut no more

He is, after all, human- a line that many have used over the last 5 years pertaining to either Federer’s darned good consistency or Nadal’s darned dogged spirit. The only point that can be raised now, with due respect to Djokovic’s sheer passion and commitment to his country is that- was it really necessary to take up the responsibility of playing Davis Cup just days after he barely made it through the roughest slam of the year? Was he carrying the injury through? Does he believe in actually losing a match in straight sets rather than always pulling out before actually facing that moment? (flashback: Murray at Cincinnatiwhere the Djoker refused to lose, finding ‘retirement’ a better subtitle to his name) Or does he just need a vacation right now?
Whatever it is, inspite of these very Indian-cricket-oriented questions that I have dared to pose, the Djoker- as we speak- is out for 3 to 6 weeks due to a shoulder strain. That automatically rules him out of the two tournaments in early October, the China Open and the Shanghai Masters, casting doubts over whether he will actually be able to complete that record-breaker of a season, still 19 games away from McEnroe’s 82 wins. It will take some doing, but for now, Serbia should sit back and back in the glory of their golden boy- and forget the logistics of a Davis Cup or a China Open. They are on the world map for good now, and nothing anyone does or says will take away Novak’s conquests this season.

A Dream in Hell

Meanwhile, Spain have decimated France with the help of you-know-who in a gigantic mismatch that resulted in a 4-1 rubber. Tsonga and Gasquet, two of the top-ranked French players consistently used to falling at the last hurdle, were destroyed by ‘ailing’ and ‘tired’ French Open Champion Rafael Nadal on his favorite surface.
To say that Spain will now choose clay as their surface at home to contest the final against equally clay-obsessed Argentina is pretty much a given now- with Nadal improving to 18-1 in Cup singles play. With 32 clay-court titles in his career (which Djokovic is yet to reach, in totality), Spain will begin overwhelming favorites against comeback kids Juan Martin Del Potro and his young teammates- not least because this is the Spanish team’s eighth final since 2000.
Rafa has been part of four of them now, quickly graduating from a one-court specialist junior to the ultimate all-round pro in less than two years. This, after a sapping 4-set loss to Novak Djokovic in the US Open final only 10 days ago. It takes a seasoned professional who has remained at the top level for a long time to know his body and fitness levels ever so accurately, and Djokovic will do well to learn from his similarly-aged compatriot if he wants to consistently balance his schedule and win tournaments. Some may call it a nice little bonus, and more of a solace win for Rafa Nadal- but he knows well that if he manages to carry this momentum into the rest of the tournaments this year, we could be set for the mother of all tennis seasons in 2012. And, yes, there is the small matter of the Dec 2-4 Davis Cup final at either Valencia or Madrid. One cannot particularly predict Nadal’s fitness levels at that point, but it is safe to say that the stage is far too huge for him to resist a season-ending curtain-closer at the biggest national stage of all. He will play, irrespective of how he fairs at the Istanbul season-ending Masters event, and will add one more feather to an highly-decorated hat of prizes that a certain Swiss player will kill to have.

A Country that knows no Defeat

Which brings us to the World Number Three and dwindling legend of Roger Federer. While the two younger champions battle it out at the top of major-league tennis, atleast as far as countries are concerned, Federer will feel quite satisfied with his latest Davis Cup effort- albeit in the minor leagues.
Playing for a place in the coveted 16 of the World Group, Switzerland took on has-beens Australia on the grass courts of Sydney. The loser, needless to say, would have to bear the ignominy of having to fight it out among the lesser beings (like India and Great Britain) for yet another year and fight their way back into contention for 2012.
As things stood within two days of the clash, Roger Federer had beaten old foe Hewitt in a dogged 4-set encounter that brought back memories of their childhood rivalry, which seems decades ago. Hewitt, the lesser and right-handed version of a dogged Spaniard, rolled back the years to make Federer work hard for his win on his (apparently) favorite surface. Both former Wimbledon winners, though one doesn’t know how pleased Roger is with the tag ‘former’ to his name ever so often anymore.
But Bernard Tomic, the future of (Australian) Tennis, the 18 year old bulldog that shot into the limelight at Wimbledon this year, defeated Swiss perennial number two and Chennai-Open Champion Wawrinka, and then teamed up with Hewitt to beat the gold-medal winning duo of Federer-Wawrinka to take the rubber into a 2-1 lead situation. Federer may not have been too impressed after losing the doubles rubber, considering the fact that he started his career as a Doubles specialist, and took Beijing 2009 by storm with his Swiss partner after a shock singles loss to James Blake.
Hence, as was predicted, Federer stormed back in the reverse singles to win a tough tie against Tomic in 4 sets (of which he is making a habit of nowadays). He did not look in the best of form or fitness, but he just about does enough against the players outside the top-10 to win inspite of playing an ugly game- which, in human terms, is still a beautiful style but involves a bit of nerves.

Big Fish in small pond

He then inspired Wawrinka to put behind his indifferent form and relive his Chennai Open days with a gritty 5 set win over 5-set specialist Hewitt- a match that went onto a second day after bad light called off play with a game remaining. That sealed the tie 3-2 in Switzerland’s favour , and one just feels that Federer may not exactly be over the moon, but he will be satisfied enough to bring his country back into world contention. He may not even play the league stages next year, scheduled to be held mid-year as usual, and as we know, that could mean yet another leap back into the minor league. This to and fro will continue until Switzerland find some young talent who could take over the mantle, or even if Switzerland joins forces with Serbia to form Serbialand. Not exactly a bad idea, but worth a shot.

On we move to the next tournament in the calendar, the China Open, where half of the top 50 will probably be injured, retired or on vacation after a grueling year of Global warming and almost-player-strikes.
The year-end number One ranking is NOT for grabs anymore, but there are a lot of spots to be fought for- places 4 to 8- for a final shot at the most prestigious title of the year, the Champions League of Tennis if you may:
The ATP World Tour Finals 2011 at London.

Nadal has never won this tournament. Just saying.

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