My co-writer Nate just looked at the possible usurper to Roger Federer’s crown and found it hard to crown anyone but Novak Djokovic. A usurper is one who illegally seizes the crown of another and there’s nothing illegal in this case, it just seems that way because some of us might prefer the passionate Rafael Nadal or the promising Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to the sturdy but unspectacular Djokovic.
Djokovic will take one step closer to the kingdom if he sweeps the Indian Wells-Miami twofecta. That used to be Federer’s bailiwick – Federer swept these two tournaments in 2005 and 2006. Can Djokovic do it? Fatigue has been an issue for him and he seldom does well at consecutive Masters Series events with the exception of these two events last year: he reached the final at Indian Wells and took the title at Miami. However, he faced exactly one top ten player in each tournament and it was the same guy – Nadal.
I saw Nadal fend of three sets of howitzers from both Tsonga and James Blake at Indian Wells last week and I marveled at it until I saw him play Djokovic in the next match. Nadal’s racket was so slow by that point that he couldn’t handle Djokovic’s topspin shots and Djokovic is not known for topspin. Nadal had picked off two very troublesome players for Djokovic and paid for it.
This week, the rest of the field could well hand Djokovic the same gift by picking off those troublesome players before they get to him.
What about Federer? By the time he got to Mardy Fish last week he had nothing. All respect to Fish but Federer was out to lunch. It was probably a combination of two things: mononucleosis and discombobulation from the effects of mono. He reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and Indian Wells then suffered straight set losses presumably because he ran out of energy. Meanwhile, illness throws off your rhythm and feel. Sometimes he looks good and sometimes he doesn’t. I, for one, do not expect ever to see the Federer I saw before, at least not on a consistent basis.
Even if he fully recovers from mono, his psychological advantage is dissipating by the week and the rhythm in his game is way out of kilter. He may recover his rhythm and, if someone else besides Djokovic doesn’t come along in the next few years, the two of them will share some non-French Open slam wins, but I’m going to have to look elsewhere to see someone reach down and shift into a second and third gear in the middle of the second set and I miss that already.
The matchup everyone wants to see is Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As much as I’d love to see Tsonga win a tournament one of these days, he’d have to get past Andy Roddick to do it and Miami is a lot faster than Indian Wells and that’s a good thing for Andy. It’s a good thing for Jo-Willy too but I haven’t seen enough consistency from him yet to put him in the quarterfinals.
Federer could face Robin Soderling in the third round and the pesty Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round but he looks pretty good in the early rounds and, of course, he’d love to meet up with Roddick and get his twelfth straight win over him.
Davydenko has never made it past the fourth round in Miami. Trust the little bugger to throw everything into chaos by getting out of this quarter but it’s doubtful because Mario Ancic, Andy Murray, Mardy Fish and David Ferrer are here too.
Ancic just recovered from mono himself and we could have some fun if Federer met up with him in the semis – mono a mono as Pat Davis puts it – and I can’t wait for Ancic to get to full strength because he tore up the tour in 2006. He plays well on all surfaces. He has an exceptional record indoors and a good record outdoors with a similar winning percentage on both clay and hard court. He’s not quite there yet, though, and Murray beat him indoors in Marseilles this year.
I don’t think Fish can continue the magic and as for David Ferrer, what is up with him? Anyone have a clue? Hyung-Taik Lee took him out in Indian Wells last week. If Murray gets past Ancic, he should be in the semis.
Nadal could have faced Tommy Haas in the third round but Haas pulled out. He’s probably still suffering from the sinus infection that scratched him from his quarterfinal match with Federer last week. Poor guy, Haas is jinxed. My sympathy is tempered, though. He’s had three shoulder surgeries yet he hasn’t changed his service motion which is an over the top motion that strains the shoulder. If you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, Einstein has a word for you: insanity.
James Blake and David Nalbandian lurk in the upper part of this quarter. Nalbandian might have to get past Radek Stapanek but I’m assuming Nalbandian won’t lose the second set to him 6-0 before waking up as he did in Indian Wells. Stepanek wins with smoke and mirrors and a bit of gamesmanship thrown in and Nalbandian should not be fooled twice.
I’m gonna take Blake over Nalbandian because Blake beat him on the indoor slick courts at the year end championships two years ago. While Miami is hardly slick, Blake looked pretty good on the rather slow courts in Indian Wells last week. That sets up another Nadal-Blake showdown.
With Haas out, Nadal should be well rested and should be able to shoot Blake down again because Blake seems to become satisfied when he reaches a quarterfinal. He doesn’t scratch and crawl to win matches and he doesn’t scratch and crawl to win tournaments. He does as well as he can and leaves it at that. Nadal does whatever it takes until he just can’t move any more.
Neither Tomas Berdych or Richard Gasquet has ever won more than two matches here. Evidently this is not their favorite tournament. Gasquet could win a few more matches this time but I don’t see him beating Djokovic.
There you have it. Everyone picks off the tough players, Murray beats Federer in one semifinal, Djokovic beats Nadal in the other and, yes, Djokovic sweeps. Get used to it.
Extra points if you can pick out the player outside the top twenty who gets to the quarterfinals because, for sure, there will be at least one. Who will it be?