I haven’t written a rant in a while, and when I checked in on the tennis news this morning, I finally saw a headline that caught my attention. You see, the tennis world has been largely uninteresting since the Australian Open. Sure, the young American Taylor Fritz made some waves, but the real news-makers in tennis have been mostly quiet. That is, until yesterday in Dubai. Djokovic has completely set the tennis world on fire in the past 15 months. So, the world was watching as he took the court in Dubai this week in search of his 18th straight final appearance, and 14th title in as many events. I was shocked when I checked the scores to see that Djokovic had (sort of) lost!
After losing the first set 6-3, Djokovic retired from the match, giving Feliciano Lopez a berth in the semifinals. We can look at this a few different ways. Sure, Feliciano still had to play great tennis to win the first set against Djokovic, but what stands out more is exactly what it has taken recently for Djokovic to actually lose a match. One of two things have to happen. The first is that one of only a few players on the planet has to play a PERFECT match from start to finish, just to have an outside chance at beating the world #1. The second option, which is even more rare, is that he comes in to the match less than 100%, and if you are very lucky, he is unhealthy enough to not be able to complete the match. The level that he has consistently played at for over a year now has been nothing short of astonishing, and certainly disheartening for his opponents.
As much as they may say they want to play him when he is 100%, it is much more likely that they are wishing the opposite. Take yesterday for example. It was not a stomach flu, a pulled calf muscle, or something much more common that kept Djoker from completing the match… it was an infection, IN BOTH OF HIS EYES. What other player would even take the court with both of his eyes compromised? More than that, what other player is capable of winning games against a world-class player with blurred vision and pain in both of their eyes?
I would argue that this loss is as much a testament to Djokovic’s resolve as his remarkable wins. He is a man so focused, so driven, and so dominant, that he simply refuses to give up. The fact that he played at all yesterday sends a clear message to his opponents: watch out. Djokovic, whether he admits it or not, has his eyes set on Roger’s record, and as of late, it’s looking like there is nobody capable of truly, or regularly challenging him. His opponents can wish for more regular eye infections, or stomach flus for Djokovic. It may not be the honorable thing to do, but it’s looking like the only hope they have. After yesterday, it is even more clear that Djokovic is only SORT OF beatable. It’s going to be a long year for his competition.