On the face of it, Novak Djokovic’s 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Rafael Nadal in the relatively minor ATP 250 event of Qatar does not seem either significant or surprising. Novak is world No. 1, the preeminent hard-court player on the men’s tour, and he has owned Nadal in the last year and a half. I believe, though, that two milestones achieved in this encounter by the Serb are of particular note.
Firstly, in their forty-seven match, nine-year rivalry, Novak Djokovic took the lead in their head-to-head for the first time, edging it 24-23. Throughout the pair’s storied rivalry whenever Novak looked to be in the ascendancy Nadal has managed to find some fresh inspiration and push back in front. I get the sense that Djokovic is now going to pull away from Rafa, extending his newly acquired lead. He has won against him in their last five meetings without dropping a set. Such was Djokovic’s dominance against a by his own admission of late injury free Nadal in Qatar, I can only see future matches between the pair, especially on hard courts, being equally one-sided in favour of Djokovic.
A second milestone Djokovic achieved by winning the title match was winning his sixtieth title, tying fellow counterpunching great Andre Agassi at ninth in the all-time list. I think the two players make for an interesting and fitting comparison. Agassi was also a hard-court specialist, both are considered the greatest returners of their respective eras, and both are famed for their prowess on the backhand wing.
Djokovic has more of an upside, I believe, than the retired American great, though, after his own sixtieth trophy. Agassi’s sixtieth was at age thirty five, during his last career surge that would include finalist appearances in Canada and New York, but not contesting another final thereafter. Djokovic, at title number sixty, in his prime at twenty eight, and atop the world rankings by some margin, looks only to add to his title haul. Agassi was aged thirty two when he won his eighth and final Grand Slam in 2003; Djokovic is already on ten and looks set to win several more for at least for a few years yet. Agassi, meanwhile, won his last Masters title, an impressive seventeenth, at the advanced age in tennis of thirty four, whilst Djokovic is on twenty six, just one behind record holder Nadal, and on current form seems likely to win thirty of these lucrative titles sooner than later.
To be on sixty titles whilst enjoying the form of his life, Djokovic has put himself within striking distance of retired greats Vilas (62), Borg and Sampras (64), as well as rival Nadal, currently with sixty seven. If Djokovic dominates like he did last year, and Nadal’s struggles continue, I would not be at all surprised to see him surpass all these legends past and present come the season’s end.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): mirsasha