London: In individual sports, at the highest levels, it often takes three to truly turn it on. It was the emergence of John McEnroe in the high noon of the Bjorn Borg-Jimmy Connors rivalry that ushered in the golden age of men’s tennis in the late 1970s.
More than 30 years later, as much as we now celebrate the still-captivating Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal duels, it is the arrival this season of Novak Djokovic as a big league champion that has contributed to the ruddy good health of men’s tennis.
And it is Djokovic’s presence in the same half of the draw as the five-time defending champion that has connoisseurs and critics alike looking forward to the second Friday of the Wimbledon championships — weather permitting, of course.
Step by step
“It is a long way to the semifinals [against Federer]. I have to go step by step,” Djokovic said on Saturday at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. “It would be great to have a match against Roger on his favourite surface to see where I stand.”
This time last year, Djokovic was hardly a contender and he had just over 800 ATP ranking points.
Now, with an Australian Open title in his bag and 5360 points to his name, he is breathing down on Nadal’s back.
“Quite some things have changed this year. Roger is still the No.1, [but] he is feeling the pressure a little bit,” said the charismatic Serb.
“But pressure is a part of sport. He is a five-time defending champion and he is still the favourite. I have improved on grass. The grass is slower than it used to be and baseline players are doing much better,” said Djokovic.
Looking at the larger picture, the World No.3 said that it was good for the game that “people are looking at me and Rafa as threats to his [Federer’s] place.”
Djokovic complimented Nadal for the strides the Spaniard had made on grass. “I consider him one of the favourites to win Wimbledon,” he said.
The Serb said that he was thrilled to see Ana Ivanovic win the French Open.
“For a small country to have two Grand Slam champions in half a year… that is great,” said.
Last summer, they — the Serbians — were just coming. A year on, they have truly arrived.