Over the years, the schedule for the ATP has been revised to try and save the health of the top players and prevent injuries, including finishing off the year earlier this year to create a longer off-season.
The schedule did not anticipate a single player going eight months without losing, however.
It’s been difficult to look for the relevancy of other players this year when week after week only one man remains on the top of the podium in the biggest events. In what feels like a struggle of man vs. tour as the defeated look to find a way to overcome the unbeatable, both have collapsed under the weight of themselves.
Djokovic looked tired at the end of last week, make no doubts about it. But when you’re striking the ball so well and so cleanly, and moving nearly as well, it doesn’t much matter. Boat loads of confidence in your ability doesn’t hurt either. For me, this week was all about the collapse. Playing day after day in Montreal and then traveling to Cincinnati to try and do it all over again was simply not going to happen.
First it looked like Monfils would do it. Down a set, Djokovic was having trouble on the return and his footwork look like he had a pair of iron shoes on in comparison to the energy he’s given off in previous tournaments. Instead, Monfils once again imploded under the pressure, frustration, and passivity of his own goofball patterns of play. Next? Berdych, the big serving Czech who saw a resurgence in Montreal last week. Up 5-3 in the first set, he mentally and physically checked out as his shoulder betrayed him and he was forced to retire after losing the first 7-5 due to a bum shoulder.
Then came the final, where Djokovic, propped up only due to the failures of his previous opponents, was forced to take on a relatively fresh Murray.
Murray’s path to the final looks nearly comically similar. A recently returned Nalbandian (who I believe has now had more hip surgeries than all four of my grandparents combined), American journeyman Alex Bogomolov who defeated a worn down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who was injured trying to defeat, you guessed it, Djokovic the week before. Beyond that, a not so healthy Gilles Simon, an equally mentally and physically exhausted Mardy Fish who was ground to a dust by Djokovic in the Montreal final, and who defeated a brain damaged Rafael Nadal (mostly thanks to Djokovic) in the Cincinnati quarterfinals.
The moral of this story? Djokovic’s presence is being felt in more places than just those who he defeats round after round. Injuries aren’t helping anyone either, and while you can’t say that Djokovic’s dominance has pushed other guys to their physical limit, it sure feels that way.
If Djokovic dominance, injuries, crazy weather and other surprises continue a week from now, it is going to be one crazy ride in Flushing Meadows.